The best way to describe our emotions the morning of our major ultrasound was nervous excitement. We had survived a serious scare with a threatened miscarriage a few weeks prior. My wife was on bed rest at home, but we had no real reason to assume there would be any new problems.
It had been a bumpy ride, but we were hoping for normal results. We were also looking forward to going out for lunch. My wife had been cooped up for a few weeks and we decided to take advantage of our outing to spend some time together.
In retrospect, the whole idea was rather ridiculous. My wife had gestational diabetes and there wasn’t much for her to eat, but given all the emotion surrounding her pregnancy and the frustration built up from weeks of bed rest, any time away from home was precious.
The ultrasound room was dark so that the technician could have a good look. I was sitting to my wife’s right, and I made sure that I had a good look at the ultrasound screen, although I really didn’t have that great of an idea what I was seeing.
It was a long process. Each baby was measured separately, and sizes were taken of different parts of each baby’s body then compared to normal gestational progress. The technician wasn’t allowed to give us any results, but I could see the defaults that appeared on the ultrasound machine, and all of the measurements for both babies fell within the normal range for twins at that stage of development.
Near the conclusion of the ultrasound, the technician got a page. She checked her beeper and told us she would be right back and that we should wait for a few moments. We had no idea that the ultrasound machine was also being observed by our high-risk doctor in another room, so we just assumed the tech was going to have the results read by a radiologist.
As far as we could tell, things looked good, and we passed the time talking about my wife’s favorite salad, which she would soon enjoy on our lunch date. Much to our surprise and shock, the tech came back a few minutes later with our high-risk doctor. She told us that she had been following the ultrasound on a computer in her office. The babies were fine, but it seemed that the technician had inadvertently scanned lower than usual, and she wanted to double check my wife’s cervix.
The doctor took the ultrasound and spent a few moments scanning my wife’s cervix. Within a couple of minutes she announced, “Mrs. Shapiro, you need to go down to labor and delivery. You have what’s called an incompetent cervix, and they need to give you a cerclage immediately.”
The cervix is the part of the body that keeps the womb shut during pregnancy. An incompetent cervix could open too early and make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep the babies inside the womb.
Neither of us had ever heard of a cerclage. The doctor explained that, for all practical purposes, the cerclage would tie her cervix shut. Naively, I asked how long the procedure would take and wondered if our lunch date was now off.
The doctor informed me that the procedure would only take an hour or so, but my wife would be admitted immediately following her procedure and spend the remainder of her pregnancy in the hospital’s antepartum unit.
I didn’t even have to time to ask what an antepartum unit was as they wheeled my wife down to labor and delivery for the cerclage procedure. I could not believe this was happening. There was even more trouble after all of this? After all of the fertility treatments, surviving the threatened miscarriage, we would now need a surgical procedure? I quickly called my in-laws so that they could come and provide some additional support.
I had to wash up and put on the same scrubs as every father in the delivery room. Fortunately, the OB explained that the procedure was basically tying the cervix together with a knot to strengthen it. It should have no effect on the babies at all. He believed that the extra weight of twins had been too much for my wife’s cervix, which measured on the smaller side.
Still, I held my breath as the doctors performed the procedure. I couldn’t shake the feeling of how odd it was to be in the delivery room for reasons other than the delivery of our twins, but I knew I needed to be there to provide moral support.
The doctors told us that the cerclage procedure was a success, and while my wife was still groggy from the anesthesia, I walked alongside as they wheeled her to the antepartum unit. I never asked what an antepartum unit was exactly, as I assumed it would become clear when we got there.
For all practical purposes, an antepartum unit is an inpatient unit for high-risk, pregnant women on bed rest who require full-time medical attention. Having forgotten what the doctor had said, I didn’t ask how long they expected her to remain in the unit, but it became clear rather quickly that they intended for her to stay for the duration of the pregnancy. That could be as many as 20 weeks.
My wife wasn’t happy with the news, but she realized she had to do what needed to be done for the babies. Most people don’t understand what it is like to be in bed for 20 weeks. The only time she was allowed out of bed was to use the restroom. She would be in bed for more than 23 hours a day, every day for 20 weeks! Bedsores were a major concern, and physical therapy was a must to ensure that she didn’t lose too much muscle because of lack of movement.
This was also a time before wireless Internet, and one of the biggest challenges was staying occupied. I still had to work, so I couldn’t sit at the hospital with her during the day. Friends and neighbors provided us with electronic games, books and a portable DVD player to try and keep her occupied for her long stay.
I decided that I would sleep on the pull-out couch every night so that I could be there for her through most of the ordeal. That also meant that I would spend Shabbos with her at the hospital every week.
It wasn’t long before I started receiving all kinds of advice. While there were some offers to help (a neighbor of ours was incredibly valuable, cooking meals for me during the week and making sure I had everything I needed), most of the advice and concern focused on my wife.
I fully understand why my wife was the focus of everyone’s concern. She was the one carrying the babies, and her physical and mental wellbeing were absolutely crucial for the health of her pregnancy.
I was told dozens of times, from rabbis, family and friends that I needed to be strong for my wife. I’m not sure why, but the metaphor of being strong like a rock was one that repeated itself often.
I understood my role, and I knew that I had to be strong and do whatever I could to provide help and support to my wife in every way. However, in what would become yet another theme in our ordeal, not a single person inquired as to how I was doing. The focus was always on what I needed to do for my wife.
I desperately needed help and assistance. I needed to express my feelings, fears and frustrations, but I was never given that opportunity.
I was never asked how I was coping, and whether I needed any kind of emotional support. I felt very close to my babies, and I was going to do what I had to do to help my wife and try to save them, but I did internalize the message that I was getting: I am irrelevant and it is all about my wife.
While that attitude likely allowed me to focus on what needed to done for her, at times putting in almost superhuman effort to hide my feelings, I will be paying the price for that emotional toll for the rest of my life. There is only so much a human being can handle, and as an intensely emotional person, hiding and trying to ignore my feelings increased the emotional scarring as the pregnancy progressed and things turned from bad to absolutely tragic.
About the Author: Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed is a freelance writer, public speaker and social media consultant. He is currently working on a book about his collegiate experience. He welcomes comments and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his website: http://chaimshapiro.com/
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