Birth Story: I Was Diagnosed With MS at 37 Weeks Pregnant

Until the 37th week of my pregnancy, I would have said that I had the easiest pregnancy in the history of the world. I never felt a hint of nausea, my skin was the clearest it’s ever been, I didn’t gain too much weight, I had no weird cravings, and my energy was always pretty high. I knew I was lucky and didn’t want to brag too much for fear that I’d jinx myself, but I felt great. In fact, I felt so good, that I even thought it was a good idea to move and completely renovate half of a home while living in it, starting at the end of my second trimester. Yes, it was stressful to have no kitchen and live in a construction zone, but it was okay because I felt okay.

Around 34 weeks, I noticed my tongue was feeling kind of weird. I thought I had burned it on something and figured it would go away. After a few days, I noticed that the feeling was stronger, and pinpointed it coming from the left side of my tongue. At my 35 week OB checkup, I mentioned this feeling to my doctor and asked if I should be worried. They said that although “tongue numbness” was a new one for them, pregnancy can cause swelling in all parts of the body, including the brain, which can cause strange neurological symptoms. They instructed me to keep a close eye on it and to let them know if it got worse.

 

Around 34 weeks, I noticed my tongue was feeling kind of weird. I thought I had burned it on something and figured it would go away.

 

A few days later, I noticed the entire left side of my mouth was numb and I wasn’t able to taste anything on that side. The day after that, the numbness spread to my lower lip and eventually to the entire lower left side of my face. I called my OB and he set up an appointment with a neurologist the next day.

At this point, I was still convinced it was something weird with my pregnancy. The neurologist said that it could be pregnancy related, but that it could also be something else affecting the cranial nerves of the face. I needed an MRI to be accurately diagnosed, and it was scheduled for the next day.

The MRI was not a pleasant experience because I had to lay down on my back for an hour and a half while 36 weeks pregnant. A few times the technician said, “Okay, this should be the last one,” only to say that they needed to do a few more. Call it intuition, call it spidey-senses, call it whatever — I just had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right.

The next day, I got a call from the neurologist telling me that, unfortunately, the MRI confirmed one of the things she suspected might be causing my symptoms. The MRI showed over 20 lesions throughout my brain. These lesions (essentially scar tissue) were consistent with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Somehow I managed to stay on the phone without completely losing it, as I listened to her tell me I most likely had the disease for the last five years, which would explain some other neurological symptoms I had throughout the past few years (namely bad bouts of vertigo, numbness, and tingling in my legs). The fact that the symptoms had always gone away indicated that I had relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which is the most common form. She got me in with an MS specialist the next week, and then I was tasked with calling my husband to tell him what she had said.

That conversation was hard. The following days were filled with lots of tears, research, anger, disbelief, more tears, and lots of talking. The doctor had called on a Friday, and my husband and I decided that we would give ourselves the weekend to feel all the feelings, but come Monday, we needed to come up with a game plan. We didn’t have a choice. I was just a little over 37 weeks pregnant — the baby could come at any minute. Everything felt like it was out of our control, so the least we could do was come up with an intelligent list of questions to ask the specialist and figure out how we were going to keep this incurable disease from ruining what was supposed to be the happiest time in our lives.

 

The following days were filled with lots of tears, research, anger, disbelief, more tears, and lots of talking.

 

Luckily, we felt an immediate connection with the specialist. We walked back to the car knowing exactly what treatment I was going to do. I was faced with the decision of starting treatment right after the baby was born, which would not allow me to breastfeed (something I was planning on doing), or holding off the treatment, which would allow me to breastfeed, but would put me at a great risk of a severe relapse – which comes with the risk of permanent damage. After talking with my doctors and the people I trust the most, I knew that what was best for me and my family would be for me to start treatment as soon as possible after the baby was born.

The weeks between that specialist appointment and the birth of our baby are kind of a blur. I was very pregnant, but despite it all, I was still feeling physically very good. That is, until about 39.5 weeks, when the gravity of everything that was happening in our lives started to completely crush me.

My 40-week appointment started with an ultrasound where we learned that the baby was very large. I was only 1.5 cm. dilated, so my doctor told me I had a few different options, including the choice to be induced the next day, which would assure that he would be the one to deliver our baby. The other option was to wait and see if I would go naturally, but he warned that my risk of C-section was already elevated because my baby was measuring over 9 lbs. We decided it wouldn’t hurt to have him sweep my membranes (ew) to see if it triggered anything, knowing full well when I got home and talked to my husband, we would likely choose to be induced the next day.

The next evening we headed to the hospital, massive amounts of stuff in tow. Being induced is a strange thing – it’s kind of like checking into a weird hotel. They take you to your room and explain the order of events, and make you as comfortable as possible.

 

Step One

 

They try to open up the cervix with a foley bulb (balloon) procedure. This was pretty uncomfortable, but they give you some medication (which makes you feel drunk) to help you relax before inserting a deflated balloon into your vagina, which they then fill with saline in hopes that the pressure helps your cervix dilate to 3 cm. It’s a long process, and it’s pretty uncomfortable, so I tried to sleep as much as possible. After 10 hours, I got up to go to the bathroom and the balloon just dropped out of me. By then, I was at 5 cm.

 

Step Two

 

We had to break the water. This was, in fact, the grossest feeling in the world. Apparently, I had a massive amount of amniotic fluid. So much so, that my doctor had told me at my 40-week appointment that whenever and wherever my water broke, it would be very messy. It was like a hot waterfall of liquid pouring out of me with every tiny movement I made, for what felt like hours. 

 

Step Three

 

I got Pitocin to get the contractions started. I hadn’t had any Braxton Hicks contractions, so I didn’t have the slightest idea what was in store. All I knew was that if I didn’t get the epidural, I was going to be in a world of hurt. It didn’t take long for the contractions to start, and as a result, for me to ask for that epidural ASAP.

 

Step Four

 

When I arrived at the hospital I told the nurse that I was planning on getting an epidural, so she had the anesthesia team come in and talk to me before everything got going. They mentioned that because of the MS, they would need to look at my MRIs and make sure my spine was clear, and then give me a different type of drug but assured me it was “the good stuff” that they only used in special situations.

For the epidural, they have the partners leave the room. It didn’t take long, but man oh man does it make a world of difference. God bless anesthesiologists and god bless the nurse that let me hold her hands and reminded me to breathe as the waves of contractions passed before they got the needle in.

 

Step Five

 

Now we wait. The nurses, doctors, and midwives come in and check on you, but you feel pretty good — making this a perfect time to rest (or in my case, catch up on The Bachelor).  My husband went to grab some food, and a few minutes later the monitor next to my bed started going crazy. I figured the fetal heart monitor probably got moved and waited for the experts to come in a fix it. The midwife on the floor looked at the screen, adjusted the monitor, and then asked me to hold the Oxygen mask up to my face for a bit.

The baby’s heart rate was dropping with each contraction. A few seconds later, the midwife had me flip onto all fours and told me to continue to breathe into the mask. She then leaned in close and told me, “Don’t panic. I’m about to hit this button on the wall which is going to make about a dozen people run in here. Things are about to get a little hectic, but it’s going to be okay. You’re having too many contractions too close together and we need to get it under control, because it’s putting stress on the baby.” She pushed that button, and I immediately was surrounded by what felt like a million people, all talking to me, all giving me commands. It was pretty terrifying. They decided that they needed to stop the contractions altogether by giving me a dose of Nitroglycerin and stopping the Pitocin. My OB rushed over from his office and explained to me that I was reacting very strongly to the drug. They would give my body a break, and start it at a lower dose again in a few hours.  

 

Step Six

 

25 hours after arriving at the hospital — and a few hours after going back on the Pitocin — I was told the time had come for me to start pushing. My doctor went out of the room to change and told the nurse and the resident in the room to have me start. With the first push, the baby’s heart rate plummeted. They told me to stop, roll back on to all fours, breathe into the oxygen mask, and pushed the button again. I don’t even remember exactly what they said or what they did, but I know a half an hour later I was pushing again. With each push, the baby’s heart rate would drop, so I had to take longer breaks in between pushing, and during those breaks, I’d have to get on all fours and breathe into the mask. After 20 minutes of this, my doctor said that it was becoming too dangerous for the baby and that the best thing would be to have a C-section.

 

Step Seven

 

C-Section. I was okay with having a C-Section. I knew it was likely, because of how big the baby was. I’ve had lots of surgeries before — including one to remove an ovarian cyst that resulted in an incision that was exactly the same as a C-Section scar — so I knew what it felt like to recover from that surgery. What I wasn’t prepared for was what it would be like to be awake on an operating table. They make you lay with your arms out at your sides, the room is freezing cold, and apparently one of the drugs they give you can make you shake uncontrollably. This was the worst part of the entire experience. The shaking. I was not in anyway prepared for this. I kept asking them to put blankets over my chest thinking that would help. It didn’t. Eventually, I just gave in to the teeth chattering and shaking, but only after the doctor assured me my lower half was in fact, not shaking (I couldn’t stop thinking about them accidentally slicing the wrong organ because of my moving).

At one point, my OB asked my husband if he had a sensitive stomach. He said no, so my OB told him that when it was time to get the baby out, he’d let my husband know and he could stand up and watch them pull him out of me. Oh, I am so glad that they did. I am so glad that one of the very first faces our son saw was his dad’s. I am so happy that my husband was the one to tell me that it was a boy, and I am so happy that one of the OR nurses had his cell phone and took photos of that moment.

That moment, that first cry, is the sweetest sound I have ever heard in my entire life. I was sobbing even before I saw him. My husband said “It’s a boy! He’s perfect! He’s SO LONG,” which, in fact, he was. They brought him over to me to see and to kiss his sweet face, and then placed him in my husband’s arms, and gave him a bottle. I laid on the table as they put me back together and watched my husband feed our son. It was the single best moment of my life, something I will never forget.

 

 

The next few days were a wonderful blur of baby cuddles, asking the nurses 10,000 questions, marveling at the fact that we made this (not-so-tiny) perfect human, and that he was ours. In that instant in the operating room, we became a family. For the second time in three week, our lives had been turned completely upside down, but this time it wasn’t the, “I just fell off a cliff and am dangling,” kind of upside down, it was the, “I am on the best roller coaster of my life and I am screaming with joy” kind of upside down.

It’s been five months since our son was born. Since then, I’ve spent 16 hours receiving IV treatments, five hours in MRI machines, and three hours in my neurologist’s office. I have felt healthy and strong, and confident that I made that right choice in starting treatment right away. The three weeks before our son came into the world were the worst three weeks of my life. The last five months have been, undeniably, the absolute best.

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