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December 18, 2013: The Glue that Holds Us Together

December 18, 2013

I haven’t had very much running to write about lately, because exactly seven weeks and three days ago, I was ordered to stop running. “Stop running,” said the midwife. “You need to be on pelvic rest.

Pelvic rest is something a pregnant woman learns about when she has complete placenta previa, as was the case with me. Very simply, placenta previa means that the placenta, a pretty incredible, brand new organ that facilitates nutrient, oxygen and waste transfer, was completely covering my cervix. This was not great. If the placenta doesn’t move as the baby grows, then there is a chance of placental abruptio, severe bleeding, premature birth, and on and on. Women with complete placenta previa at 40 weeks automatically get cesarean sections, with good reason. And as if this wasn’t wildly unexpected enough, here are some potential risk factors for placenta previa:

– You had placenta previa in a previous pregnancy.

– You’ve had c-sections before.

– You’ve had some other uterine surgery.

– You’re pregnant with twins or more.

– You’re a cigarette smoker.

– You use cocaine.

Check, check, check… wait. None of this holds true for me. I don’t even know how to use cocaine.

So we faced a pretty steep and potentially scary learning curve, and I stopped running. I was not upset to stop running, but I admittedly did not have any particularly martyr-ish “whatever’s best for baby!” feelings, either. I just started power walking: arm-swinging (but low-impact!), fast four-mile walks with the dog. At first I walked three times a week. Soon, it was nearly every day. I didn’t do it because I’m stubborn, I did it because I like fresh air. And the dog likes fresh air. And while I refuse to hold my child to unrealistic, unkind standards about her/his education, achievements, future job, etc., I very much hope that she or he likes fresh air, too. So: No time like the present!

Walden and I (and baby) had nearly seven weeks of pretty spectacular, sparkly winter walks, and things were looking up. The placenta was moving with my growing belly; I was feeling strong; my writing was going well; the holidays were coming… It was wonderful news, on all counts.

But then I had to stop walking, too. There’s this thing called Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), and it seems I have it or something like it.  I don’t really care about the details-somehow placenta previa seems much more interesting-so suffice it to say, this past Sunday, it began to hurt A LOT to walk. It also hurt to sit in a chair, and to lie down in bed. I’m generally okay with physical pain (“I’ve run through a lot worse!” goes my little Pollyanna mantra), but I was not okay with the uneasiness that accompanied this, the ominous questions swirling through my mind again and again. Will this last the entire pregnancy? Could it affect me after the pregnancy? What if I can’t walk normally again? What if I can’t run?

That was all very scary. It also made me acutely aware, if only for a few days, of what it might be like to be handicapped, and to be handicapped in winter when you’re trying to do a little holiday shopping. Here’s what I learned:

Slush is frightening. Drivers don’t always look in their rear-view mirrors when they back up, and what if you can’t scurry out of the way? Store merchandise is often positioned too high, and sometimes too low, to comfortably reach. Shopping bags are heavy. Doors are heavy, too, especially in the wind, and people are impatient with anything-or anyone-holding up their healthy holiday momentum. And it’s really lonely. Like most people, I suppose I’d like to think I knew all of this already, that I was sympathetic, a proud champion of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But of course, as I sit here on my new blue exercise ball, the one my ever-compassionate husband bought and inflated for me last night, in my cozy office, with the number of a physical therapist (covered by insurance) taped to my computer and the promise that this will get better and  only last as long as the pregnancy assuaging my earlier panic, I know my sympathy is conditional. It’s limited. With each steadier step, I forget the slush and the heavy doors.

So for now, for all of us, a small offering:

A dear friend has been dealing with health issues as well, and last night I sent her a text: “What is happening to us?!”

She wrote back, “Yeah, we’re falling apart! PB’s response [PB stands for Pastor Betty, our beloved faith leader]: ‘Not falling apart, just life. God is the glue!'”

Now, I’m anthropologist enough to respectfully recognize all the ways that last sentence can be understood, interpreted, ignored. But if God is love-which is what I think-then my glue is that blue ball. And it’s umpteen unexpected emails from old friends and friendly acquaintances, and the Serbian building manager who always says, “How are you two doing?” when he sees (pregnant) me. It’s the elderly women who swim silently, steadily past me at the pool, the generous midwife, the ever-present parents, the dog who slows down-just a little-when I reach for his leash. It’s all the neighbors who smile and ask how I’m feeling and pass along sweet hand-me-down baby clothes and their kids’ favorite worn-out story books. It’s the loved ones who are facing their own sorrows and discomforts and still show up, sometimes even to celebrate. It’s the sparkling eyes of our childbirth class instructor and the warm hugs of so many other kind, vulnerable soon-to-be parents. It’s the patience we found in a crowded Target parking lot. It’s me, and maybe you, when we look out for someone who’s moving a little slower than us. There you have it. There’s the glue.

Merry Christmas.

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