The Most Bizarre Case of Almost-Undiagnosed Herpes and My Cesarean Birth Story
The Most Bizarre Case of Almost-Undiagnosed Herpes and My Cesarean Birth Story
I've been contemplating writing this since I started my blog back in January. It's such a personal story, not many of our closest friends even know all the gory details, so to put it out there for the world to read is a big deal. I decided to write this story for the blog because my daughter's 5th birthday is coming up and I've never written her story before. As well, I wanted people to know that sometimes births don't go the way you want them to. And if you are like me, you can plan all you want for a homebirth and still end up with an unplanned hospital cesarean birth. So the best thing to do? Be prepared for anything. Pack a bag at least! I was so sure I could avoid the hospital and a cesarean I didn't pack a bag. I ended up bringing my baby home in the most god awful outfit in the world because my husband had to go home and find something for her by himself (hand-me-down yellow t-shirt with red and white striped leggings, and a pink toque). There were no "baby's homecoming" pictures of her!
Warning: If you are the kind of person who is sensitive to TMI (too much information) then you might want to stop reading right now. Some of this is a bit yucky. And please be kind with your comments. If you have a criticism of any of the choices I made, please know that I've criticized myself for many of them already. Okay, here we go.
The contractions woke me up around 2:00 am. I sat in the dark watching them come and go, every 20 minutes or so, and I excitedly wondered if today was the day I would become a mother. Hubby was working the night shift an hour away. Even though my contractions were far apart I couldn't help but picture the baby suddenly deciding to come and being alone to deliver her on the floor of my bathroom. I can be a worrier, so I called him and asked him to come home.
Hubby arrived to find me in the tub. I've always been a light sleeper, so I couldn't just roll over and go back to bed. Unfortunately, I'd been suffering from insomnia for a few nights, so this was a really bad time to decide to have a bath. But in my defense I knew baths could slow things down and help relax a labouring mom, and that was my primary goal so I could possibly get a few zz's before sunrise.
Hubby called the midwives so they knew what was happening. They told me I wasn't in labour, go back to bed and they would call me in the morning.
Around 8:00, after only winks of sleep, the midwives called and told me they'd made an appointment for me to see the Obstetrician so we could try to diagnose this issue I was having. You see, approximately a week earlier I noticed a strange lesion on the upper part of my left thigh. It was slightly larger than a loonie (aka, silver dollar) and as the days passed little bitty baby lesions radiated out from it, like an ugly sun and its sunrays. Other lesions ranging in size from the head of a pin to a nickel covered my upper thing and just under my bikini line. There were a few on the right thigh too, but not nearly as many. In all there must have been one hundred. It was the grossest thing I have ever seen. To this day I shudder, remembering it.
Anyway, when I first spotted it I went straight to the Walk-In Clinic to see a doctor. The on-call told me he had no idea what it was but that it didn't look like anything that could affect my ability to have a natural delivery. Since it was week 39 and I could have the baby any day, he didn't think it made any sense to swab or test it as the results from lab tests took two weeks to come in and by that time I already would have had the baby or it would have disappeared. No such luck doc. It just grew and grew.
The midwives saw it a few days later. They said they had no idea what it was either. They told me in their wise-women-knowing-stay-positive way that it would be gone by the time the baby decided to arrive. No such luck midwives. She's a-comin'!
Thus the OB appointment. She squeezed me in between appointments on a busy day since it was obvious that we had a situation on our hands. I think she might have recoiled when she saw my legs. I'm pretty sure she said "Oh my God."
"What is it?" we all wanted to know, expectantly waiting her diagnosis.
"I have absolutely no idea," she replied. "In all my 20 years of being an OB/GYN I have never seen the likes of this!"
She called in one of her colleagues across the hall to come and take a look. She was stumped too. The next appointment was canceled as she went to work trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I think she was pretty thrilled actually. I don't blame her. I've always enjoyed the difficult puzzles who are clients in my mental health work too. (Luckily for me, my contractions were still very irregular: 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 35 minutes, 7 minutes. We had time.) She called up the Provincial Center for Disease Control (CDC) and spoke with someone about the presentation of the lesions.
"Herpes," they guessed.
"No, I don't think so," she said. Maybe it was yeast-filled warts, she thought. (God that was hard to type! Sorry if anyone just threw up a little. I know I did.)
Biopsy time! She froze a small area of my thigh and took out of nice chunk of flesh with what looked like a hole-puncher. She filled it in with some kind of silver solution (?). To this day I can still see it although she told me it was supposed to disappear. She also took pictures (Ugh!) and emailed them to the CDC. That might have been one of the most humiliating moments of my life, regardless of the fact she let my hubby take the pictures.
Before we left she said, "In my professional opinion this is not herpes. But because I can't be sure I need to recommend a c-section. It's up to you, and I will support whatever decision you make, but if I were you I would get the cesarean." She handed me a prescription for sleeping pills and told me to go home and sleep and hope that my contractions would stop to buy us some time.
I probably cried on the way home. I really wanted to birth this baby at home. Moreover, I didn't want to make the wrong decision based on guesses and recommendations! I wanted facts!
As soon as we walked in the door the receptionist from the OB's office called and said that she had done some research after we left and found out that they do a rapid-screening herpes test in the city an hour away. Would we be interested in getting one? Are you kidding me? So on practically no sleep and no food to boot (I don't know why I hadn't eaten - I'm usually very good about that sort of thing. It was likely all the stress and anxiety) we got back into the car and drove north.
The contractions weren't getting anymore regular but they were getting closer together: 12 minutes, 6 minutes, 3 minutes, 9 minutes. I had a really big one that had me doubled over the hood of the car when we got there. Luckily, they got us in immediately. The doctor who examined me wasn't any wiser than the first ones. He just did the swab and sent it off. He did suggest he check and see if I was dialated though, which I also thought was a good idea.
"Aaaaahhhhfffffuuuuuhhhh!" I screeched, trying not to swear the word trying to escape my lips. "What the hell was that?" It had felt like he had examined me with a ragged tin can, the barrrel of a gun or something similarily invasive and cruel.
"That was two fingers," he told me, with an obvious look of concern. I looked over at my hubby for confirmation, who nodded, eyes wide with fear. Then he said something along the lines of "If I didn't think you had herpes before, I do think so now. That shouldn't have hurt you at all. You must have lesions inside your vaginal walls. This baby should be delivered immediately by cesarean, before your bag of waters breaks. If it does break your baby could be exposed to infection. We can keep you here and do it right now if you want."
Information overload! Then I know I cried! He gave me and the hubby some time together to decide what we would do. I still wanted confirmation. My bag of water hadn't broken, my contractions were still irregular, and if I had to have a c-section I wanted to do it at our local hospital with my midwives by my side. We decided to take our chances, rather, I decided and hubby supported me. The doctor was kind about it, wished us luck and told us the results would be in within the hour.
The car ride home was the most awful hour of my life. I had one of my birthing CDs in the car that had been playing itself over and over all day long. Finally I yelled at my poor hubby to "turn that damn thing off!" "Drive faster!" was another demand I inflicted, one I never do. I tend to drive in the slow lane on any other given day. I writhed around in the backseat of my Toyota Echo, not even close to being big enough to fit a 6 ft tall labouring mama. Finally we got to town and stopped at the local arena. The midwives had called but hubby's cel phone died trying to return the message, so we needed some place to make a call from a pay phone. It was a busy night at the arena. The Barenaked Ladies and Neil Young were playing a very special concert to raise awareness about air pollution being generated by our local mill. Tickets were astronomically expensive with people coming from all over the world to see Neil Young play in an auditorium that could only fit 200 people. Hubby had bought tickets months earlier and as the date approached I urged him to sell them.
"I don't want to go into labour at a concert I told him."
"But our baby could be born barenaked under a harvest moon!" he protested, laughing. Thankfully he sold them.
Now, as we pulled up to the curb in the no parking zone, I wondered if his joke might come true. It must have been intermission. People were milling about, smoking, talking, laughing. I'm sure I spoiled the mood a little as I tumbled out of the backseat to manage a particularly painful contraction now stretched out over the curb and car.
"Is she okay?" asked one. "Should we call an ambulance?" wondered another.
"She's fine, she's just in labour," called my assumedly embarrassed husband. I've never minded making a scene in public if the occasion arises. He on the other hand would rather die, I'm sure.
Hubby raced back to the car. "She said she wants us to meet her at the clinic so she can check how far along you are. I told her we first have to get something to eat though."
Food! I was famished at this point, but also equally anxious to find out the results. Soon we rounded into a Subway parking lot and hubby bounded out of the car to get sandwiches. I watched him through the window order our dinner and then answer his phone. (I thought his phone was broken? This part is blurry...) Then he ran back.
"We have to get to the clinic right away and you're not allowed to eat anything," he told me. Kindly, he didn't open his sandwich and take a bite while telling me this. Mine lay forlornly on the seat between us.
I think I swore.
Our midwife was already there. She waited while I had a contraction then sat us down and delivered the news. Herpes Simplex 1. Primary outbreak. Cesarean strongly recommended. My choice. Baby could die or be born with massive brain damage. Here's some information. My choice? I scanned the document. Statistics. Only a 5% chance of a healthy baby. There was no choice to be made.
My dream for a homebirth was down the drain. Like a little girl I held my midwife's hand as we entered the hospital while hubby stayed behind to fill out some papers. Did I want a wheelchair? someone asked. No, I wanted to walk. I might be scared and sick with disappointment and grief but I wasn't letting anyone "medicalize" me anymore than needed. They wouldn't even let me wear my birthing necklace, the only thing I'd grabbed as we first headed out the door at the beginning of the day.
My midwife took as much of a role in the process of possible. She explained the procedure, shaved me, helped me undress and stayed in the room the whole time while someone gave me the spinal and did all those other things they have to do that I've pretty much blocked out. She assured me that my one request to announce the baby's sex would be granted. When I threw up as they sliced me open she held the bucket . When I started to lose it as they squeezed my baby out of my chest cavity like I was a toothpaste tube and she was the toothpaste, she led me through an unrelated visualization. She was my hero.
I later learned my husband had trouble being my main support because he was on my right side with a window right in front of him. It was late at night so the entire room reflected back at him. And on his right, no one was noticing but the privacy curtain that they put up so the mom can't see her insides being lifted out, was slowly falling down, revealing all the goings on in my nether regions. He was scared to look at my face for revealing his own fear, and I'm sure it didn't help him to see mine. He has no stomach for blood and guts (literally!) so all her could do was look down and squeeze my hand. Poor guy. In retrospect I think it was the funniest part of the whole day.
My baby girl was born in a lightening storm September 17th, 2004 at 11:09 PM with an apgar score of 9. If I had laboured and delivered naturally she would have been born on her due date. She was gorgeous and perfect and unharmed. My bag of waters never broke so she was never exposed to the virus. I didn't get to hold her for an hour because she was whisked away to an incubator due to some fluid in her lungs. They say when a baby comes out vaginally the journey down the birth canal squeezes all that fluid out, but because she was lifted up and out of me, that never happened. My arms were aching to hold her when she finally breastfed. My midwife was there to help me and my daughter did so easily. I fell in love with her immediately, but I think the drugs affected my interest in keeping her in the room with me, which affected our bonding during the time I was in the hospital (three days). I was so tired from not sleeping for three days and I was scared I couldn't meet her needs if she was next to me that I requested the nurses keep her and bring her to me when she was hungry. They listened and brought her to me around every two hours, but I still live with the guilt of missing out on that important early bonding. I have been trying to make up for it ever since we got home and sometimes I wonder if my daughter's behavioural problems and challenges with Autism spectrum-like issues have anything to do with it. The best thing about the cesarean for me was the catheter. It was amazing not to have to get out of bed to pee for 24 hours!
I'm so thankful to that receptionist who found out about the rapid-screening herpes test. If we hadn't gone to do that I have no idea what might have happened, what choice I might have made.
To this day it's a mystery where I got the virus. Neither I nor my husband had ever had a cold sore, and cheating was not an issue, so we think one of us was possibly an asymptomatic carrier which resulted in an outbreak when my body was most vulnerable. And I never had another outbreak until three weeks before the birth of my second daughter, although that one was much smaller and disappeared before she was born, safely in the comfort of our own home. Yes, I'm proud to say I did eventually get my homebirth, and a HBAC to boot! So there you go. That's my story.