Ten years ago to the day (for those detail-oriented folk, the official date was yesterday, but the day was Thursday so I’m going with that) I was exceptionally pregnant and graduating from Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Two days beyond my due date, swollen beyond recognition (literally – I stood on stage for more than ten minutes while my class processed in and my family could not identify me) and hopeful that the hot water and towels, that our Dean flippantly mentioned were waiting back stage in case of emergency, would not be needed. After spending the better part of twenty weeks hoping the contractions I experienced would not lead to preterm delivery, I was beyond ready to see this pregnancy through to completion and meet the baby who had accompanied me daily through my senior year of school.
Interestingly, I learned I was pregnant with biggest during my OB rotation, near the beginning of my fourth year of medical school. I remember the day vividly, sitting in the call room after returning from Grand Rounds in Grand Rapids, recovering from “car sickness” and extreme fatigue, which I attributed to the busy overnights. Two of the OB residents were discussing the end of their first trimesters and coordinating coverage for their anticipated March deliveries when I picked up a pregnancy wheel, plugging in dates and noting that RIGHT THEN would be a really great time to become pregnant as the due date would land at the beginning of the open time between graduation from medical school and the start of residency. On reviewing my symptoms, a senior resident insisted I obtain a pregnancy test from clinic. I complied and watched in disbelief as two stripes quickly appeared. I returned, shocked, to the call room and confirmed that the result did indeed mean what I thought it meant.
Fatigue gave way to intense morning sickness, making me an expert bathroom finder and permanently intolerant of hospital air freshener as I survived anesthesiology and internal medicine rotations. During an OMM month in Maine, where I anticipated my residency would take place upon graduation, there was a brief blissful interval of increased energy and resolution of extreme nausea, during which I abandoned vegetarianism (apparently biggest wanted meat, which proves accurate to this day, though I am happy to report his tastes have improved from that first foray of Arby’s Roast Beef…I know…). For many reasons revealed during this month, the move to Maine was not meant to be and we affirmed our commitment to remain in Michigan for residency.
Settling back into the remainder of my core rotations, it was during a winter month on psychiatry with the appearance of a growing uterus now clearly visible, that I was quickly unsettled by the consistent sensation of contractions. Following protocol I had learned during my OB rotations, I hydrated, rested, waited and counted. Sure enough, they continued, very noticeably, in a fairly regular pattern. As I was barely approaching the halfway point of gestation, this was a concerning development for which I was quickly seen and evaluated. Thankfully, I was not progressing into labor, but I was started on medication to lessen the contractions and scheduled for testing every week to ensure more drastic measures would not be required.
Among my final rotations was scheduled time in Malawi – an experience I had anticipated since my interview for medical school back in 2001, when I had the pleasure of conversing with the director of the program, Dr. Terrie Taylor, en route to my acceptance to MSU COM. While preliminary tests were reassuring, extended discussion with my OB made clear that the risk of delivering in Malawi at 24 weeks was too great and I removed myself from the program with hope of someday (still pending…) returning as an attending and coordinating a visit to meet my husband’s family in South Africa.
I remained pregnant for the final four months of rotations, slightly crazed by restrictions on exercise and in denial of the rising blood sugars as I had “passed” the three-hour glucose test. Having met all my requirements, I had the month of April off prior to graduation, completed a baby quilt and the nursery, hurried up…and waited. My due day came and went as the contractions continued every five minutes, leaving me wondering how they could possibly help with excavation if they had proven ineffective for the past twenty weeks. It seemed that the two-hour drive and company of hundreds of doctors were support enough for the adventure to participate in graduation. I was grateful to biggest for granting me time to complete my duties as Class Vice President and deliver the oath for my classmates to recite as we moved our tassels and became Doctors of Osteopathy.
Thankfully, I made it back home and the following day had hints of a shift from the easy familiar contractions to a more intense and meaningful experience. Confident that a night of pain meant I was well on my way, I presented to the land of OB, where the saga had begun and was held for countless tests over the past 30+ weeks, only to be turned away at barely 4cm. Not wanting to be “the patient who cried labor” I waited out the next nursing shift, only to return to find the testing nurse pulling overtime but thankfully this time earned an admission. In a prolonged process, that was explained upon arrival as a 9lb 6oz, 22 inch newborn, biggest managed to wait for his aunt, Tusha and grandma, arriving 49 minutes before midnight, as the fifth baby born in Special Delivery on Cinco de Mayo.
At a combined total of 72 hours, these were my longest, but most transformational, transition times, but thankfully this was not a race won on time. Victory was not medal, trophy or podium stand – instead, it was snuggles with biggest with diploma on the wall, crossing the finish line together in the same building where we had started nine months prior.
With gratitude to all who walked with me on the journey – doctors, nurses, family and friends; with congratulations – to my classmates on a decade of learning post-graduation and with happiest birthday wishes to biggest – now nearly as tall as me and a confident, kind, independent almost-ten-year old, it’s been fun having you on board, then and now!