Vasa Previa & Other Things Learned During my Pregnancy

When 2020 began, I was determined on having this be my year to flourish. I had a slew of marvelous story assignments and trips planned through September and was patting myself on the back for the good shape I found myself in. Hiking, eating well, enjoying my day job in between travels. Then, I thought that all was coming to a halt thanks to Covid-19. Little did I know, that was just the beginning.

My husband and I have always had the thought of a child looming. Him onboard more than myself, I was good to “wait and see” if my thoughts might change on the subject in a year or so. Especially during the pandemic. Who would want to deal with medical appointments and be stuck in the hospital during Covid? As it turned out, my body and our baby had other plans.

Completely shocked and scared, I discovered I was pregnant a few days after Mother’s Day. The following weeks, even months, presented some of my worst anxiety and depression imaginable. I couldn’t comprehend the thought of pushing a human being out of my body, and as a very holistic-oriented person, knowing I’d be seeing more doctors didn’t sound fun at all.

Getting the (Baby) Ball Rolling

Alas, my original medical plan was my enlisting the care of my usual gynecologist paired with a doula. As much as I do like my OB, being a type one diabetic had me hearing recommendations I was just not on board with.

Type one diabetes automatically makes you a “high-risk pregnancy.” While there’s certainly a time and place to have a concern, I considered myself much more low-risk. My A1c level had dropped to 5.8 and I’ve never had any diabetic complications. As she recommended induction no matter what by 38 weeks, I knew this wouldn’t “jive” for me.

Ferociously turning to Google and Facebook groups, it was a huge bummer to see that most midwives (CNMs) cannot take on any high-risk pregnancy. Since I was young, I’d hoped for a medically low-invasive birth, possibly even a home birth. State laws will not allow it, and one of the few ways women can get away with this is to hire an unlicensed or CNM in training. I may be holistic, but I knew I had to be smart. As inspiring as I find it to read success stories and even women who’ve had “free births” at home, I wasn’t holding my breath to find a licensed midwife.

As I emailed several in Los Angeles, I was thrilled to have one recommend a lady to me who may be my perfect match. A former Labor and Delivery nurse, she’d recently become certified as a CNM and partners with an MFM (Maternal-Fetal Medicine) specialist to co-physician high-risk women in a hospital birth with a more “low key” setting in mind. Sign me up!

Goals for a Holistic Birth Despite Type One Diabetes

Although she was not my first choice, and looking back, I had some doubts in my gut about this partnership, I hired her. I consider myself a very good judge of character and can tell pretty instantly if I “mesh” with someone or not. It wasn’t that I disliked her, I just didn’t find her as warm as I’d envisioned a midwife to be. It felt very much like the business relationship it was rather than finding my own Mary Poppins to get me through shoving a kid out of me. All I’d heard was that’s how it is with a Doctor, and that it’s so much more personable with a CNM.

Emails were to the point and formal. I felt a bit like just another client. Which is fine, it’s all about getting my baby out safely and as minimally invasive as we could. We agreed on everything important to me and my views. This is what mattered. This is why I knew she’d be worth the hearty out of pocket expenses.

I became much more laid back after our first appointment, and figured my ultrasounds with her co-physician would be easy-peasy. Especially after reading his Yelp reviews and just how “world-renowned” he is. Little did I know what was to come.

Everybody Comes to Hollywood

When we arrived at his office, I immediately felt uncomfortable. I already was breaking my usual rule of female providers only, and his office felt very “Hollywood.” Framed magazine articles on his achievements, and an awkwardly huge faux floral display that seemed to be in the shape of an opening vagina. Maybe we read too much into it, but that’s certainly how it was perceived by us. Whatevs. I’ll tolerate him to get my midwifery birth experience.

Since he’s a “Concierge Doctor,” I soon learned just what that entails. Instead of being merely a specialist, a Concierge practitioner is supposed to indicate a more personal visit and access to the MD 24/7. We literally spent over five hours at the appointment. The majority of the time with his ultrasound tech, whom I didn’t mind. Everything was going smoothly, and tears were shed when we were told I’m carrying a little girl. It was one of the few times I’d cried happy tears yet. Then, we met the “Big Man on Campus.”

Meeting Mr. “World Renowned”

He seemed overworked and tired. He repeated the same questions to me, and I instantly felt for a high-risk pregnancy specialist, he didn’t seem to know type one diabetes as in-depth as you’d think. Then, he was concerned with my fasting (morning) blood sugars that ran around 90, which I’ve always been told by my endocrinologist is excellent. Next up, he zeroed in on my umbilical cord. Thus, began over a month of non-stop worry, anxiety, and depression.

After some more scans (and probably another hour of an already excessively long appointment), he asks to speak to us in his private room. That’s not good. He soon starts sketching out a map of my umbilical cord and speaking of a condition I now know too much about: Vasa Previa.

And, Along Comes Vasa Previa

An incredibly rare issue, Vasa Previa is when a woman’s umbilical cord is zig zagging and not in the center of the placenta. If not detected, you can go into pre-labor and your baby is gone within minutes since the placenta cannot give the support it needs to support the baby and delivery. Just around five in a few thousand get it, and the course of action is not for the faint of heart. We’re soon being told I should be prepared to check into the hospital for continuous monitoring by December 1st (mind you, my due date is the end of January) and deliver via c-section by Christmas. This puts our child in an extremely premature state, and we’ll need steroids to get her ready for her introduction.

As someone who specifically hired a midwife to avoid all of this kind of crap; hospitals, inductions, monitoring, c-sections. You can only imagine how devastated I am.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The following weeks were HARD. I have so much to contemplate, worry about, and consider. I truly don’t know where (or who) to turn to. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life and this is one of the hardest times I’ve ever had to cope with. I know I should be happy the Vasa Previa was caught, yet can I trust this man? As I said, I know pretty quickly when I like someone or not, and this whole experience just isn’t adding up for me. Of course, I figure this is just my resentment and anger sinking in, and maybe I shouldn’t trust myself. That’s why I’m seeing such “great” medical professionals.

During this time, I’m grateful for my midwife. She had another mom-to-be in the same position a few years back. She recommends I get in touch with this woman for support as well as advice. Hesitant, I email her. Little did I know that the pregnancy Gods would really be on my side for this.

Now What?

I soon learn from this fellow Vasa Previa mama that she had all of my same hang-ups and concerns. She immediately advises that I get a second opinion, and recommends the Doctor she wishes she had switched to for her Vasa Previa case. I eagerly call this Doctor’s office and literally hang up in tears when I’m told she just moved to UCLA and may not even be practicing or seeing patients yet. I decide to try another MFM at the office, and lo and behold, my insurance isn’t accepted there! Are these all signs to just accept what I’ve been told and go with it? It’s certainly seeming like it.

After my second follow-up with Big Guy, I truly cannot fathom the thought of staying with his practice. Another six-hour appointment, and this man literally falling asleep on us as he talks about a six-week hospital stay and c-section, I leave infuriated. I don’t find it a coincidence that Mabel (our daughter’s name) is uncooperative during the scans. She knows mommy ain’t happy, I swear.

Not knowing quite how to locate her, I pursue seeing the other MFM who has moved to UCLA. My Vasa Previa buddy urges me to. I can’t find her name anywhere in a directory, but being a journalist, I start to research endlessly for a personal email or number. Sure enough, I find an email address. I email her, probably sounding desperate, and don’t hold out much hope for even hearing from anyone. Late that same night, this Doctor DOES reply to me. I love the tone of her message and immediately feel some relief. She’s willing to see me, and my midwife marvels as I’m for sure one of her very first appointments at UCLA.

Second Opinions and Hope

Within minutes of seeing her, she informs me my condition is NOT Vasa Previa. It’s what they call Velamentous, another umbilical cord issue that is potentially serious and needs a close watch, but not as drastic as Vasa Previa. She sees no reason for early hospitalization, scheduled c-section, or that Mabel or myself are in a position to not make it out alive through delivery. I leave with such relief, but also still infuriated. How could this “world-renowned” Doctor tell me with a straight face how serious my case is? How dare he say my baby could die if I don’t follow his orders.

Yet, I don’t stop there. Me and my stubborn holistic ways, I talk over the phone with The Dude about keeping me on as long as he understands the condition I do have and that I want my midwife in-charge of the hospital delivery. He tells me he wants to review this with some of his colleagues and this could possibly work. Then? I never hear from him again.

I’m later informed that he’s been out sick. A month later. I find this hard to swallow. Yes, people get sick. They need time off. But, when you have an office full of staff and a slew of high-risk women relying on you for answers and guidance, shouldn’t someone apart of your team stay-in-touch when you do go out sick? I feel completely let down by him, as well as the midwife. I hate the fact I’ve given them any of my money.

New Plan

I had one last conversation with my CNM, and inevitably, let her go. She even agrees she wouldn’t look forward to a dual partnership with this Doctor as he’s apparently STILL spewing how “difficult” my case is and I need a close watch due to my diabetes (no mention of the Vasa Previa anymore.) Nope. I’m DONE. I’m also frustrated that this midwife even partners with him. Why not enlist the care of a fellow female provider?

The good news is, I’m the happiest I’ve been in this pregnancy. I’m forever grateful for the resources that led me to my new MFM and delivery team at UCLA. I’m leaving happier than I ever did with the midwife. The new team is respecting my holistic wishes, and I’m extremely confident that the delivery will go as it should under their care.

The Velamentous continues to need a close watch. I can’t rule out a c-section, but as of now, things are looking good for Mabel’s delivery. Although an MFM, she’s even willing to avoid induction unless absolutely necessary. That alone makes me want to cry happy tears.

Here Comes the (Mabel) Sun

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been depressed a lot of this year; anticipating labor and monumental changes in my life. Now? I’m trying to focus on the fact that I didn’t follow the advice of Mr. “World Renowned.” I’m not sitting in a lonely hospital room. It may be a pandemic year, but I get to be HOME for Christmas this week. I get to be HOME and with my FAMILY to enjoy our tree and beautiful new house. Mabel won’t be a month early for no reason. Maybe I’ll even get my silly wish that she’s born under the astrological sign of Aquarius. I’m extremely thankful and focusing on that those horrendous weeks led me to find my ideal Doctor to help us get Mabel here safely.

I also am overwhelmed at the generosity of my friends who’ve become family. The out pour of love and support Mabel, Michael, and I have received has been incredible. There’s so many people I love and that are there for us. I’ve been constantly reminded of this thanks to Mabel on her way.

If anyone reading this is in a similar boat, especially if you’re in Los Angeles, please feel free to reach out to me. I’m happy to give names and share more of my experience.

Stay tuned for my Word of the Year post that will definitely have Mabel in mind. xo