What a Trip to the Emergency Room Taught Me About My Body and Pregnancy
You may know her as Carmen from the George Lopez show, but Masiela Lusha is also an accomplished poet and a devoted humanitarian. And she’s about to step into a new role: a mom. Here, she shares a glimpse into her pregnancy with The Bump.
“I can’t move. I can’t breathe,” I hiccupped between sobs to my best friend. “I couldn’t sleep all night from this cramping pain.”
I could hear her straining over the phone, attempting to remain calm.
It was 7:30 in the morning, and ten minutes earlier, I plastered a fake smile for my husband, encouraging him to head to work. I assured him not to worry, and that I would be alright. But I wasn’t alright. I hadn’t been alright since the day before when the cramping began. It had been over 16 hours of excruciating pain. However, I donned the burden of not worrying him; I embraced it with pride. Isn’t this what wives do? They protect their husbands from unnecessary worry before work?
And yet, here I was, now vulnerable and alone, curled on the precipice of my bed, unable to roll over. The tears felt foreign to me. This isn’t me, I protested. I am not the girl who cries over physical pain. In fact, I hardly cry at all. And I hardly worry about my body as it is.
Was it psychosomatic, worrying myself into a painful frenzy from reading the pages of foreboding Google searches on prolonged pregnancy cramping? Or, God forbid, was I truly in danger of losing this child we had already named? What would I tell my husband? My mind was a blur of scenarios, the cramping exploded into a sensation I’ve never felt before. It felt like extreme period cramps, with sharp side stabs usually experienced from long distance running.
By the time I managed to recover my voice, my best friend, who was 7 months pregnant, was already letting her boss know that she would need to leave the office and take me to the ER. She worked over an hour away. I assured her, just as I assured my husband, that I didn’t need her there. I would drive myself. She insisted, reminding me that she has only heard me cry twice in our 20-year friendship, and I insisted harder and hung up the phone.
Doubled over, gripping the stair railing, I clawed my way into my car. I could do this. One more mile, and I was at the Emergency Room. My haven. Was the baby still alive? If I’m having a miscarriage, will it feel worse than this pain I’m enduring? Unthinkable thoughts were racing through my mind with each speed bump my car fled over. I couldn’t decide what hurt more, the physical pain or the emotional anguish of not being in control.
Once I arrived, I was immediately strapped with an IV and a catheter. A urine sample, a handful of blood tests, an ultrasound on my kidney, bladder, and uterus, and the dreaded MRI was performed.
“Will the MRI sound damage the fetus?” I asked.
“Do you believe in God,” was the ER doctor’s response.
“Then pray to God the baby is safe. Think happy thoughts.”
After hours upon hours of tests, it was 3 p.m. I was pale from not eating a bite and was begging for water. The nurses were worried by the extreme dip in my blood pressure and replenished my IV. When my husband called to check up on me, he immediately left work when he realized I had taken myself to the emergency room.
Together in our little curtained sanctuary we held hands, and waited for the result.
Absolutely nothing was wrong.
My levels were perfect, according to the ER doctor, my ultrasound and MRI were clear, and our baby (thank God) was moving and had a stable heartbeat.
“What could it be?” I asked, searching his face for an answer. He appeared as bewildered as my husband and me.
“I assure you I’m not a hypochondriac,” I offered a weak smile. “In fact, I haven’t ever been to the emergency room before this visit.”
The doctor looked at me carefully, and finally offered the one piece of advice I needed to hear days before this emergency visit:
“You are too hard on yourself. You likely pulled your round ligament from physical exertion.”
A lull fell over me. I intuitively knew he was right.
The night before I had wrapped a demanding play. My character was stabbed in the stomach. She fought every ounce for her life, twisting and shouting, defending herself heroically the heavy hands that pushed her back onto her cot. I knew it was physically demanding, but I adored the director who offered me the role. I knew she had a terrific vision. I wanted to be there for her, to support her. In hindsight, I should have reconsidered. The role was psychologically draining at a very delicate and new time in my life, and the role was physically demanding, to say the least. The production was small, as passion projects tend to be, so often times as actors we did not have a place to sit for hours on end as we waited for our scenes. When a cast member offered to find me a chair, I refused. If they couldn’t sit, neither would I. Whenever anyone suggested I take a break and not overly exert myself, I felt a shock of indignation. I did not need extra coddling. We were in this production together, as a team.
I wish someone would have told me as we began rehearsals that a pregnant woman’s body is not her own while expecting; that the rules of her body are completely rewritten to accommodate the development of life. Whether she likes it or not, it is her responsibility to move more mindfully, stretch more carefully and to unapologetically accept any help she can receive. This heightened level of concern for her wellbeing is not a reflection of her debilitating state, her weakness as a woman, but rather a level of respect for the fetus and her body as its cradle. While my appetite shifted and my dreams became more vivid at night, I never anticipated that my body would be overcome by the changes of pregnancy as well. After all, I performed ballet since I was 7; I was in full command of my body and did not need to submit to weakness. It was a very painful mistake to adhere to such ideals.
As women, we are expected to maintain a healthy lifestyle, a career, our family and a social life seamlessly. As pregnant women, we are taught that each aspect of our life can remain intact while we transition through the three trimesters. While many women can truly balance all elements of their life seamlessly, a majority, me included, simply cannot. Our bodies must adjust, and with it our schedules need to orient around this new chapter.
Courage can be quiet—it can be an acknowledgement of our limits. We should embrace this change in our bodies thoughtfully and without guilt. Accept the transition, accept the support, accept that milkshake. And, please, please, please accept that chair.