Pregnancy anxieties, placenta previa and a birth mantra

After my 20-week ultrasound a while back, my doctor called to say oh-so-nonchalantly that I had a “low lying placenta.” In her voicemail, she said we’d just monitor it on ultrasound and it was likely to resolve.

But I heard, “You’re at high risk and should panic immediately and often.”

Before calling her back, I turned to Google, which diagnosed me with placenta previa, where part or all of the placenta is covering the cervix. Nine times out of ten, the placenta migrates as the uterus grows and it’s not a big deal.

But in some cases, it doesn’t move, which is bad news for lots of reasons, mainly that you can’t attempt a vaginal birth with a bloody placenta in the way. Google also tells me that I’m at risk for bleeding and premature birth. The internet pretty much confirmed my worst fears: that I’d hemorrhage and die on the table while trying to deliver a preemie baby.

Commence the full-blown panic attack.

On talking with my doctor, I realized it wasn’t quite time for worst-case-scenario panicking. Not yet. The placenta could move, it probably would, and surely I’d have the natural, loving, peaceful natural birth I wanted.

But now I’m at week 32 and no such luck with placental movement. Luckily — and hopefully writing this won’t jinx it for me — I haven’t had any complications or bleeding. Yet. I feel like I’m on Placenta Watch 2013, as I have been in for scans every few weeks, after which all my concerned friends and family asked for a position update. The latest is that it has inched (or centimetered?) a bit but still isn’t in a cleared position for a vaginal birth. Yes, technically it’s not even the placenta that moves, but rather the uterus that expands downward, forcing the placenta away from the cervical opening. But really, you should rely more on WebMD for the specifics.

I dreamed the other night that I was on the way to a baby shower my friends were throwing me when I had a massive hemorrhage and was rushed to the ER. Strangely in that same dream, when I arrived at the hospital, an ultrasound revealed my unborn son to look strikingly like Mickey Mouse.

It actually surprises me that it’s taken almost eight months of this mess to have anxiety dreams. The reality is this pregnancy has been a thousand times more stressful than my first. I’ve had many sleepless nights and heart-racing evenings trolling message boards and websites for information on previa. As with pregnancy in general, each person’s experience is so different. Some women see the issue resolved before the third trimester; others have massive bleeds that lead to early delivery.

The author at 26 weeks pregnant
The author at 26 weeks pregnant

Each doctor’s visit usual sends me on another twist of the roller coaster: It’s moving, hooray! Maybe this baby won’t come early and I can have a vaginal birth again! Or, Oh god, it’s only a matter of time until I hemorrhage and this baby will start his life in the NICU.  And none of this has done well for my unfounded fear of a premature birth.

During my first pregnancy, I took a Yoga Birth class that taught us all about how to welcome our son into the world peacefully and naturally. We practiced poses to help with pain management and learned ways to feel empowered and prepared. One of the most valuable lessons was a birth mantra. Our instructor encouraged us to come up with a phrase, a birth intention, to articulate what we wanted out of the birth. The idea is this would let us focus on our intentions, have a goal in mind and a phrase to remind us of that.

For my first son, my husband and I came up with something about how we will welcome our son calmly and peacefully into our family with love. Something like that. At the time, it was an incredibly powerful sentiment — and one I wrote on a piece of construction paper and hung on the wall next to my bed — that we revisited regularly to prepare in those final weeks. I credit it in part to us having a natural birth.

So, it’s birth mantra time again. This time, mine is simple: “I trust in my body and my baby’s wisdom.”

I have to. There’s nothing I can do to resolve this placenta shenanigans. No amount of Googling and stressing and crying and inverted yoga posing will clear this placenta and let me have the birth I want. I might have a C-section (and right now the docs say it’s likely). He might come early. It might resolve. We may never feel a single complication.

I have to trust that my body knows what it’s doing. My son knows what he’s doing, and he has the instinct and wisdom of all the babies to come before working in his favor. I have to remember to breathe deeply and have trust that whatever happens will be fine. And with each passing week, that  gets a little easier to believe.

6 thoughts on “Pregnancy anxieties, placenta previa and a birth mantra

  • Sara Michael
    August 13, 2013 at 10:00 PM

    Jennifer, a very belated thank you for reading and for sharing your story! I am glad to hear your daughter is doing great today, and I appreciate your words of encouragement!

    • August 13, 2013 at 10:07 PM

      You are welcome. Has the previa moved?

      • Sara Michael
        August 13, 2013 at 10:12 PM

        ‘Fraid not. I’m working on an updated post.., but we’re on for a c-section very soon.

        • August 13, 2013 at 10:15 PM

          I am sorry to hear that. Good luck to you!

  • July 28, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    Thank you for posting this. I actually found it as I was Googling “Placenta Previa”. I just found out mine is completely covering my cervix at 15 weeks. I was planing my second home birth. Now, that is highly unlikely, and my fears are taking longer to dissipate than I expected (I was diagnosed 4 days ago). I’ve been desperately combing the web for positive stories to relieve my fears, but I think your honest post about your own fears helped more than anyone’s post about theirs miraculously moving, because it validates where I am, right now, in the “what if” stage. I’m now working on 3 different birth plans: c-section for if it doesn’t move at all or enough, vaginal hospital birth for if it barely allows for a vaginal birth, and home birth for if it miraculously jumps into a completely safe position. I realize that aside from that, visualization and prayer are all I can really do, and I feel so helpless. But you’re right that all we can do is trust our bodies, and beyond that, we just have to trust the doctors who are trained for exactly this sort of complication. Thank you, again for your honesty and wisdom.

    • Sara Michael
      July 30, 2013 at 11:49 PM

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I am with you on the multiple birth plans. Even today at 33 weeks, my doctor advised me to have two plans – one for a C section (at either 37 or 38 weeks, the latter of which I’m pushing for) and a vaginal birth. She gave me hope in telling me that she’s seen them move at weeks 35 and 36! So I’m prepping for reality but trying to stay hopeful… and really calling on that birth mantra now. …It’s a long journey, so I wish you luck!

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