Due to the popularity of my bedrest fitness post, this post shares my cerclage experience with the hopes that it will help someone experiencing a similar situation. If you aren’t interested in women’s reproductive issues or if you think this topic may be a sensitive spot for you, then feel free to skip this post.
My Cerclage Story–Take One
When I was 15 weeks pregnant with my first baby I went to my second prenatal appointment with my perinatologist (I had been referred to a specialist due to previous health issues). Using her ultrasound equipment she checked on the baby and then moved on to check my cervical length. After a long moment she frowned and told me that my cervix was funneling from the inside. She then said, “You have to come back tomorrow for a procedure to get a cerclage.”
What??? I didn’t even know what a cerclage was. She kept talking, but all I heard was bedrest…could lose the baby…lie down…no more teaching exercise.
Slowly I explained, “I’m scheduled to sub a yoga class tonight.” Then I asked, “Can I sit and talk the class through the workout?”
She looked at me as if I had completely lost it, took a breath and then calmly replied, “No. You are going to go home and lie down. No more teaching fitness even if you are sitting down. You are done.”
Oh, ok. It was barely starting to sink in. In a haze I walked back to the car.
Still processing the news I went home and started researching everything about cerclage to ease my mind. I learned that a cerclage stitches the cervix closed with the hopes of keeping the baby inside. No matter how much I read, my head was still spinning. Losing my baby was a real possibility. I spent the night trying to talk myself out of completely freaking out. Believe it or not, researching and reading eased my mind somewhat.
The next day I was in the hospital and ready for the procedure. The anesthesiologist gave me the choice between spinal or general anesthesia. He assured me that choosing to sleep through the procedure would not harm the baby because the dose would be very small. I had read that the spinal would keep you in recovery a lot longer so I chose to sleep through the procedure.
After the procedure I woke up in recovery and was able to go home within 90 minutes. The procedure went well, but my physician said that positioning the cerclage was difficult because my cervix was abnormally short and she wasn’t sure how it would hold.
I was on home bed rest for the next 2 weeks, only getting up to go to the bathroom, and after a few days, I was allowed a quick daily shower.
When I returned for my next perinatalist appointment, she said that my cerclage was holding, the funneling wasn’t getting worse, but my cervix was still very short—just a little over a centimeter (which is considered very short for 16-17 weeks). I learned that I would be on bed rest/restricted activities until 36 weeks, when my cerclage would be removed if baby didn’t come sooner.
So began my bed rest life. I was lucky that I was able to work from home using my computer and an Internet connection. It kept my mind occupied, and I was able to really focus on writing a couple of big grant proposals. Having something to focus on other than my health and whether my baby would stay put really helped. Some days moved by slowly, but after about 4 weeks I slowly adapted to my new schedule.
I alternated between three positions: lying down fully; propping myself up in a lying down position; or sitting up. I tried to limit sitting up to eating and performing activities that I couldn’t do in other positions. Most of my day was spent in the lying propped position so I could work on my computer. And I rested periodically throughout the day so I could lie flat.
I went in for a perinatalist appointment every two weeks for an ultrasound to check the health of my baby and to get my cervical length checked. It held steady between 1-1.5cm.
After about 10-15 weeks on bedrest (or at about 25-30 weeks pregnant), surprisingly, my physician told me that I could sit up a bit more often and leave the house a couple of times per week as long as I didn’t walk far and avoided steps. This allowed me to reconnect with friends via lunch dates outside of the house and the ability to leave the house with my husband. I was incredibly thankful for this change, and I learned that I was able to do this since the cerclage was holding and I didn’t have any signs of preterm labor.
Every two weeks I had my cervical length checked and every time I held my breath. I dreaded the idea of preterm labor or my cervix dilating before the baby was ready. I met many women in chat rooms who went through preterm labor, and their strength inspired me.
At 32 weeks I remember becoming more relaxed. Only 8 weeks to go and I would make it full term. And if the baby came early, I knew she would be ok.
When 36 weeks rolled around, my perinatalogist removed my cerclage in her office examination room, feet in the stirrups. It was quick and only somewhat painful. I didn’t have to worry about anesthesia or going to the hospital.
After the cerclage was removed, I was free. My doctor told me that my pregnancy was no longer considered high risk and that I could go about my activities as normal. I was ecstatic and at about 37 weeks I started shopping and organizing the house to get ready for baby’s arrival. This made my hubby nervous because he wanted to make sure she was cooking as long as possible.
And she was a breech baby. Although I tried non-intrusive ways of turning her in the last 4 weeks, she just didn’t want to go in the head down position. In the end, my cervix never dilated, and we scheduled a c-section due to the baby’s breech position at 39 weeks, 4 days.
My Cerclage Story–Take Two
When I learned that I was pregnant with my second daughter in 2015, I needed another cerclage. My perinatologist placed a McDonald cerclage when I was 13 weeks. Although the hospital procedure was almost identical in both instances, I was never on official bedrest. I was told to relax at home for about three days (mostly in a horizontal position). After that I was back at my desk job where I worked for the duration of my pregnancy. It still was not quite your run of the mill pregnancy.
There were restrictions–I was not allowed to pick up anything over 5 pounds, including my 3-year-old, which was so incredibly hard. I also was not allowed to exercise. However, at 5 months pregnant, my doctor cleared me to take prenatal yoga classes with modifications (and absolutely no core work).
Just like the first pregnancy, I went to my doctor every two weeks and got my cervical length checked. It held up at over 2cm throughout. At 36 weeks, she removed my cerclage in her office just like the first time. It was barely hanging on and the procedure was much less painful than the first time. My doctor joked that it really was a decorative cerclage that worked only to encourage the cervix to stay closed.
Takeaways from my Experience
Having a preventive cerclage placed is a very different experience than having one placed after your cervix starts to funnel or dilate.
I have a short cervix, which I knew when I first became pregnant. I was fortunate that I didn’t have issues with preterm labor, which many Mamas do. My cerclage was placed because of mechanics rather than hormones. But I didn’t know that during my first pregnancy. It’s easy to look back and say “it was just mechanics” after the fact. It is scary as you go through your first and subsequent high-risk pregnancy experiences because you just don’t know if your cerclage will hold or if and when preterm labor will start.
Especially during my first pregnancy, I needed to find a community of women who understood what I was going through. The community forums on the Keep em Cookin website were invaluable. The ladies there totally understood what it was like to have a tough pregnancy, and many of the Mamas were enduring hospital bedrest. My heroes! I learned a lot from these Mamas. My pregnancy would have been so much more lonely and scary without them. We are so lucky to live when the Internet is a few keystrokes away. I keep thinking that my experience would have been so much different if I wasn’t able to access other Mamas via the world wide web. I am so grateful for their guidance and support throughout my pregnancy.