Family, Health

My Cerclage Experience – High Risk Pregnancy

This post shares my cerclage experience (a women’s reproductive issue) with the hopes that it will help someone experiencing a similar situation. 

My Cerclage Story–Take One

When I was 15 weeks pregnant with my first baby I went to a prenatal appointment with my perinatologist (I had been referred to a specialist due to previous health issues). She checked on the baby using her ultrasound equipment 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 bed rest at home 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 perinatologist 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 life on bed rest. 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 really helped. In the beginning my days moved by very s-l-o-w-l-y, but after about 4 weeks I started to adapt to my new schedule. And my new schedule included a lot of naps (the upside to bed rest).

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.

Every two weeks I had my cervical length checked and every time I held my breath. At each appointment my perinatologist performed an ultrasound to check the health of my baby and to measure my cervical length. It held steady between 1-1.5cm. 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. And a friend bought me books about bedrest like this one and this one that helped me keep things in perspective and even laugh about my situation.

When 36 weeks finally rolled around, my perinatologist 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. 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 to turn 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 Experience lo res

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 the second time. 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.

There were still restrictions–I was not allowed to pick up anything over 5 pounds, including my 3-year-old, which was incredibly difficult to avoid. 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. The procedure was much less painful than the first time.

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.

Finding Community

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 with the Internet 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 through my computer. I am so grateful for their guidance and support throughout my pregnancy.

Please feel free to reach out to me via comments or privately via email if you would like support.

Update September 2017: This month I launched a new website, Surviving Bedrest, as a place for women with high-risk pregnancies to share their journeys and help other women who come after them. The site also include resources curated by mamas for mamas. The site is still in development, but if you would like to share your experience with others, please let me know (and you don’t even have to be a writer, we can help you with that).

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2 Comments

  • Reply Amber December 14, 2016 at 12:08 am

    I couldn’t have found this post at a better time! Thank you so very much for writing it.

    I was 21 weeks with my first pregnancy when I was diagnosed with a dynamic cervix and had to have an emergency cerclage. I ended up giving birth around 32 weeks (without having the stitches removed….) We spent 3 weeks in the NICU, but it was all worth it, and everything turned out fine in the end.

    I now find myself pregnant for the second time and was struggling to wrap my head around what it was going to be like this time around.

    After reading your post, I feel like there is a chance I can do this and not lose my mind.

    My hormones are kicking in, and I’m starting to get emotional so I’m going to step away from the internet for a moment but, I just wanted you to know how much I needed to read this.

    Thanks Again.

    • Reply Kimberly Smith December 18, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      Wow. You are amazing. Thank you for sharing your experience. 🙂 I hope that this cerclage is easier, and I’m here if you want to share your second cerclage experience or if you have any questions along the way.

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