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Embracing the Unexpected

Photo by Edwin Stemp

What do you do when things do not go your way? While being upset seems like the most natural reaction, sometimes, you just have to let it go, accept it for what it is, do the best you can and find the gift within.

A week ago today, Jeremy and I were traveling back from a trip to Mexico – a little tropical getaway as a couple before baby Ryan is born.

During the first flight back, I experienced sharp lower abdominal cramps. After 16 hours of traveling, 4 hours of bad sleep upon returning home, and stubbornly resisting Jeremy’s persistence to go to the hospital, that is exactly where I ended up.

Turns out, I had been in preterm labor for the past 17 hours. Being a first time mother, I didn’t know what a contraction actually felt like. What I thought was simply cramps from gas and baby movement turned out to be contractions.

When the doctor checked me at 5am that eventful Monday morning, I was dilated to 2cm, contracting every 4 minutes and my cervix had thinned to 50%. My body was getting ready to deliver a baby. At the time, I was 28 weeks pregnant.

Having only found out about my pregnancy 8 weeks earlier, the thought of possibly delivering a premature baby that day was surprising and terrifying. Thus began a frightful and confusing journey over the next 48 hours.

The following is a tale of what happened in my corner of the world during those few days, and what I’ve learned.

November 23, 2009 at 6am

Suddenly, I went from having a very uneventful pregnancy (not even morning sickness) to what they medically label a high risk pregnancy.

Immediately, I was brought into a birthing suite, hooked up to a catheter and – after 5 needle pokes by 3 nurses – hooked onto an IV with Magnesium Sulfate – a muscle relaxing drug that slows down contractions, but has very pronounced side-effects, including blurred and double vision, nausea, feeling very hot and thirsty, and a weakening of all muscles. So basically, I could only see with one eye, else I’d see two of everything, and I couldn’t walk or chew properly.

About a dozen different people came in-and-out of the room, introduced themselves and asked an array of similar questions. With a spinning headache, one eye open – barely able to focus on their faces – and sweating like a monkey, I did my best to remain polite and pretended the question was asked for the first time. It was all very confusing.

For the next 48 hours, Jeremy sat next to me and watched nervously as people came in and out of the room every 2 hours for various procedures. I experienced it all in blurry and drowsy discomfort.

The worst thing about the drug was being placed on a fluid restriction while feeling extra dehydrated and dry in the mouth. I was only allowed 40ml of water per hour – they did this to avoid the serious side of effect of fluid buildup in the lungs. I would keep my eyes on the clock, making sure I didn’t miss getting water refills from the nurse. I would take small sips of water when my mouth felt extra dry, salvage as much water as possible, and in the last few minutes of the hour gulp the remaining water like a dying man lost in the desert.

The other uncomfortable thing was the catheter – a device that drains urine directly from the bladder. My body felt like it always wanted to pee, except, I couldn’t. After being on the thing for a few hours, I would have killed for the sensation of peeing the natural way, and was envious of Jeremy whenever he went in the bathroom to do “number one”.

Near the end, they reduced my dose of magnesium and I was allowed slightly more liquid in the form of a red popsicle. Oh man, the popsicle felt like heaven on my dry tongue. I could have eaten a box of those.

After 48 hours of magnesium-induced confusion, 17 needle pokes, and seeing dozens of blurry new faces with one-eye closed, my contractions were reduced and Ryan had decided to stay inside his mommy.

And then the news came that I will need to be on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. Everyday, I am allowed to get up to use the bathroom (thank god!), take a sitting shower, 30 minutes at a time max of sitting up to eat, and a 20 minute wheel chair ride for a breath of fresh air. The rest of the time, I needed to be lying down … flat on my side.

My thought process went something like this: Okay, I’m currently at 28 weeks, and our goal is to stay pregnant until full term, meaning 37 to 40 weeks. Dude, that’s like 10 weeks of lying flat! That’s a lot of lying down!

When the Unexpected Occurs

All in all, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you may think you know what the future will hold and you can plan down to the most minute detail, but really, when it comes down to it, nothing is for certain, and nothing is completely predictable. We, as humans like to think that we’re in control, but, we’re not. Sometimes, things just happen the way they happen, and there isn’t anything you can do to stop it. And if you resist it, that’s when pain and suffering is created.

After I sobered up from the magnesium, the first thought was “What did I do wrong?” and of course, my mind was exceptional at coming up with a list. Was I in the sun for too long? Did I not drink enough water? Was it the bath I took? Why didn’t I study the signs of preterm labor more carefully? Maybe we shouldn’t have gone to Mexico?

Ultrasound photo of Ryan at 24 weeks, 5 days.

I witnessed as little bubbles of guilt and regret started to form and rise out of my thoughts. Before they took hold of me, I saw a space between my thoughts, of choices. Yes, I had a choice! I could choose pain and guilt and regret, or I could choose to drop them and do what I can from this point forward.

Despite the strong pull towards choosing something that is painful, I gave the first choice a shove and decided to focus on what I can do from this point forward. After all, there isn’t anything we can do to change the past, to undo something, so why torture ourselves with thoughts of the unchangeable?

While lying down for 10 weeks straight isn’t what I had envisioned for the rest of my pregnancy, and being at the high risk of a premature baby isn’t the most ideal circumstance; I can only shrug, smile and say, “It is what it is.

Realistically, and practically, I only had one choice – not only to accept, but to embrace the flow of life. Everything happens the way they happen, once and only once, and there isn’t anything anyone can do to change that. The only way we can adjust psychologically is to embrace the unexpected, and look for the good.

If you’re having a hard time embracing an unexpected or unpleasant event, try the simple exercise of writing down all the good, positive, favorable things from the circumstance. And of course, being aware of your thoughts and consciously choosing to direct the course of your thoughts towards “What can I do now?” If there isn’t anything you can do now, just sit back, relax, and allow what must happen to happen, naturally.

Here’s a list of good that came out from my own unexpected circumstance:

  • Upgraded doctors – The hospital automatically switched my regular family OB doctor to a Perinatologist – a specialist for pregnancy complications. My new doctor delivers babies everyday, compared to my previous doctor who delivers 2-4 babies a month.
  • A more relaxed pregnancy – When I was on my feet, I wasn’t doing my best to rest, I was running around for errands, doing housework, and being distracted by random things. Now, I have the opportunity to truly relax, slowdown, rest and do more of the things I wasn’t doing, which will actually be better for my pregnancy. I now only focus on rest, eating and relaxing (since I’m no longer mobile).
  • I’m still pregnant – If Jeremy had not dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night to take me to the hospital that day, it would have been too late and I would have delivered a premature baby at 28 weeks. So, I’m thankful that Ryan is still camping out inside me.
  • Outstanding hospital – turns out this hospital is the best place for pregnancy complications in the North-West region of the country, where women with special cases are sent from neighboring areas. And we just happen to live 8 blocks away from it.
  • Outstanding care – I’m loving it here at the hospital. Not only are my baby and my contractions being monitored regularly, there’s always a nurse taking care of my needs, and food shows up at the push of a button. Not needing to cook, and having my dietary cravings and needs fulfilled has definitely been a pleasant perk.
  • More chances to see Ryan – Because of the situation, we’re getting a lot more ultrasounds done for various checkups. For regular pregnancies, from this point, there would be no more ultrasounds done, and we get to have one done every week. This gives us more opportunities to see Ryan in action, and seeing him getting bigger and moving around is such a miraculous sight.

Other Lessons

I learned several unexpected lessons through this experience that somehow ties back to gratitude. They may seem trivial to some, but once we no longer have them, you start to realize how important they actually are. Here’s a list, in no particular order:

  • Appreciate my Legs – When we were coming back from Mexico, the pain felt so severe that I wasn’t able to stand-up on my own, so Jeremy got a wheelchair at the airport layover, and also helped me when I needed to use the bathroom. I never actually realized or appreciated my freedom to move around without help until that day. We had to go an extra distance to find a working elevator to get on the terminal transport, and at some terminals, family-bathrooms didn’t exist, and we had to jump through extra loops to find one so I could pee. If you have freedom of mobility right now, take a moment to give gratitude to your legs, or tools for walking.
  • Appreciate the Ability to Drink and the Availability of Clean Water – I know this may sound odd, but during those 48 hours of dying thirst and limited water intake, I learned to appreciate the simple but vital act of drinking a glass of water. Take a moment, get a cool glass of water, and drink it with all your attention and awareness. Feel the coolness of the water entering your tongue, rolling down your throat, and quenching your thirst. Appreciate it, appreciate that you have access to clean water, and are allowed to drink as much as you like.
  • Appreciate the Ability to Urinate – I hope this doesn’t offend you, and I know it sounds funny, but it’s an important one. During the first 36 hours on Magnesium, I didn’t have the freedom to pee on my own. I was hooked up to a device that drained urine from my bladder, and the foreign device in my bladder was causing my body to feel as if I wanted to pee constantly, but couldn’t. All I wanted to do was to go to the bathroom and feel the sensation of being able to pee on my own. Next time you’re in the “loo“, fully enjoy it, and give a whisper of thanks that you have this ability, because not everyone in the world does.
  • Appreciate the Ability to Chew – During the 48 hours, I didn’t realize my ability to chew properly would be inhibited until Jeremy put a slice of cucumber in my mouth. I bit down using the normal pressure that I’d used for a cucumber, and when I lifted my teeth expecting a bite, the thing remained solid. It made us laugh, but it was also a little sad that I couldn’t eat raw vegetables (including lettuce), or anything that isn’t very soft. Once the medication wore off, the first meal I had was so satisfying that I couldn’t stop thanking my mouth for its ability to chew.
  • Appreciate my Mobility – I’m now in a position where I depend on other people, and cannot freely move around like before. It’s brought a whole new perspective to my life. If you have the freedom of mobility and function independently, take a moment to give thanks for your freedom. Give thanks that you can freely walk around outside right now.

The above are just five particular bodily functions that I experienced during this time, but aside from that, every part of our body plays such a vital role for our survival and comforts. And once they’re gone, that’s when we typically recognize them and appreciate them.

Take a moment before you go to bed tonight, close your eyes and take a few deep breathes, then go through every part of your body, starting from your toes and move up to the hair on your head, imagine each part and give thanks to it with a loving and friendly attitude. I bet you’ll not only sleep better, but your body will respond to your gratitude in miraculous ways.

Parting Words

Life is filled with the constant flow of ups and downs, and what separates you from the next person is your chosen response to the external. You can allow it to bother you and chisel away at your wellbeing, or you can accept the “bad”, look for the “good” and embrace it for what it is. After all, it has already happened, and no amount of self-torture will change the past.

The only true choice we have on our journey through life is to face what’s immediately in front of us, handle it to the best of our present abilities, and move on to our future from the anchoring point of “what can I do now?”

And if you do get frustrated with yourself for failing to do the above, remember that it’s o-kay, you’re only human after all. It’s never too late to redirect the sail of your focus, and start from whatever emotional state you’re in.

Things, circumstances, and people come and go, and the only thing that remains constant is YOU, witnessing it all from the present moment.

** What personal challenges are you faced with right now? What are some things that you’ve learned thus far through it? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comment section, below.


Personal Update

Tina and Jeremy Sawatzky in Mexico Renewing Wedding Vows
Tina & Jeremy renewing wedding vows, Mexico, November, 2009. (Week 27)

I’m still having contractions, though they are in the safe range of 1-4 an hour. The doctors will keep me in the hospital on bed rest until 32 weeks, at which point I will likely be sent home to continue the bed rest.

We’re really thankful they are keeping me here longer. We feel that it’s the best place for bed rest patients, especially with all the extra help and monitoring equipment.

Our ultimate goal is to make it to full term. Our immediate goal is to get to 30 weeks (Friday Dec 4th), then week 32, then week 35, and finally past week 37.

If you can, we would really appreciate it if you can take a minute right now to send a positive intention for us, for Ryan to make it till full term. Thank you!!

According to the hospital tests, Ryan is healthy and happy baby. He is also very active, sometimes, I feel like he’s doing karate in my tummy. When you tap my belly lightly above the area of where he’s parked, he will tap back, and it’s visible. It’s really adorable.

So, the hospital will be our home for the next few weeks. Jeremy sleeps on a foldaway cot next to my fancy hospital-multi-adjustable-bed, where I spend my days tucked away between seven pillows. The room itself is large for hospital standards, with two comfy recliners, an attached bathroom, and a view of Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle. I’m a happy gal.

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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54 thoughts on Embracing the Unexpected

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