I never thought that I'd be one of those people you read about whose sexual exploits land them in the emergency room, but I have to confess that last Friday night, that's exactly what happened. Unfortunately, it's not as exciting or racy as it sounds. It's nowhere near as juicy as my favorite Dear Abby letter about a couple who decided to spice up their sex life by dressing up as Lois Lane and Superman and doing a little role-playing. While "Lois Lane" was tied up to the bed, "Superman" decided to jump onto the bed from the dresser. But the poor schlub miscalculated the distance and ended up knocking himself out cold on the floor, leaving his poor wife tied up and helpless for hours until her cries for help roused her next-door neighbor to free her and take her husband to the emergency room.
No, there were no elaborate costumes or props involved, nor any displays of athleticism - nothing remotely out of the ordinary. Just your standard marital relations between a man and his spherical, 28-week pregnant wife recovering from a terrible cold. And that is what's so spectacularly unfair about the whole thing. An hour later, I noticed that I was having more Braxton-Hicks contractions than usual. I decided to lie down and drink a glass of water to see if that would help. Braxton Hicks are nothing new for me; I'd been having a lot of these guys since week 20. I mentioned this to my doctor on my last visit and he told me that they were only cause for concern if I had more than four in an hour. So I started keeping count and to my surprise, I had four in less than 30 minutes.
Teddy was worried and begged me to call the on-call doctor. I left a message on his pager and he called me back immediately with instructions to go straight to labor and delivery. He said with as many contractions as I was having, it could be pre-term labor and he wanted me to come in and get checked out. Sighing, I hung up and announced to Teddy that we'd be spending our Friday night at the hospital. We picked up McDonalds and ate our dinner in the car on the way. This turned out to be a terrible choice for someone with a bad cold. I don't know what it is about Mickey D's, but it is the most phlegm-producing food on the planet. Maybe because it is a technically a "food product" processed beyond recognition, leaving behind a slimy synthetic film. I arrived at the hospital sounding like a phlegmatic feline coughing up a stubborn hairball.
At the emergency room, we informed the nurse that we were heading to Labor and Delivery. The nurse peered over the desk at me and scowled skeptically, "Are you pregnant?" She acted as if I was trying to pull a fast one on her as I explained the situation. She called for an orderly to take me to the Labor and Delivery ward in a wheelchair just like in the movies. I'd never ridden in a wheelchair before so it was surreal and strange. As the orderly pushed me along, the first thing out of his mouth was, "Are you just here for a checkup or something? Cuz you don't look very pregnant." I just sighed and didn't answer. Apparently, I'm still passing for fat instead of pregnant and I just felt defeated.
As we rode up in the elevator, it occurred to me that in twelve weeks, I'd be taking the exact same route. And I felt a hot surge of excitement and fear at the prospect. I was dropped off at the triage station -- a sort of purgatory with hospital beds where nurses and doctors assess the patients first. I changed into a faded hospital gown and lay down on a bed where they strapped two monitors tightly around my belly -- one for my contractions and one for the baby. On the computer screen, I could see the baby's heartbeat pumping away. And right below that, like a seismograph, were the lines measuring my uterine contractions. It was reassuring to hear my baby's heartbeat pumping away like a bionic hummingbird until he decided that he didn't like the fetal monitor and started punching and kicking the hell out of it. If you've ever hit or bumped a microphone, you know how amplified that sounds. The racket was deafening. To top it off, I had a McDonald's-induced phlegm attack which provoked a coughing fit that was also picked up on the fetal monitor and exaggerated. I sounded like a dying hound from hell baying over a loudspeaker every time I coughed. Plus, every cough provoked more punching and kicking from the baby.
The bed was screened off from the crowded check-in area full of pregnant women by only a thin curtain. I could only imagine what these women must have imagined was going on with that unholy racket. While other fetal monitors broadcast serene, rhythmic heartbeats from nearby beds, mine was barking, booming and making all kinds of inhuman noises. It sounded like I was giving birth to the anti-Christ. But despite the fetal tantrums and my coughing, there were no more contractions. However, the monitor did show a baseline uterine irritability. So I was asked to drink a pitcher of water since dehydration can bring on contractions. The resident doctor ruled out a urinary tract infection and took some other samples just to rule out other vaginal infections. She also checked me for dilation and to my relief, said my uterus was closed and hard. During this cervical exam though, any thoughts I entertained of natural childbirth went flying out the window. Just having a hand pressing against my cervix and bladder full of water was unbelievably uncomfortable. I couldn't imagine a whole baby trying to make its exit that way without heavy sedation.
Teddy nudged me and whispered that maybe I should tell the doctor that we had sex beforehand. I reluctantly cleared my throat and offered this information sheepishly. The doctor didn't bat an eye but proceeded to repeat everything I said at the top of her lungs so that everybody in the waiting room could hear. "Oh yes, sex can definitely bring on contractions. How long ago did you have sex? I'll talk to your doctor, and tell him about the sex." You get the picture. By this time, Teddy was sitting in the corner, his head down in shame. He felt like the picture of an insensitive clod who sits around wearing a wife beater t-shirt, drinking Coors and trying to get some from his poor pregnant wife all day. I tried to rationalize that we're all adults here and besides, pregnancy is the ultimate proof that we've had sex. Like it or not, it's one of the slightly self-conscious facts about being pregnant. You are a walking advertisement for sex to everyone you know from your parents, to your friends and co-workers.
After talking to my doctor on the phone, the resident came back and explained that being sick and dehydrated probably brought on my contractions. I had a slight fever, and this contributed to my dehydration. I was sent home with instructions to drink water until I floated away. I left feeling a little stupid, but mainly relieved that little Fetus Tenenbaum planned on baking a little while longer, and that this turned out be just a dry run.