Terminatal 2: A birth(day) story

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The fourth pregnancy was going fine for someone who already had a 5-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a 2-year-old. The 2-year-old was my only girl, and this fourth pregnancy was supposed to be her sister, but I had failed in my Shettles method attempt, so another boy was on the way.

At 26 weeks, my nesting mania hit and I decided I absolutely, positively was not going to endure one more second with hideous dark paint on the dining room walls. After breakfast, I grabbed a butter knife and went to work.

As I wept with joy and attempted to nurse my miracle baby who had survived many hours of tachycardia, a double dose of adenosine, two cardioversions, and lots of stress, I looked up and saw the Terminator.

The paint was covering some ancient textured wallpaper, which satisfyingly started peeling away as my butter knife carved it. Long strips of fresh wall peeked through. It was like peeling an orange, really. How long could the entire dining room take me — a few hours, max?

I scraped away for, at most, 20 minutes when suddenly I felt a tiny, almost audible click in my chest. My heart started to race.

When I say race, I mean 210 beats per minute by the time my husband got me to the emergency room at my OB’s hospital 45 minutes later. They rushed me into an exam room (being visibly pregnant helps you cut the line of bleeding and moaning patients), started an IV, and then … it just stopped.

Mystified, they admitted me to await another episode and do tests. Nothing else happened, and I was miserable for four days in a hospital bed. I passed all the tests, and they sent me home with a Holter monitor to try to catch the next episode. A Holter monitor is like a walkman attached to electrodes you have to stick all over your torso and leave on 24/7.

Ten annoying days later, I was driving home from the dentist with my 2-year-old when — click — my heart started racing again. When you have very fast tachycardia, it makes you lightheaded, dizzy, and panicky. It’s not a nice feeling. I was almost at the top of Coldwater Canyon, headed back to the valley from Beverly Hills on a one-way, windy lane with nowhere to pull over. I willed myself not to pass out.

I called my husband, who left work and met me in the parking lot of the Ralphs supermarket at Ventura and Coldwater.

We (he drove) dropped the toddler off at home, where my mom was watching the other kids, and he rushed me to the nearest, much smaller hospital — not the one I had been at before.

I was whisked into the ER like a special delicate princess, just like last time. But this time, my dastardly heart didn’t immediately revert to normal the minute the doctor came in. It got faster. Suddenly I was living in a real-life episode of “ER” as the room filled with nurses, doctors, and OBs. I was up to 220 beats per minute when they decided to give me adenosine.

They kicked my husband out of the room immediately. His mother arrived to sit and talk him down off a ledge.

Adenosine is an IV drug that is used to restart your heart in emergencies. It literally stops your heartbeat so that the heart can then “reboot” itself. They warned me that it would be very unpleasant. That was an understatement. You can feel adenosine, physically, as it travels up your arm and into your chest. It feels like cold, clammy death itself invading your body. You want to moan and cower as it spreads. When the first dose didn’t do anything, they did it a second time. Still nothing!

It turns out that when you’re pregnant, your body is so full of extra fluid that the short-lived adenosine dies off before it hits your heart.

It was time for them to bring in the big guns. The plan was to cardiovert me, which is literally the paddles like you see in the movies when they shout “clear!” But first they would knock me out with propofol, which is the milky drug that killed Michael Jackson. If it was good enough for the King of Pop, it was good enough for me!

The hospital’s chief OB came in to tell me he had never cardioverted a pregnant woman before and that he was going to “Google it.” He talked to me about the viability of a 27-week-old fetus if he had to give me an emergency C-section and comforted me that at that age, babies tend to do very well in the NICU and he would be okay.

It was not until years later that I realized the only circumstance in which he would be doing an emergency C-section on me would be if I were dead or dying. I am grateful to him for not explaining that at the time, although it was probably on the paperwork I had to sign in my dazed state.

They were ready to go. By that point my heart had been zooming for almost four hours and I was a mess. You feel like you’ve been running for four hours and you’re also in a mild state of medical panic. And I hadn’t been allowed food or water for hours, which is enough to send anyone 27 weeks pregnant into a tailspin.

Live or die, I just wanted it all to end. The propofol was the best moment of my life — suddenly, I was in paradise, on a beach, filled with peace and happiness. I understand now why Michael Jackson loved it so much. There are worse ways to go. I didn’t feel the first cardioversion — the paddle! — they did, but I vaguely felt the second — enormous pressure and a loud noise.

Then I woke up — and everything was quiet. I felt better. My heart was back to normal! Everyone in the room cheered, and they brought my husband in to see me and we cried. I was alive, and the baby had made it through the whole ordeal.

Even more good news: One of the cardiologists who miraculously happened to be on call that day was an electrophysiologist who specialized in hearts like mine. He took one look at my EKG reading and instantly diagnosed exactly the type of tachycardia I had: something called “atrioventricular nodal re-entrant tachycardia.” There’s a faulty electrical circuit in the heart, and when it’s triggered, the rate goes haywire. This electrophysiologist, may I add, was from South America and beyond movie-star handsome. I really was the guest star in an episode of “ER,” I’m telling you.

I told Dr. Dreamy that I’d actually had a few random episodes in the past when my heart had started to race and I’d gotten dizzy, but then it stopped and I’d thought nothing of it. It turns out I had a genetic issue with my heart and that this fourth pregnancy and my wallpaper blitzkrieg attack had exacerbated it.

They put me on beta blockers and told me to come back after I gave birth to have a cardio ablation, which involves sending a wire through the artery in your hip to your heart and using heat to literally burn away the bad circuit.

At 38 weeks, I had another episode, which subsided without intervention. My OB ordered me to come in the following week for an induction. Enough was enough.

I was put on an IV drip of pure potassium to keep my heart in check during the labor. Potassium IV is like sending acid into your veins. Finally, plugged in, epiduraled, and Pitocin-ed up, I awaited labor. I was eager to get this poor kid out of there already — he’d been through enough.

So had I.

My husband fell asleep around 11 p.m. while we were watching “Terminator 2” in the hospital room. At 11:45, alone with Arnold Schwarzenegger, my labor kicked in like a freight train hitting a wall.

Within five minutes, I was surrounded and people were yelling at me to “push!” My husband was in his pajamas, groggy, doing his best as my four-time male doula, or “dude-la,” as I called him.

Baby arrived at 12:07 a.m. with no further issues and was absolutely smoking handsome. A gorgeous little guy. A real — no pun intended — lady-killer.

As I wept with joy and attempted to nurse my miracle baby who had survived many hours of tachycardia, a double dose of adenosine, two cardioversions, and lots of stress, I looked up and saw the Terminator.

No one had turned off the TV. There had been no time. “T2” had been playing during his whole birth.

Not for me the carefully designed birth plans set to the dulcet tones of Mozart or Vangelis or healing tantric yoga melodies, candles, or aromatherapy.

I got raw potassium fire running through my burning my veins and 1980s cyborgs.

But — who cares? We both made it! Birth plans? Girl please. Birth plans are for wimps.

And today — today my little (almost!) lady-killer turned 13. Happy birthday, Terminator #4! You will always have my heart.

This essay originally appeared in Peachy Keenan’s Extremely Domestic.

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