During these tests, the baby is hooked up to a monitor, and is expected to show a baseline heart rate within a healthy range, (110-160 beats per minute) as well as a specific amount of accelerations (increase of at least fifteen beats per minute for at least fifteen seconds) within a twenty minute span. If the baby doesn't pass, (sometimes they are asleep or aren't as active for a number of reasons), one is kept on the monitor for a longer duration of time. Sometimes, further testing is recommended.
There isn't really a need to explain why NSTs can be traumatic for someone like me. I feel safest when I'm there, hooked up with someone else watching, but I also hate being privy to each and every alteration. It always feels like I am about to watch (hear) my baby die in real time, and so I literally count the minutes (and the kicks) and hope for the best. The nurse always offers the remote, but I can never focus on anything but that sound.
Fortunately, this baby has always passed every NST. More honestly, she was always increasingly active for the monitors, often "passing" within the first five minutes and offering prolonged accelerations, making it difficult to establish a baseline at all (which can also be alarming). The nurses always reassured me that she was "happy", meaning well-oxygenated and not currently compromised, which I appreciated, but it was never enough. Nothing was ever enough.
This particular visit proved to be especially difficult. First, the baby wasn't moving as often as normal. I tried to reassure myself, her accelerations still looked good, excellent variability...but I couldn't help but recognize that her typically showy activity while on the monitors had lessened, and it scared me.
About fifteen minutes into the test I heard a nurse outside my curtain. A baby in the next room was in distress.
I heard her raise the volume. I heard the heartbeat fall into the 80s. And stay there. And stay there. And stay there. I heard the hitch in the nurse's voice as she asked the woman to move to one side, then to the other, to no avail.
"Oh my God," I said to my husband. "Her baby."
Two other nurses and one doctor ran by. I couldn't see their faces, only their shoes. And then their voices. Their voices.
"Where is her chart?"
"Why was she scanned?"
"Lay back farther."
"Turn on your right."
"How far along is she?"
And I heard someone say 38.
By the time they called for a stretcher I was hysterical. I looked at my husband, who was now holding my hand and attempting to calm me down, and I couldn't manage a word. Couldn't stop shaking. Couldn't breathe. I thought back to that Saturday when she left me, and I thought this must have been what it sounded like.
After some time my nurse returned, clearly shaken but still calm. I don't know how they do it.
"Looks great!" She assured me as she removed the monitors.
"Is that baby okay?" I asked her.
"They are taking her to labor and delivery now," she said.
I was still crying when they began my ultrasound. Still crying as the technician noted my baby's hands near her chubby face, and her hair, the slight gray fuzz just above my bladder.
And when she stated the amniotic fluid level, a 6.07, I was crying, because the night before it had been a 15.
The perinatologist entered and attempted to calm me down. The fluid levels can vary a lot, even hour to hour which I understood; however it was of no use. I was convinced my placenta was failing this baby too, and that she was going to die too, and when he said "you only have three more days," I told him I didn't believe my baby would make it to Friday, because I didn't.
The doctor called my obstetrician, and due to the potentially concerning fluid fluctuations and my extreme anxiety, all agreed that it was likely in everyone's best interest that I have this baby today.
I stopped crying.
The Pitocin was started around five. My water was broken at nine. There was a shaky epidural through several pretty intense contractions, two pushes, and one amazing nurse who held my hand through it all. And at 10:44 pm on May 8th, 2018, Lena Josephine LaFata made her entrance into this world.
And all I can do is stare, in awe, in disbelief, in gratitude, into her wide eyes, because she's here. Because we made it here. Together.