March 1, 2017 was the scariest, most terrifying day of my life. I remember that day like it was yesterday, and I don’t think I will ever forget that day as long as I live. A week prior at 20 weeks, we had our anomaly scan, also known as a mid-pregnancy scan where our baby was looked at closely. This detailed ultrasound scan’s main purpose is to check that our baby was developing normally and whether we were expecting a boy or girl. After that (extremely) nerve-wracking, 30-minute (felt like an eternity) ultrasound, we found out our baby was healthy and that we were expecting a boy.
Thing is, the sonographer needed to take a few different pictures of our baby, and at that point, our baby was being stubborn and the sonographer was unable to get him to flip into the position he needed for that final picture. He tried literally everything, but our baby just would not budge. But because our baby was 100% healthy and passed everything else with flying colors, they told us that picture wasn’t necessarily that big of a deal.
We were still given the option to come back the next week to try again. And because Stephen and I enjoyed every chance we got to see our little peanut on the ultrasound, we decided to go ahead and make an appointment for the following week to hopefully, catch our baby in the proper position for that one profile picture we were unable to get that day.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017: We walked into the ultrasound room—excited and happy that we were going to be able to see our baby again.
The good news was he was in the proper position he needed to be in, and the sonographer was able to get the profile picture he needed.
But just like that, our world completely stopped.
Our sonographer uttered the words, “Your cervix looks short.” He then did a transvaginal ultrasound, and it was confirmed: My cervix was awfully, extremely, way too short for someone who was 21 weeks pregnant. My cervix was measuring .84 centimeters when it was supposed to measure at least 3 centimeters.
Our sonographer stepped out, and Stephen and I just sat there in silence with complete fear in our eyes until two doctors came into the room. They pulled up the ultrasound on the big screen and pointed out where my cervix was shortening, funneling, and where my membranes were already exposed. Before I knew it, Stephen and I were walking to triage, and I was getting admitted.
What was supposed to be another quick ultrasound turned into our worst nightmare.
I still remember putting on the hospital gown in the bathroom, I kept thinking to myself, “This can’t be real, this is a mistake, there’s no way, but I did everything right, I did everything I was supposed to do!” I just couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t even bear to look at myself in the mirror—I felt like a complete failure. My body that was supposed to keep my baby safe was failing him, and I was absolutely disgusted with myself, disappointed in my body, and devastated that this was happening to the baby we already loved so much.
I took a deep breath, stepped out of the bathroom and smiled at my husband—I could sense his fear, and I didn’t want him to get a sense of mine (even though I know he did). While Stephen and I were sitting waiting for the doctor to come in, I just kept looking over at him, my poor husband. I think at that point we were both trying to be strong for one another, but we were both absolutely terrified and didn’t want to admit it to each other.
I felt guilty. Not only was my body failing me and my baby who we wanted more than anything, but my husband who was so excited to be a father.
It wasn’t long until Dr. Balistreri rushed in—it was clear to us how urgent this was and I could see it on his face. He introduced himself and checked my cervix manually. While he examined my cervix, I heard him say to the nurses, “I can see the bag of water.” Once I heard that, my heart just sank and I knew Stephen’s did too. After taking a look at my cervix, Dr. Balistreri looked at me and said, “We have to admit you. You need a cerclage, and we need to do the surgery tomorrow.” Everything happened so fast, but I just told him to do whatever was needed to save my baby.
Dr. Balistreri discussed the benefits and risks of placing an emergent cerclage. A rescue cerclage (I hated the sound of that and still do). A cervical cerclage, also known as a cervical stitch, is a treatment for cervical insufficiency when the cervix starts to shorten and open too early during pregnancy causing either a late miscarriage or preterm birth. The risks with an emergency cerclage were absolutely terrifying. There was a risk of breaking my bag of water as they attempted to push my water bag back up. And if that happened, I would have no choice but to deliver my baby at 21 weeks, which meant he had not yet reached viability and would only be offered comfort care because there would not be much they could do to save him that early.
But after discussing everything with Dr. Balistreri, we believed the benefits definitely outweighed the risks. The cerclage could potentially help keep my baby inside me until he could survive outside the womb, and at that point, all I cared about was giving him every possible fighting chance he could have. So, I signed off on the surgery—I signed off on all the risks of the reality that I could lose my baby.
But I just held onto every ounce of faith and hope I had that the cerclage would be successful, and everything would work out for the best.
That night was really difficult for our families, Stephen, and me. I couldn’t sleep. I still couldn’t believe this was even happening. It just felt like a complete nightmare. I had absolutely no symptoms—I had literally just been at a Red Wings game with my husband where I climbed flights of stairs because our seats were at the very top row. I thought I was having the healthiest pregnancy possible, and just like that, I was diagnosed with cervical insufficiency.
As I lay in bed the night before surgery, watching my husband, and feeling my baby kick (at this point, he was just starting to let me feel his kicks), my heart broke into pieces. I kept thinking to myself how my husband just put together our baby’s crib a few weeks ago. I also kept thinking, My baby is completely healthy, active, and kicking away, and he could pass away because of something that’s wrong with me? I’m his mom, I’m supposed to be his number one protector, not putting his life at risk.
But each kick that night was a constant reminder my baby was in there, and I needed to fight for him. I needed to be brave, and I needed to be strong for us.
The next day, I had surgery to have the cerclage placed. Dr. Balistreri promised me he would do his best. At that point, that’s all I could ask for.
As they wheeled me—us—off to surgery, the last thing I heard was Stephen say, “Take care of my babies.”
Heartbroken was an understatement. This was my first time having any type of surgery. The operating room was so intimidating. I had never been so terrified in my life. It wasn’t even fear of physical pain. I didn’t really spend time thinking about that part. It was fear of the unknown and fear for my baby, not me. Will they accidentally break my water? Will my baby make it to viability? Will the cerclage work?
All the what-ifs were what killed me. Incompetent cervix is scary. I had absolutely no symptoms, and if it wasn’t for our baby being stubborn during his ultrasound, I don’t even want to think about what could have happened. I remember as they were putting in the spinal, I kept telling my baby to stay strong and promised him I would be strong for him, too.
I also prayed the hardest I’ve ever prayed.
The bible verse I kept repeating in my head and that helped me through this whole journey was Psalm 46:5, “God is within her, she will not fail.” I was awake for the entire surgery. I listened to my baby’s heartbeat the whole time. As soon as the surgery was over, the only question I asked was if he was OK. And, thank God, he was. The whole team was amazing but Dr. Balistreri, Dr. Day, and my nurse Kaitlyn were my angels that day. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and I will forever be grateful for them.
After being discharged from the hospital, I spent three months on bed rest. The first month, I put myself on strict bed rest, and the further along I got into the pregnancy, I was able to lift some of the restrictions and was on modified bed rest. I did everything I possibly could to keep any pressure off my cervix. I stayed in bed 24/7, and it got really lonely. I cried often. I lay in bed and kept fearing the worst. I prayed and talked to God a lot. All I could do is take it one day at a time. Counting each and every day as a blessing.
Stephen was and is my rock. He never left my side. Even though I could see and feel his fear and heartache, he remained strong for us. The nights at the hospital he slept on an uncomfortable chair over a somewhat comfortable sofa bed so he could be right next to his baby boy and me. And, while I was on bed rest and felt like a complete burden, he did everything for our baby and me. He’s never missed one doctor’s appointment and trust me, we had a lot of them. I honestly can say I have the world’s greatest and best husband I could ever ask for. God has truly blessed me with a wonderful man. This whole experience has brought our marriage and relationship to a whole new level.
It was difficult, but I can proudly say we came out stronger together. It tested us, taught us a lot, and made our love stronger.
Through thick and thin, we made it. We didn’t give up. We fought hard, and we loved hard through everything that was thrown our way. I feel as if this whole thing prepared us to be the best parents possible for Manny Ray. He can feel safe and feel comfort in knowing his parents love each other so deeply. (Stephen, thank you for always being there for me and all you’ve done and continue to do for us. Manny Ray is blessed with the best father. And, you know I am the proudest to be your wife. Our marriage has been the greatest gift in my life and baby Manny is like the big red bow on top! Your son and I love you so much.)
I am also very fortunate and grateful to have all the help from our family, especially my parents’ during this difficult time. I am also very blessed with all the love and support we received from our family and friends.
The time felt like it moved in slow motion, and it was excruciating. From 21 weeks, our first goal was to make it to 24 weeks which was considered “viability.” We made it. Our next goal was to make it to 28 weeks. We made it. Then, 30, 34, and 36 weeks (Stephen and I celebrated every Tuesday because our baby made it another week).
I couldn’t believe we had made it this far. Manny Ray was born at 37 weeks. Healthy and strong. It was hands-down, the best day of my life.
After months of holding my breath, I was finally able to take my first real breath when my son was born.
I’m not saying labor and delivery weren’t hard, but compared to the emotional pain we had been through, the physical pain felt like a piece of cake.
At the time, I couldn’t understand why this was happening to us, but now in hindsight, not only did it strengthen my faith and trust in God, but it also prepared me to be a strong mommy for my baby boy. There is no denying we were in the hands of amazing doctors, but God is the ultimate reason for our happy ending.
God is so great. He will never forsake you. You just have to trust in Him with all your heart, even when you do not understand. That’s what I did.
My son is my miracle, and I thank God for this situation because it has truly taught me a lot. I am a totally different person than I was before this experience. He used this to change my heart. He blessed us with our beautiful boy and I am proud to share this testimony to inspire and give hope to mamas who are going through what I went through or anyone who is going through a difficult time.
The day our son was born was and will always be my proudest moment.
The connection between us was unreal—we had been through so much together already. We fought so hard, together. My son is a frickin’ warrior. I fought like hell to keep my baby inside of me for as long as I possibly could. We beat Incompetent Cervix! And, I would do it a million times over for my son if I had to. Manny Ray, I will fight for you, protect you, and love you with every ounce of my being. I couldn’t be more proud to be your mom.
Again, Stephen and I cannot thank the extraordinary team at the University of Michigan—our doctors and all of the other caring and wonderful staff we’ve met along our journey. Thank you for taking such good care of us, for your compassion and not giving up on us. We cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done—most especially, for saving our son’s life. There are just no words to express our gratitude.
If you’ve read this whole thing, thank you for your time and for reading our story. I am happy to be able to share our journey. Our son is our pride and joy. He is the most perfect thing to us, and we love him more than anything. Our hearts couldn’t be more full, and we couldn’t be more blessed. We thank God every day for keeping our sweet boy safe.
Finally, I hope my story sheds light on cervical insufficiency and provides hope to all my fellow mamas out there with this condition. Please know you’re not alone on this journey. My heart goes out to all those who have experienced a loss or have been affected in any way due to cervical insufficiency.
I see you, I support you, and I pray for all of you and your precious babies every day.