Last Sunday, at 18 weeks pregnant, I showed up to my hospital's Labor and Delivery Department.
The women in the cubicles around me were hugely pregnant, moaning with contractions as they prepared to deliver and hold their new babies. I, on the other hand, was paralyzed by terror. The doctor had told me that he felt pretty sure my amniotic sac was leaking, and that my fetus and I were suffering from a preterm premature rupture of membranes (pPROM).
A fetus at 18 weeks is nowhere near viable outside the womb, and a broken sac would mean a miscarriage. The nurse was grim faced as she ordered the tests on the leaking fluid. "This doesn't look good," she said.
The leaking fluid had started as a gush—the day before, I'd squatted down while cleaning and suddenly my pants were soaked. As a woman who has experienced incontinence (what mother hasn't?), I was struck by how it didn't seem like I was peeing. It was sudden and uncontrollable. I called my doctor.
"Take it easy for the rest of the day, and call me if it continues," he said. "Even if it was amniotic fluid, sometimes the bag of waters reseals and the pregnancy continues."
Unfortunately, every time I stood up, I'd leak another teaspoon of fluid into my underpants. It was mortifying. Each time, it felt like a death knell to this pregnancy. That night, the doctor on call told me to wear dark underwear to bed, and to call him if it was wet when I woke up in the morning.
My husband and I slept fitfully, terrified by the "dark underwear test."
As I tried to sleep, I could feel the baby kicking, and wondered if this might be the last time I would know that feeling.
In the morning, out came another teaspoon of fluid. When I called the doctor, he offered a grave apology for the suspected miscarriage, and told me to go directly to the Labor and Delivery Department.
There, the nurse performed a series of tests in order to identify the fluid. The primary test is a simple litmus strip applied to the fluid near the cervix, and we were intensely relieved when that test proved negative. Even if I did have amniotic fluid leaking before, she could find no sign of it.
Due to my 99.3° fever, the nurse also tested me for infections—whether bladder or uterine—which are a primary cause of pPROM. Both came up negative. We started to breathe a sigh of relief. Either the leaking had stopped, or it was never amniotic fluid in the first place.
Our last stop at the hospital was the ultrasound department. The nurse had ordered an ultrasound to ensure there was enough fluid surrounding the fetus. By this point, we were in better spirits, particularly after the ultrasound technician reassured us that the fluid levels looked normal.
Then she asked if she could do a full-body scan of the fetus. I whooped for joy. Not only did everything look well for the pregnancy, but now we could find out the sex of the baby too.
So, what was that leaking fluid? When I saw my doctor for a follow-up visit, he checked my cervix with another pH strip to confirm there was no sign of amniotic fluid. He then explained that the amniotic sac has two layers, and I might have developed a hole in the outer layer, losing the fluid contained just between the two layers. It may then have resealed and replenished itself with fluid.
Or, I might simply have had an extended bout of wild peeing, which is not unheard of in pregnant women.
Since this scare, I've discovered a panty liner that women can wear in order to distinguish between urine leakage and amniotic fluid. If I'd had my mitts on something by which to self-test, perhaps we could have better answers as to what exactly happened with the gush and trickle of mystery fluid.
But all's well that ends well. My doctor told me to take it easy for a couple of weeks, and I have felt the baby kicking every night since.
I can't wait to meet you, little girl. Let's wait until June, though, OK?