My Experience With Vasa Previa

While most 20-week ultrasounds are a chance to find out the baby’s gender and/or conduct an anatomy scan, when my husband and I went into our 20-week appointment with our third baby, we found out that our son had a velamentous cord insertion (a rare condition where the umbilical cord inserts itself into the amniotic membrane rather than in the placenta). Tests later confirmed this had led to a high-risk pregnancy condition known as Type II Vasa Previa—another rare occurrence, which could mean losing our otherwise healthy son if they didn’t take precautions.

My doctor and her team admitted me to the hospital a few weeks later for an antepartum stay and constantly monitored me until he was further along (at least 34+ weeks). I remember how scared we were leading up to and during those weeks, but I am so thankful to my medical team for everything they did to ensure our little guy arrived safely.

This diagnosis, coupled with needing to live at the hospital before our son’s birth, was terrifying and emotional for both me and my husband. I hope that by sharing our story, I can help other moms diagnosed with these rare conditions or moms who find themselves in the hospital longer than anticipated find solace in knowing they aren’t alone.

What is Vasa Previa?

Vasa previa happens when unprotected fetal vessels run across the fetal membranes over the opening of your cervix (known as the internal cervical os). In my case, these vessels were from a velamentous insertion of the umbilical cord while also joined with a succenturiate (or accessory) placental lobe to the main part of the placenta. In other words—it wasn’t good news, and if I were to go into labor early, the membranes could rupture and be life-threatening to our son (and potentially me). The good news is that antepartum stays with constant monitoring and delivering via c-sections have a success rate of 97 percent with these diagnoses.

Precautions Taken With a Vasa Previa Pregnancy

My antepartum stay began at the tail-end of 32 weeks pregnant. The plan was to safely make it to 35 weeks to give our son as much time to develop in utero. While at the hospital, I was consistently monitored and near an OR to improve the probability of a safe and healthy delivery. I also had blood draws, iron infusions, steroid shots, and consistent non-stress tests or “NSTs”, where they monitor the baby’s heart rate and any possible contractions.

Source: Holly Sturdivan

After You’re Diagnosed With a High-Risk Pregnancy

If you are diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy or high-risk fetal health condition, my biggest piece of advice is to feel all the feels. If you’re a person who, like me, needs to talk about your feelings—lean on your support people. I had a lot of moments where I would just cry and sit in my sadness. But other times, I would feel my baby kick or play with my other kids and remember that they needed me to be strong. Below are some other practical tips that made our experience more manageable and helped me get to that finish line, albeit in a different way than I imagined.

Rally Your Support People  

I remember the shock when they mentioned I might have to be checked into the hospital early, and thought—how will I do that when we have two other kids (ages 5 and 2 at the time)? My husband and I spent weeks mapping out a birth plan, which I think helped us not dwell on the “what ifs” and gave us something tangible to refer to versus just panic. Once I checked into the hospital, I was blown away by how many people stepped in to help, not to mention visiting me! Something I had not planned for, but that made all the difference. 

vasa previa
Source: Holly Sturdivan

Ask All the Questions

We were fortunate to have a great team of doctors and nurses from the moment my seemingly normal pregnancy turned high-risk. They stayed calm and constantly helped us understand the situation. My doctor would even return my onslaught of frantic emails of pregnancy questions with a phone call, and we would talk about what to do, what to keep an eye on, and what to expect next. She also gave me the best piece of advice: trust that I was exactly where I needed to be.

Early on, I also joined a few Facebook support groups of women who either had or were going through similar experiences, and while sometimes it was triggering, it was nice to get practical advice like “bring your own pillows and blankets to the hospital!” and “binge watch shows on a tablet,” while also getting to share in the joys of seeing healthy babies being born despite the fearful circumstances. 

vasa previa pregnancy
Source: Holly Sturdivan

Trust Your Mom Gut 

Since this was my third pregnancy, I knew my pregnant body better, but prior to this pregnancy, I was always hesitant that I would seem like a hypochondriac if I brought up anything to my doctor that I felt wasn’t normal. This time, it was different. I spoke up constantly. When I was four days shy of hitting 35 weeks, I felt like I was having more frequent contractions—I was right. The contractions became more intense despite some attempts to make them stop, so my doctor and her team decided to go ahead and deliver our little guy a few days earlier than planned. Thankfully, the outcome was positive, but he did require a few weeks in the NICU

Be Vulnerable 

I had a lot of low moments and a lot of self-blame (even though Vasa Previa is just a spontaneous occurrence and happens in 1 out of every 2,500 pregnancies). Instead of crying by myself, I would call my husband, friends, and family or ping my nurse(s). I wasn’t looking for solutions, but it helped me to just feel heard and not feel so alone. And when my husband would visit, he would just hold and hug me—and sometimes that’s all you need. 

newborn baby after vasa previa
Source: Holly Sturdivan

Try to Find Joy 

It’s possible I might be the only person who likes hospital food. After getting to know the food staff during my stay, one of them started bringing me extra Baked Lays after she realized how much I was craving them! It was so sweet. When my older kids and husband got to visit me in my room, one of my nurses let my daughter and son listen to their baby brother’s heartbeat on the monitor and help “check mommy,” it was such a small gesture that really became one of our favorite moments.

Looking Back  

A high-risk pregnancy is stressful and emotional. Now that our son is almost 1, I continue to look back at all the support we had and feel overwhelmed by the generosity and selflessness of everyone who helped.

Source: Courtney Love Photography

If you or someone you know is struggling with a high-risk pregnancy, let them know you’re thinking about them. Show up for them. I remembered and appreciated even the smallest of gestures. And if you don’t feel 100 percent confident in your medical team, speak up and advocate for yourself because it really will make all the difference to feel like you’re in good hands. Our little guy is doing so well and will be 1 in April! We named him Owen, which means young warrior. Each time he smiles, it reminds me that we not only survived, but thrived thanks to the constant outpouring of love, prayers, and support from our village. 

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