So, here’s the thing. I am late for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. So it will be of no great surprise to those who know me well that this blog post is late. It was Birth Trauma Awareness week last week and this little ditty was in the diary to be written to coincide with it. So, basically, now this post has absolutely no common relevance whatsoever. But I’m going to write it anyway. Because, if nothing else, I think it might be quite therapeutic. For me, that is. Not you.
I’ve had the pleasure (and absolute privilege) of bringing two beautiful babies in to the world but neither births were easy. In fact, they were pretty traumatic. My memory of both is really quite limited. I wonder whether that was the drugs pumped into me or whether it is some sort of self defence move my brain has pulled.
What came out of both births is that I do not take for granted that I now have two healthy children. Yes, it would have been nice to have a romantic water birth surrounded by scented candles and whale music whilst being held lovingly by my husband but the reality is it all went a bit Pete Tong. It was crap. But, you know what? I’ve got two healthy and strong children. As much as it was traumatic and I felt the effects of it for a while afterwards, I am now able to move forward and look upon the births as a difficult journey that we had to embark on to get my babies here. A bit like a turbulent long haul flight to get to some idyllic tropical island: the journey was hell but it did its job, I’m now relaxing on golden sands with a frozen Margarita and all was worth it.
I’m not going to attempt to re tell both births in this post. I think recalling them both may result in me becoming a fragile, wet mess. So, let’s talk about my little lass. Chosen purely because it was the least traumatic (and the most recent so my memory is a bit sharper!).
The whole pregnancy with Little Miss was difficult. Whilst I floated on air for several months after finding out I was finally pregnant, it wasn’t an easy ride by any means. I didn’t expect one mind so I was kind of prepared. I had severe morning-noon-and-night sickness until around 18 weeks and at around six months I became really itchy. I itched literally from the highest point of my scalp to the sole of my feet. It was worse at night and it literally drove me insane. I would never have even clicked that it was linked to the pregnancy had I not read an article in my local paper the week before about a lady who sadly lost her baby due Obstetric Cholestasis. If I hadn’t read that article, I am not convinced I would have ever even mentioned the itching to my midwife. Maybe I am completely lacking in intelligence and common sense but in my mind, I wouldn’t have even connected itchy skin to something more sinister surrounding the pregnancy. My heart breaks for the poor family featured in the paper and I only wish I knew who they were to thank them for sharing their story as it most definitely saved my baby. It just shows how critical it is to raise awareness of these things.
So I mentioned it to my midwife or sent me for a blood test. It came back straight away that there was an issue with my liver and I was sent up to the maternity department at the hospital. We were met by a consultant who explained I had Obstetric Cholestasis. He was really patient and thorough but it was a lot of information to take in. We were already considered a high risk pregnancy due to the sheer concoction of drugs I was on to manage the pain of my chronic disease so this was just another risk to worry about. He told us that our baby would need delivered early as the longer the pregnancy goes on, the higher the risk of still birth. He advised that 1 in 200 women with OC go on to have a still born baby. 1 in 200 may not sound scary but when you’re sitting there, nursing your bump as your baby kicks and moves inside of you, so full of life, the even remote mention of your baby being stillborn is about as scary as it gets. A C-section was booked in at 36 weeks and they organised a care plan, I was to visit the hospital every week to have blood tests, to monitor the baby’s heart rate and movements and I was given medication to try and reduce the levels of bile in the blood. I was also prescribed this amazing menthol cream (which I literally bathed in for the next two months!) which was great for reducing the itching. It still itched like hell but I got a couple of minutes of relief at least when the cream was applied.
We were already aware that our baby was going to be born dependent on morphine due to my medication and that was scary enough so when these risks were factored in too, it was a really anxious time. Every week we’d trek up to the hospital in the city and I would have bloods taken and whilst waiting for them to return from the lab, the midwives would hook me up on a monitor machine which measured the baby’s heart rate and recorded the movements I felt by a button I had to press. Most weeks I was kept on the monitor for longer than standard because either she wasn’t moving a lot, or she was sleepy, or her heart rate dropped. It felt like those appointments went on forever. In fact, we headed in to the city today and took the same road we always took for the hospital and I instantly felt that sick, anxious twisting-of-the-stomach feeling that I felt every single time I went up there. I always expected the worse. I’m not sure whether that was a self preservation tactic or what, I was just constantly paranoid that something was going to be wrong with my baby. My precious baby.
We got all the way up to 35 weeks and I was due to have my final monitoring appointment before the section that was literally scheduled for days later. That’s when things didn’t start going to plan. The midwife kept coming back to the monitor and looking at the scan on the paper it was printing out. I could see from her face that something wasn’t quite right. You know when you get sent in to a little side room closely followed by a suited up consultant that things aren’t going to plan. They told me they weren’t happy with baby’s heart rate. I kept dipping and wasn’t recovering as quickly as it should. They said that, ever so matter of factly, they needed to deliver the baby that day via an emergency section. Cue an onslaught of ‘my hospital bag, it isn’t here! What about the big lad? We haven’t organised childcare for him! I’ve not eaten yet! I’ve not shaved my legs yet’ ya-da ya-da ya-da. It turned out that my hubby could actually throw things together in a plastic bag, arrange childcare, prepare eldest child for the premature arrival of his sibling and get back to the hospital in time for the section (even if he did bring a hat aged 6-9 months for the baby to wear upon her birth…). My legs remained hairy but the surgeon didn’t seem too arsed. Either that or I was too blotto to notice. Whatever. I’m sure he didn’t go on his break in the staff room and say ‘You should’ve seen the baby I’ve just delivered, her mum had the hairiest legs I’ve ever seen!’ to his fellow surgeon mates whilst they dunked their digestives in their tea. Or maybe he did. Frankly, I no longer care.
So, my hubby was gowned up and they took me in to theatre. I remember it being so brightly lit and not at all like the theatres you see on the TV. There was a radio playing and the staff were joking about how bad the Healthcare Assistant’s singing was. The Anaesthetist struggled to get the spinal block due to my spinal condition. She had told me that it may have been necessary to have a general if she couldn’t get the spinal in. I pleaded with her to keep trying. I desperately didn’t want to miss the delivery of my little girl. She worked like an absolute trooped getting that spinal block and she made it happen. I will forever be grateful for that.
I had a great medical team surrounding me, with a Baby Doctor on call ready to give our baby girl help if she needed it. It turns out she was an absolute trooper too. She was delivered ever so perfectly, with Daddy catching the moment she was pulled from me on camera (we’re saving that one til she brings her first boyfriend home). Every last ounce of her 6lb 12 weight was absolute perfection. You wouldn’t even know that she was born early, or born dependant on morphine.
But as I was obliviously coo-ing over the beautiful baby girl that was tucked inside my hospital gown, being held tightly against my chest, the rest of the surgery was not going to plan. The nurses did their best to reassure me when the machines started making extra beeping noises and they called the Registrar to come down, I knew there was something wrong. It was written all over the atmosphere in the room. It had gone from a jubilant, celebratory ‘Yay! It’s a baby girl!’ atmosphere to a everyone-looking-scary-worried atmosphere.
The Registrar came down and spoke very quietly with the Surgeon then came and explained that I was suffering Uterine Atony, my uterus had failed to contract after the delivery and it was causing quite a lot of blood loss. She was very upbeat, attempted to distract me with small talk whilst keeping one eye firmly on the developing surgery at the bottom of the table. It took the surgeon, what felt like, an eternity to get things under control. I did nothing but look at the faces of the medical staff, the way you look to air crew staff when you’re on a bumpy flight to see if they look worried, because if they look worried, well then it’s time to worry that the plane may be in trouble.
I tried to focus on my baby girl, my husband – anything other than the beeping of those bloody machines. The more I nestled my beautiful baby in to my chest, the more I worried that I wasn’t going to get out of that theatre alive to enjoy her. I felt cold and my hands were trembling as I tried to hold my baby close to me.
What felt like an eternity later, the Registrar finally looked at me, relieved and told me that I had lost quite a bit of blood but that the situation was under control and that I was now being stitched up ready to go in to recovery. The machines stopped beeping, the jovial atmosphere resumed with the Healthcare Assistant continuing with his rubbish singing and the room literally breathed a sigh of relief.
It turned out that our little baby girl wasn’t out of the woods unfortunately. We had a wonderful first 12 -18 hours with her before the drug withdrawal symptoms started taking hold and sge got sicker and sicker. I have promised myself I will write about our experience as parents of a baby with a drug dependency one day but I don’t feel quite ready to do it yet so I will come back to that another day.
One thing I must say on the subject of both her dependency and the birth is that I am so grateful for the incredible medical team we had looking after us both. Not once did we feel that we weren’t in safe hands. They were nothing short of outstanding. I know sometimes the NHS gets a bashing, and if I’m being honest, I have had my own frustrations with them in the past, but we could not fault the care given to either of us during our stay in Maternity.
Phew! I got through it! Apologies for its total lack of relevance due to my poor time keeping but posting anyway in the hope that one day it may raise awareness in the same way that newspaper article did for me. I owe the family in that article the world and then some.