It’s definitely only fair that if I am sharing the stories of other amazing mamas, then I have to share my story as well. But strap yourself in, it’s a very bumpy ride!
*Side note – as a midwife of almost 10 years’ experience, I had tried to plan in my head for every possibility (infertility, large baby, induction of labour, caesarean section, twins, you name it), but I NEVER bargained for what actually happened! Just goes to show, you can never know everything, you can never plan for everything, and sometimes you’ve just got to sit back and let fate take its course.
Well, it all started about two weeks before I got married (ooops). In an effort to avoid the aforementioned worries about infertility, I was off the pill and trying to track my natural cycle for the first time in a very. long. time. Anyway, I had all the symptoms I’d had the previous two months that my period was on its way…except it never showed. Four days passed, and I got a little worried, and on the way home from work I had to get groceries. I bought a pregnancy test and genuinely thought ‘when I see that it’s negative, I will relax knowing my period will be here soon’. I took the test as soon as I got home, and it was positive within about 3 seconds (no waiting for the 2 minutes here!). I just sat on the toilet in complete shock. When my partner got home, I surprised him with the test, and he also was shocked! We did another test and it came back even stronger.
The first hint that something wasn’t right was at the GP, where her pregnancy test revealed only a faint line. A few days later, I had some bleeding and cramping, so we went to the local hospital. There, we found out my pregnancy hormone (hcg) levels probably weren’t where they should be, and so I (and the hospital staff) assumed a miscarriage was inevitable. I couldn’t believe this nightmare was playing out the week of my wedding. The next day a doctor from the hospital rang and asked me to come in for an urgent scan, to make sure the pregnancy was not ectopic. The scan showed a small sac in the right place, and no real signs of imminent miscarriage. Some hope! The wedding went off without a hiccup, although both my mum and I had made mental calculations for every possibility! We had a two week honeymoon, and the day after we got back I had a scan that showed our happy little wriggler growing as expected. Morning sickness had set in, and I was nauseous most of the day with a lot of dry retching (gross) and occasional vomiting. I had no cravings and a lot of food aversions. I couldn’t stand any meat, but sometimes I forced myself to eat just to get something in. Finally around 19 weeks it seemed to lift. I thought the hard bit was over then…
At 19 weeks and a few days, I had my anatomy scan. The tech was super laid back, and I was too in awe of the little human that had developed perfectly inside me to notice that the measurements were fairly off. It was only a throwaway comment at the end from laid back tech about the baby being a week or two behind in growth that unsettled me. I went back to work but I felt so uneasy. There was no reason why the baby should be a week or two behind. I decided to contact an old friend of mine who is an obstetrician, to ask what he would advise his patients. He said he’d organise a repeat scan for the following week with a specialist, and it would either show a small baby, or that the measurements had been a bit off and everything was fine. It was a hellish one week wait, but inside, I just knew.
We had the repeat scan, which was actually done by another obstetrician I used to work with, who is a genuinely brilliant man and doctor. He gave it to me straight – the placenta wasn’t working well, and it was affecting the baby’s growth. At 20 weeks and 5 days, it was impossible to say if the placenta would hold out long enough for the baby to survive. They gave me several options of what I could do, and I chose to have another scan at 24 weeks to check on the growth (as 24 weeks is considered ‘viable’ – even though I hate that word – and if things were really bad they could deliver and attempt to save the baby). It was honestly my worst nightmare. Facing a potential stillbirth, or a really prematurely born baby who was already too small who might not survive or might live with severe impairments. The next few weeks were just awful. I don’t know how I managed to keep working because, being a midwife, it’s not like work took my mind off things. I cried ALL THE TIME. I kept a box of tissues in my car because I would just randomly burst into tears. The only blessing at this time (apart from supportive husband and family!) was that the baby moved constantly, so I was able to know that the baby was still well every day.
At 24 weeks we had the repeat scan. It showed the baby’s growth was stable – not better, not worse. At 25 weeks, the blood flow in the umbilical cord showed some resistance (a measurement of placental function) and thus began an intensive regime of scans three times a week to check the blood flow. I was also at risk of pre-eclampsia because of the placental condition, so I had weekly blood and wee tests to monitor that. My obstetrician friend was a godsend. He was the perfect mix of professional and friend at this time. He went above and beyond normal duty in monitoring me. At 26 weeks we began CTG monitoring on top of the scans. I also had a dose of steroids at this time to help mature the baby’s lungs in case we needed to deliver. So I was going in three times a week and doing all the scans, tests etc would take around 4 hours. It was exhausting. I stopped work. I was lucky that I was able to access accommodation in Melbourne through my work, but the financial burden was also huge (transferring to private care, ultrasounds, medications, petrol, car parking…). I was mentally spent. Every day was a constant worry that it might be the baby's last day, and every time I woke overnight, I would panic until I felt a kick. In hindsight, I wish someone had suggested some counselling to equip me with the skills to deal with the trauma, but then again I was already seeing so many specialists! It was touch and go as to whether I’d make 28 weeks (the third trimester), but this was a goal of mine. Beyond this time, the statistics for premature babies improve greatly. I made it to 28 weeks and celebrated by buying a pram! I finally allowed myself to picture the possibility of bringing a baby home. Somehow, I remained in status quo for the following weeks, the situation was stable (bar a slight false alarm at 30 weeks when a test indicated the baby was anaemic, but it turned out to be a false reading).
Me at 31 weeks' of pregnancy, thrilled to still be pregnant!
At 32 weeks my blood pressure sky-rocketed and the pre-eclampsia had arrived. Again we assumed we were a few days away from delivery. My OB decided to admit me to keep a close eye on my blood pressure (and because I was maxxing out the blood pressure meds). My husband took unpaid leave at this time to be with me. It was super stressful (but in a way I was relieved that if there was an emergency, I was in the right place). Our baby had different plans yet again however, and things again stayed stable until I was 35 weeks on the dot, and somehow we were scheduling an induction for 36 weeks (until then, it had just been assumed I’d need an emergency caesarean at some point). No one could believe it! That day (at 35 weeks) I had my usual CTG monitoring, except on this day there was one tiny blip on the trace. In any other circumstances I don’t think I (or anyone else) would have batted an eyelid, but when my OB was reviewing the trace he said “look, we can just carry on monitoring until your induction, or we can take this as a sign that the baby is putting up the white flag…” Say no more – I was so ready for the nightmare to be over and I told him there was no way I was risking all the magnificent care that had got me to 35 weeks. We planned for a semi-emergency caesarean the next day (unless things escalated that day). I, of all people, couldn’t believe I was begging for a caesarean and totally not even considering other options, but I was so done. Emotionally, I don’t think I could have coped with a labour, my ‘labour’ was the entire pregnancy!
The next morning we were prepared for a caesarean. We had asked my brother to come in (he’s a doctor, so I knew he’d cope in the operating theatre!) as he’d been really supportive throughout the pregnancy and it just seemed fitting. Plus it was a bonus to have an extra medical person to support and advocate for me, my husband and the baby (especially if I was incapacitated). As it turned out, the caesarean was timed perfectly as I started having regular tightenings that morning,and even with the early signs of labour, the baby was not coping well. The spinal anaesthetic went in and within seconds I was numb. This was an awful feeling. I was panicking again and my blood pressure shot up. Luckily, the anaesthetist was brilliant at calming me down. The next thing I knew, I heard the sound of the amniotic fluid being sucked up and I was shocked that the procedure had already commenced! Suddenly, my OB was holding the little baby over the drapes for me. More shock – a girl! I had thought all along I was having a boy. She was tiny, but screaming. She was staying consistent to her fighting nature. I had a quick cuddle and she went off to the NICU with my husband and brother. She weighed just under 1.6kg – about 4 weeks behind in her growth. The NICU doctors put her on a glucose drip and some breathing support just in case – my little fighter pulled all that off and said ‘no thanks’. We called her Emilia. About 8 hours after she was born, my husband came back to my room with tears in his eyes. I feared the worst. Nope – he’d just had his first cuddle with her. “Push me out of this damn bed” I yelled – if she was well enough for cuddles then I had bloody earnt one! That was the best moment ever. I didn’t find the recovery from the caesarean too bad at all. I was prepared for much worse, and only needed strong pain killers for the first few days, and after 48hrs I was doing regular treks down to the NICU. It was probably the euphoria of everything having gone so well, I had a silly grin plastered to my face the whole time, and I remember remarking to my mum how fantastic the birth had been (who thought you could have a good caesarean?!).
Emilia a few days old in her plastic castle
From there it was onwards and upwards for her – we went back to our local hospital when she was 6 days old, and I fought the paeds there to take her home 10 days later (weighing 1.8kg!). I told them I was doing all her care anyway, except at night when I was at home. Finally we had her home. This is when I should have relaxed, as I had got what I wished for all along, but instead my anxiety escalated crazily. I had a feeding app that I was timing breastfeeds and nappy changes, and I was scrutinising everything. She fed one minute less than last time? Internal panic. Is that nappy heavy enough? I think she’s too sleepy. I don’t think she’s slept enough. She’s overtired. What if she doesn’t wake up for the next feed? Every day, every thought was panic, panic, panic. I was definitely not thinking straight. I still tried to have my midwife hat on and excused my thoughts as part of the experience.
Finally, about 6 weeks after we got home, I reached breaking point. One morning I woke up and thought ‘I just can’t do this anymore’. I could not stand the thought of doing another breastfeed, or another nappy change. Then Emilia threw up after a breastfeed, and I just broke. It was the culmination of everything, but also my biggest focus for her was weight gain and getting her on the charts. That vomit was just the trigger. Luckily, I have great friend and colleague who answered my call and put me on a plan to feeling better. I was linked in with the short term mental health team locally, and they visited daily or second daily until I was better. My mum came and stayed with me for several days, then I went and stayed with her when my husband went back to work. It really was just about support, and sleep. I’ve learnt that sleep is absolutely crucial to my overall health. If I have a period of poor sleep, my emotional health suffers; if I have a good sleep, I am my normal self.
With a few good sleeps and lots of support I recovered from this emotional burden very quickly. I was lucky to have a brilliant ‘village’ around me. I was able to realise what had gone wrong – essentially, my worst fears and worries were realised in pregnancy, which reinforced in me that the worst case scenario can and would happen to me. So that is how I’d approached having a new baby. It made the world of difference to be able to think clearly, and I started enjoying life. Imagine that – having a baby is not something to be endured, you can actually love it!
This was definitely the most profound experience of my life. Not a day goes past without me thinking of the pregnancy and afterwards. I feel apprehensive about having another baby, but I think I will one day. For now I am focused on Emilia, and have a renewed focus and area of passion in my work!
I think it's so important we share our stories - from a debriefing perspective, to raising awareness, to support and creating that village. Whether your story is a dream or a bit of a shocker, or somewhere in between, it is your story, and that's important. What do you think? Leave your comments below, and if you too would like to share your story, feel free to contact me!
My little pocket rocket now, healthy and happy
Want more? Click below to read related topics!