I’ve fancied starting a blog many times before, but without any kind of strong direction I didn’t really know where or how to start.
Now I have a start.
It’s not a subject that I ever imagined would apply to me, let alone be something that would cause me to start writing.
I don’t intend this blog to be a shrine to my baby by posting endless scrawl about my story, but it was such a profound and unique experience it deserves to take the first space on my blog.
My experience with pregnancy has taught me just how delicate life really is. Previous to carrying my (overdue) boy, Thomas, I had two early miscarriages. One at 8 weeks, the other at 6. I was pretty distraught at the time, and quite understandably so, however what was to follow would blow everything before it out of the water. Yet I feel each instance probably prepared me just a little bit more for what was about to happen third time around.
I found out I was pregnant on 4th February 2016, which meant that our 3rd attempt at pregnancy was a first wedding anniversary baby. I couldn’t be happier!! A few tense weeks later and we couldn’t wait to ensure that everything was ok, so we had a private scan at around 8 weeks.
The relief was immediate. Even at this early stage we found ourselves listening to our little baby’s heartbeat. It was amazing.
From then on my pregnancy progressed without any major issues. I googled every symptom, which were of course all quite normal. I had morning sickness. Not the physical nausea I was expecting (as I suffer from pretty bad motion sickness!) but just the feeling of nausea. It lasted until around week 16 or 17. I also had pretty bad rib pain but the doctor concluded that this was mainly due to my short torso and expanding bump! The only other notable issue was a sore foot muscle, meaning I had to take a week off from work as I literally couldn’t put any weight on it. Apparently I had sprained something.
Anyway, that’s the gist of my pretty uneventful pregnancy…up until the 39th week! It was at this point that my urine glucose test had come back positive (+2) for a second time, having been positive 2 weeks prior. My midwife booked me in for a glucose tolerance test at the hospital. The test came back showing I had a marginal intolerance to glucose and so I was labelled as suffering from gestational diabetes.
What followed was a meeting with a consultant whose sole aim was to set up a date for an induction, which meant my wish of having a non-induced water birth just went out of the window.
Now I was never one of those people who had a distinct birth plan in mind. I was quite happy to go with whatever was necessary at the time. However, as soon as I got the diagnosis of diabetes it was as if I suddenly needed to find a way to disprove them of that fact. It never felt right. But needless to say our consultant thought otherwise and frankly told us that the risk of not being induced involved stillbirth. Part of me took this seriously, because of course it was an extremely serious outcome, but a part of me disbelieved it. I wanted to know what the risks were to me personally, rather than a textbook response of “gestational diabetes = stillbirth”. It seemed the doctors would rather err on the side of caution and tar everyone with the same brush.
The general rule set by NICE guidance states that women with diabetes should be induced by 40+6. This seemed to be an entirely impersonal decision, based on the assumption that I had suffered from early-onset gestational diabetes. The reality was that I was in my 39th week of pregnancy, my glucose test had only come back marginally over the limit, and a late scan also showed that I had normal amounts of amniotic fluid and my baby was weighing perfectly at 7lb5; so not a huge baby, which is sometimes the risk in diabetic women.
After my meeting with the consultant I was then whisked away to see a dietician who told me how to use a blood glucose monitor and gave me a crash course on what not to eat.
Over the next week I tested my blood at the prescribed intervals, but at no point did my glucose levels exceed the limit set out to me. This somehow made the whole thing worse in my head as my readings were actually way under and not at all teetering on the edge of abnormal.
The dietician called me after a few days and agreed that on the basis of my normal glucose levels she was willing to re-write my birth plan to include the birthing suite and water birth. I couldn’t have been happier with this and felt a strange sense of victory as if I had finally got my own way, regardless of hospital rules and regulations.
However, I still had the induction date which was beginning to loom over me, and so to try and get things kickstarted I agreed to a sweep.
It was classed as an unsuccessful sweep as my cervix was too high up, but two days later I was having mild contractions. These started the afternoon before the dreaded induction date! I thought with any luck I may have this baby naturally after all!
On the day of induction I rung in the morning to secure a time to come in. I told them at this time that I was experiencing what I thought were contractions, but they told me to come in regardless and bring my hospital bag.
On 21st October at 4pm my husband and I arrived at the hospital. A nurse hooked me up to a monitor for half an hour to make sure everything was ok prior to the induction. The monitor confirmed I was having contractions, but an examination by the nurse came back as a low ‘4’ on the Bishop’s score, so I was to go ahead with the induction.
I had a pessary inserted and was told that it could take ages to take effect. In fact it could take days and multiple attempts before it was successful. Luckily for me it did the trick within a few hours and my contractions increased quite quickly (and painfully!).
I was hooked up to a monitor a few times to check baby’s heart rate and my contractions, and at one point I had to be moved on to my left side as the baby’s heart rate was dipping. Things were fine though and he was recovering from them so it was nothing to be concerned about.
Looking back I reckon that was the worst part of the whole labour. I was in so much pain when I was put on to my left side. I could hardly stand it but I somehow managed to stay put for 30 minutes whilst they were continuing the monitoring.
I had two baths in the middle of the night to try and curb the pain, and upon getting out the second time around I asked if there was something I could take. They offered me paracetamol or pethadine. I really didn’t want the pethadine as my my mum was allergic, and in my head it was always something I was afraid of having. I also had read terrible things about how it knocks you out and I didn’t want to be in a drugged state for the birth of my child, but as I knew paracetamol wouldn’t touch the pain, I opted for pethadine.
The nurse told me they had to examine me before pethadine was administered. Luckily I was dilated to 5cm so didn’t need pethadine after all! I was moved to the birthing suite to continue the rest of my labour.
By this point my husband and I couldn’t believe how well everything was going. Apart from the fact that I couldn’t lay or sit down, and had been standing on my feet swaying side to side since I arrived, things were progressing nicely.
The next issue began when the midwife detected ketones in my urine sample. Apparently I needed to eat and drink more. My amazing husband went and bought loads of snacks from Marks and Spencer. Much to the amusement of the midwife, it included a whole cucumber, couscous salad, cocktail sausages, and some blueberries! I had to stuff as much down as I could and drink what felt like a whole gallon of water in order to lower my ketones. I was worried about my glucose level shooting up but it never did.
The next decision I made was to have my waters broken. I was examined and was given a choice of whether I wanted them to burst naturally or to speed things up I could have them ruptured. I was still only 5-6cm dilated. The midwife said my membranes were bulging and she could feel the baby’s head with hair on it!! I agreed to have my waters broken and so then came the gush. It was the weirdest sensation I’ve ever felt and it went everywhere!!
After that the feel of the contractions changed. They were stronger, but felt better somehow. They changed intensity to something that was making me want to push rather than just breathe through them. I felt as though this was a pain that I could deal with and work with to bring my baby in to this world.
My husband was getting excited at this point. We both felt as though we were home and dry. I felt so proud of myself for getting to this point, virtually drug-free, and I felt so happy about it! My husband kept telling me how proud he was of me, and that I was doing so well.
When I look back at the whole thing, it’s this point that gets me feeling emotional. I suppose it’s because this was the turning point in my labour. All of a sudden it went from being a painful and gruelling few hours, to potentially the most powerful moment of elation, and love for one another, resulting in the birth of our beautiful son.
Unfortunately for us that powerful moment faded in to a nightmare. An hour after my waters were broken my baby’s heart rate plummeted, but then it recovered. We all blew a sigh of relief and the labour continued. Then it happened again, and this time it didn’t come back up as quickly.
I was starting to panic and before I knew it I was in a wheelchair being taken to theatre.
Despite the situation, and my rising panic, the midwife pushing me said that things were going to be ok, and that the baby was probably just holding on to the umbilical cord. I can even remember her saying “don’t worry, if I thought it was something to be concerned about I’d be running with you in this wheelchair”.
I was moved on to the operating table, and a surgeon examined me. I was 6-7cm dilated at this point. He quickly set up a monitor and we listened as the heartbeat again went from being very slow, to then going back up to normal range. Then for one last time it dipped again and the surgeon decided it was time to get him out.
I remember laying on the table being scared that I and the baby were both about to die. I think it was an irrational fear at that point, but I had never factored in the thought of being given general anaesthetic so I was in shock.
There was quite a lot of shouting around me, nurses asking several times for things, and then I remember them slapping a lot of iodine on my stomach. I had a massive panic that they didn’t know I was still conscious as I thought they were about to cut in to me whilst I was still awake! I had a mask over my face and I was desperately trying to inhale thinking this is how I was going to get to sleep – not thinking, of course, that someone was trying to get the anaesthetic in to the back of my hand.
The last thing I remember was the surgeon telling me something about my windpipe and having to press down on it to stop me from vomiting due to all the food I had eaten beforehand – damn the cucumber, couscous and blueberries!!
I came to very slowly, and I couldn’t get my words out or keep my eyes open for very long.
I desperately wanted to know what had happened. My husband was by my side having opted to tell me the news himself, with the consultant right behind him incase he missed anything out.
Our son had been born without a heartbeat. It took them 27 minutes to get him back, and he was to be transferred to another local hospital to receive brain and body cooling to halt any further brain damage.
He was unresponsive and wasn’t expected to improve. The reason for this was because the umbilical cord was around the crown of his head and may have become compressed during labour.
I first met my son through a photograph that was taken by a midwife for me. I loved him as soon as I saw his little face. He had so many of my features – something my husband and I often wondered about. He had my stubby little nose, my chin, and my face shape.
Thomas was born on 22nd October 2016 at 15:59, and on 24th October 2016 at 16:00 we decided to let him pass away peacefully.
He was so perfect-looking that it was difficult to believe anything was wrong. He was surrounded by so many tiny, fragile babies on the ward who had been born prematurely, yet here he was, fully grown, but without any hope of life.
We decided to donate his organs, which unbeknown to us at the time, was the first time it was attempted at the hospital. Making this decision brought us a strange kind of happiness and helped me to believe that the previous 9 months wasn’t all in vain – If someone could get a little light out of our darkness then that’s all I could ever wish for.
The days that followed were a bit of a blur. We seemed to be managing pretty well despite the circumstances. I drew most of my strength from my husband, whom without I’m not sure how I would have coped. His relentlessly optimistic disposition helped me stay somewhat humbled by the experience rather than getting angry at myself or trying to pin all of our bad luck on someone else…for it seems that’s what this was. A case of bad luck!
The debrief with 2 consultants confirmed that Thomas probably died due to cord compression and no-one could have prevented or predicted it. My notes show a textbook labour (despite the ketones and even the few short bursts of a falling heart rate).
To put things in to perspective, 1% of births involve a baby being born with a cord prolapse or compression, and out of this 1%, somewhere between 0-3% end in neonatal death. They are extremely low odds.
I feel so grateful to have had a chance to meet our little boy. Whenever I’m explaining to someone what has happened to us I desperately want them to ask to see a picture of him, but of course they never do.
It’s the one thing I want to share with everyone – how proud I am of our son, yet I refrain every time, from fear of upsetting them further.
I’ve never been one to pour out my entire life on Facebook, but I did utilise it as a way of letting all of my friends know at once, so as to avoid awkward conversations further down the line.
The messages of support were vast; even from people who weren’t immediate Facebook friends, but still all I really wanted to do was show off my little Thomas to everyone. Something stopped me from attaching his picture to my status though. I recognised that whilst it would give me a sense of pride, it would probably bring nothing but upset to others and I didn’t want people to cry unecessarily about it, because telling the story was sad enough without having to physically see him too.
Here though, I’ve decided to allow myself to have that moment. It makes me feel better knowing that a little bit of him is ‘out there’. I’m not sure whether that will make sense to anyone, but it at least helps me to remember that he was real.
I’m truly sorry for anyone who may be distressed by the photos that follow, but just know that he never felt any pain – something I am very grateful for.
Thank you for reading my story.