6 September 2017

My Story

I never envisaged pregnancy or childbirth to ever be a walk in the park. I knew our lives and love would change in irreversible ways when we fell pregnant. I don't think I was ever naive about any of it and how risky the whole process can be for both mother and baby. But like many women and couples that are thrown hurdles during pregnancy and birth, I was completely unprepared for my experience.

I had a couple of bleeds in the first 12 weeks of my pregnancy, which scared the shit out of me. Along with some horrendous morning sickness, at times I didn't know if I was coming or going. Once the 12 weeks scan was out of the way, we could relax. I loved the second trimester. I got my appetite back, my hair was glossy, skin was radiant and my bump was growing. One of my work colleagues said I optimised the pregnancy glow.

As I entered the third trimester, I could feel the heaviness and tiredness starting to kick in. My hands and feet had started to swell, but generally I still felt good. 

Two days before I hit week 31 in my pregnancy, my baby's movements changed. A trip to the maternity assessment (MAU) unit showed baby was fine, but my blood pressure wasn't. Early signs were that it could be pregnancy hypertension. I was sent home with my medication and a home blood pressure monitor. 

Within a week I started to show protein in my urine and my blood pressure kept creeping up, despite increasing the medication. I didn't have pregnancy hypertension, I had preeclampsia. I had no idea what this was nor how dangerous it was.

Eight days after that first visit to MAU my blood pressure just wouldn't go down. My urine still had protein and it had started to increase. I was admitted into hospital at 32 weeks. A few days into my hospital stay, my specialist midwife said, "Bina, you won't be going home until you have this baby."

I still had 8 weeks to go!

I twiddled my thumbs, I was bored out of my brains - but I knew I was in the best place possible. Preeclampsia is at times a silently but deadly condition caused by issues with the placenta. The only way to really try and over come it, is by delivery of the baby and placenta. I was told they'd try and get me to 35 weeks, so 35 weeks it was. No matter what, my baby would be here 5 weeks early. I wasn't allowed to go home as I could have had a stroke or seizure at any point, putting both me and baby at risk. Or go into spontaneous labour.

My condition changed on a daily basis. I was monitored every 4 hours. Yes, that meant broken sleep and no rest whatsoever. Talk about great training for once the baby was here. Protein in my urine increased (I did a 24 hour urine collection on two occasions in hospital), my blood pressure was high but stable and my bloods started to change.

At exactly 34 weeks, the baby's variations changed. Doctors weren't sure what this meant. So they said they'd leave it another day. I was back on the machine again in the morning for two hours! Still they weren't sure. Then that lunch time, about 5 or 6 consultants, midwives and surgeons gathered round my bed, just as my husband had nipped off to grab a sandwich. Great timing! 

I had about 6 hours to get my head around the fact my baby was arriving that day. I signed a heap of paperwork. Had a load of information to digest about what might happen with the baby after delivery and I was wheeled off to theatre. The previous night I'd had a visit and chat with a couple of NICU doctors too. 

My daughter arrived at 5:26pm by c-section, a little cry from her helped settle my initial nerves. But nothing prepared me for what was about to follow. I didn't even get a chance to see her. She was wheeled off on a silver trolley to NICU, and I went in the opposite direction on to a high dependency unit. 

It took medical staff about 6 hours to stabilise me. I was at risk of having a stroke or heart attack as my blood pressure at one point was horrendously high. In a nutshell, I could have died that night and my poor husband was right there by my bedside watching it all happen. 

I drifted in and out of sleep and woke up the next morning feeling like I'd been hit by something. My husband told me that morning that they would be transferring our daughter to a hospital an hour away. She needed a level 2 hospital, and our local one had too many babies in it already. But I'd get to see her before she left. They trollied her round that afternoon and I saw her for two minutes. I touched her hand and she was gone. My heart was broken. 

I couldn't see her face properly. She had so many wires and pipes attached, it squashed her delicate features. I was her Mum, I'm supposed to protect and look after her, but I couldn't do anything. I felt helpless. 

I was discharged the next day and my father-in-law drove us to the other hospital, where I was an in-patient for 4 days too. 

My room was a 5 minute walk from the NICU where my daughter was, but it feels more like 10 when you've had a c-section. My husband went back to work as we decided that it would be best he took paternity leave once we were home. But that meant him travelling every night after work to come and see us. By the weekend I was discharged and provided with a NICU flat and my husband stayed for two nights too. 

I can still hear the sounds and see the lights in NICU. The blue lights for the poor babies that needed light therapy including mine. The beeping of the machines monitoring temperature and heart rates. It was always quite dark despite all those machines and lights. 

We only had a couple of other visitors during our 10 day stay at the first hospital. Purely because people thought it was too far or they were too busy. NICU was lonely. The nurses became your friends and shoulders to cry on.

My daughter came off all her machines by day six. After that we were just waiting for a bed back in our home city, this took five days. We returned back to the hospital I gave birth at for another 10 days to establish feeding and weight gain.

One day short of three weeks we were allowed home. I hadn't really thought about the birth and our experience until many weeks later as we were both so sucked up in the midst of being new parents.

Once home, we were preparing ourselves for an influx of visitors. But it didn't happen. It didn't appear to be because people were busy. But it felt like it was because they were scared. My daughter wasn't ill, just small. So they projected their own fears and insecurities on us and our beautiful, precious daughter. As new parents, we took that as personal rejection. As a new Mum, I felt like I'd failed because I couldn't get to term and have a baby that was of average size and weight so people would feel more comfortable seeing her and holding her. 

We had a birth reflections appointment with a semi-retired midwife where we discussed our experience. We discussed flaws such as; how no one discussed feeding with me in the two weeks I was in hospital pre-birth. How I didn't get a chance to attend any antenatal classes (they schedule private ones in hospital which I could have sneaked into) and how once my daughter was born, no one asked my husband if he'd let like to touch her, possibly even hold her. Neither of us held her for the first time until she was 48 hours old. She definitely isn't short of cuddles from either of us now though. 

The appointment helped and I thought that was it. But over the months I've felt different again, maybe because I've had to start looking at nurseries and thinking about having to leave my daughter. The longest I've been away from my her since we came home is 3 hours, and I've only left her with my husband. 

I worry if I leave her crying for even a few seconds. I worry when she doesn't get enough sleep or people wake her. I worry if she's over stimulated. I just worry, worry, worry. I hate people holding her that can't handle a smaller baby. They look awkward and fussy and it really does my head in and it blatantly does hers in too. I think about being separated from her for two days a lot, and wonder if she remembers things the way I do.

I still have gaps in my memories of what went on over those 24 hours. I let my daughter cuddle up and sleep on me because I feel I have to make up for those two days. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to let go of that. 

I know in hindsight we were both in the right place and well looked after. I can never thank the medical staff enough. They really were amazing. And had it not been for one particular NICU nurse, I would never have been able to get going with my breastfeeding journey either. I'm now 9 months into that journey and it's one of the biggest achievements in my life. 

So after all this, would I have another baby? At this moment in time I can mentally say yes. I'd go through another pregnancy in order to make sure my daughter wasn't an only child. I have a 1 in 6 chance of Preeclampsia rearing its ugly head again. Although who knows, I may feel slightly differently in a couple of years.  I only talk about a second baby now so that I don't have a freak out in a few years time when we have to address the subject. For the time being, I'm just trying to enjoy my time with my strong little lioness. 

I've sought help over the last couple of months and have started some sessions that will hopefully help me overcome some of my post birth stresses and traumas. Initial indications are that I'm suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can't stress enough how important it is to speak up about what you're thinking and feeling post birth. Becoming a parent isn't easy, and some things don't come naturally either, and that's ok! 

I'm thankful I have such a wonderful, supportive and loving husband. He's been my absolute rock since I was diagnosed with preeclampsia last October. Without him, things physically and mentally could have been so much worse. I know the whole experience has been traumatising for him too and our experience has highlighted how there's probably not enough support for new Dad's either. 

I'm also thankful that there's been no long term damage to me, and that I've I've made a full recovery.

Written by Bina @lil_bins

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