This weeks story is from the lovely Emma who blogs at Upside Mum. If you would like me to feature your birth story, which I would love to do, then email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
I had a ‘normal’ pregnancy with my first child. By normal I mean I ate like a horse, looked like the side of a house and moaned like I was the first woman ever to carry a child and give birth! At our 20 week scan we found out we were expecting a boy. We decided to find out was because we were unsure of names and wanted to only be thinking in one gender. Being a teacher, I found it hard to choose a name that didn’t conjure up a picture of another child in my mind too. My due date was 23rd September, which was a Thursday and we set about making sure we had all of the essential items we would need for his arrival. It was also useful to know the gender, as my sisters threw a baby shower for me and it meant all of the beautiful, kind gifts could be lovely and blue.
At the time my husband was working on the Isle of Arran and when I finished up on maternity leave I joined him to rest and enjoy the scenery. With a first baby there is never a plan to deliver on the island in case of complications. We planned to leave on the Friday before my due date, as this was when my husband finished on paternity leave. It turns out J had no plans to wait this long and at around 7pm on Thursday 16th September, as the last boat was about to depart the island for the evening, my waters broke. I was a little worried after being told that first babies should not be born on the island and with the fact that he was a little earlier than we had expected. I phoned the hospital on the mainland where I was booked in and they advised me to contact the local hospital just to check me over, though as contractions were far apart they thought I would be OK. A brief visit to the hospital and we were home again to wait for labour to progress.
I didn’t sleep at all that night, between contraction pain and worrying about being where I was and so far away from where I was supposed to be when it all happened. At around 5am the contractions were closer together and we were told to return to the hospital. The doctor there was concerned about me having to travel for an hour on the boat unaccompanied, in case labour progressed more quickly. He had to fight for it but, as no ambulance crew was available to accompany me, I was to be airlifted off! How very dramatic, I thought. I was taken in an ambulance to the helipad, with my husband following behind in the car. When we got there he was advised that due to the stretcher being a specialised maternity one and there being two crew plus the pilot, he was not able to come with me and would need to wait for the first boat, making his own way to the hospital. This was not at all what I had expected and I began to get very upset, worrying that my husband would miss the birth of our child. However, I had no choice, so off we went.
Thankfully, my mum was able to meet me at the hospital on the mainland so that I wasn’t on my own after I arrived. She was also able to pick up my hospital bag which was helpful. By the time the drama of my journey was over, my contractions had slowed and they were going to send me back out to return again later! Thankfully I was attached to a monitor for the baby’s heart rate and one of the doctors noticed some dips in the rate and decided I should stay. The dips kept happening and became more frequent, lasting for longer each time. My husband eventually arrived, after several detours due to roads being closed for the Pope’s visit to Bellahouston Park. I was relieved but also asked my mum to stay, as she had been so great coming with me and I wanted her to be there when our little bundle arrived.
If I’m honest, the heart rate dips went on for far too long and then his heart rate dipped and the rate didn’t return to normal. The doctor began to panic, probably realising that she should have acted sooner, and started pulling my bed from the room before the machines had been properly detached. The anaesthetist eventually had to take hold of her and assertively tell her to stop, calm down and wait. By this time I was terrified, I already knew something was wrong and now, seeing the look of panic on her face, I was sure I was going to lose my boy. This would not be the last time I would feel this way during our stay in hospital. I was rushed to the operating theatre for an emergency c-section and less than 30 minutes later I was holding my beautiful boy in my arms. I was shaking from the epidural and worried I would drop him but my husband helped me hold him and I kissed his little head, relieved he was with us and breathing. I noticed he was quite purple but was assured this was normal.
We went to recovery, where a short time later I attempted to feed him. I had chosen to breast feed and was offered help by the recovery nurse. He was sleepy and didn’t latch, so we left it to try again later. This pattern continued once we were on the ward and I began to get a little concerned that he didn’t want to eat. I asked the midwives but was assured that babies have reserves and he would eat when he needed to. During the night I was wakened by other people’s babies, crying to be fed, but not my own. I had to waken him at regular intervals and try in vain each time to get him to latch and feed. I was so concerned that I even questioned my ability to feed him and wondered if I should bottle-feed instead. The midwives again reassured me that it was ‘normal’ and he was just tired from his birth. This continued for over two days and each time I was told it was ‘normal’. Little did I know that our lives would never be ‘normal’ again.
When J was 56 hours old he became even more unwell. My husband had left at the end of the night, as everyone has to do. One of the midwives, who hadn’t been on shift since just after he was born, remarked that she was concerned by his colour, sleepiness and lack of feeding. She asked a consultant to come to examine him and when she arrived they took him away from me into the corridor. The ward lights were now off for night time and the light was better out there, I was told. I waited for them to bring him back and tell me what they thought but after half an hour I started to get a little concerned that no one had been back. I waited another 15 minutes and went out into the corridor to see what was going on. I could not see a doctor, or my baby. I went to the nurse’s station, where I was informed that he had been taken down to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU)! Why had no one come for me or taken me with him, he was all alone?
The midwife took me down to the SCBU and I arrived just in time to witness the most awful sights: a feeding tube being inserted up his nose and down his throat, a canula being inserted into his tiny foot, bloods being taken and a lumbar puncture. It was not something I ever wished to see anyone go through, let alone my brand new baby. I had to sit down from the shock and I felt like I was going to throw up. Once I composed myself I phoned my husband to return and expressed some colostrum for my baby to be fed through the tube, along with a top-up of formula to boost his extremely depleted sugar levels. The next few days were an emotional rollercoaster where I witnessed his heart rate on the monitor soar to double the speed it should be and then drop to less than half. He was subjected to test after test, including an eeg of his brain. At one point, whilst I was catching a rare bit of sleep, he was moved from the SCBU to Intensive Care and again no one thought to tell me. I only discovered it when I returned to his cot and found he wasn’t there. That was not a pleasant experience. There were many occasions throughout his time there that I was convinced he wouldn’t make it and I am so thankful that he did. After this he seemed to rally and improve, began to breastfeed and waken up more often; though I still had to set an alarm every 3 hours to make sure he was awake to feed. Eventually we were allowed to return to the ward and then home, where after a worrying return at the insistence of the home-visiting midwife, we were able to adjust to life with our new bundle of joy.
As a result of his birth and what happened in the time after it, we had to attend follow-up outpatient appointments with a Consultant Paediatrician. As time went on we noticed that J was not reaching expected milestones within recognised time frames and raised these concerns at our hospital visits. He was referred on to the community paediatrician and followed-up with input from other professionals, including an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and Speech & Language Therapist. At the age of three he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Developmental Delay. At almost 6, he is currently non-verbal and is not able to be toilet trained. I often wonder how things would have turned out had that doctor acted more quickly and had the midwives listened to my concerns about his feeding and sleepiness (and had one of them not incorrectly written notes to say he was breastfeeding 2-3 hourly!) On the other hand I also wonder if we had been on the mainland already and I hadn’t been airlifted would he be here at all? My contractions were still fairly far apart and I wouldn’t have even been in hospital at the time he was delivered. I go between thinking someone was watching over us and made sure we were there to see the heart dips; to being angry that it wasn’t acted upon sooner, possibly avoiding the outcome that J will have to live with for the rest of his life.
I am however, a very proud mum who celebrates all of his successes and achievements. I am also lucky to be mum to two other little beings who arrived safely and healthily by planned c-section. There was no way I was going through all of that again and putting them at risk – despite a nice young doctor trying to assertively persuade me to have a natural birth the second time round! I have learned to be thankful for the smaller things and to try to look on the positive side when things seem tough.