My pregnancy was difficult right from the start.
I’d been having irregular bleeding. I was worried because when I was 23, I’d had repeated treatments for CIN3 – severe dysplasia, also known as abnormal cells on my cervix. If left untreated, they could cause cervical cancer.
After the last treatment for CIN3, it was necessary for me to stop taking the pill. The abnormal cells had already come back twice, requiring biopsies, laser treatment and then loop diathermy and I worried about what further treatments I would need. My husband and I had talked about starting a family following my treatment, in case I required more extensive treatment in the future.
A year after my treatments, my irregular bleeding left me worried the abnormal cells had come back again. I didn’t think there was any chance I was pregnant, but I was feeling sickness and food aversions and decided to do a pregnancy test to rule out the possibility. Not thinking (because of the bleeding) a line would actually appear. When it did, I was over the moon.
However, my joy was short lived. Knowing I was pregnant and bleeding worried me. I knew it was more than just spotting. I went to the GP and was referred to the early pregnancy unit for a scan. I expected the worse, but instead saw a tiny little heartbeat fluttering on the screen for the first time.
The bleeding settled down and I thought, maybe I could begin to relax and enjoy being pregnant. But at 13 weeks, I bled so heavily I thought I was miscarrying. My GP referred me back to gynaecology at the hospital, I was internally examined and told I had a lump and would need an urgent colposcopy. It is not a procedure they like to do in pregnancy, but because of my symptoms and history it was strongly advised. So 16 weeks into my pregnancy, I had this intrusive procedure.
Luckily, my results came back normal.
There was no explanation as to why I was still bleeding. It was possible my previous history and treatment had left my cervix weaker, known as an incompetent cervix. It also meant there was an increased chance of miscarriage or premature labour, but there was no definite diagnosis.
I continued to have light bleeding over the next few weeks. All I could do was wait for the weeks to go by; there was no enjoyment, just worry. At 18 and then 26 weeks, I had massive bleeds requiring me to be admitted into hospital for observation. Each time, I felt like this was the end and I was losing my baby. But somehow, each time my baby was monitored, he/she seemed quite happy in there and I was discharged once the bleeding had settled down.
At my routine 28 week midwife appointment, I told her about the continued bleeding and she immediately referred me back to hospital for a scan that day. I’ll always be grateful for her swift action. During this scan, the sonographer went to get a doctor’s opinion. The scan showed my cervix had completely shortened; it indicated delivery was imminent. I was given a steroid injection there and then, as it would help to develop my baby’s lungs. I was told to go home and rest. My midwife came to my house the next day and gave me a second steroid injection at home. We held on to the hope I wouldn’t go into labour. But later that night, whilst in bed asleep, I awoke to my waters popping. I got out of bed and they gushed. I woke my husband, we called the ward, and then we made our way to the hospital. This was it. Our baby was coming 12 weeks early.
Because my pregnancy hadn’t gone smoothly, I felt totally unprepared. I had nothing. Not wanting to tempt fate, I thought I’d wait until 32 weeks to prepare. In a dream world, I would have loved maternity leave, a baby shower, a freshly decorated nursery, baby clothes, buggy and neatly packed hospital bags with new outfits for us both. But when the shit hit the fan, none of that actually mattered. All that mattered was my baby being ok. Everything else could wait.
Our baby didn’t come straight away. I’d been told, 90% of babies deliver within 48 hours of PPROM (Pre-labour Premature rupture of membranes). I spent the weekend in hospital, wondering what would happen next and waiting for what felt like forever. Nothing happened, so I was discharged on a Sunday, with thermometers to check my own temperature every 4 hours for signs of infection. I worried so much for my baby, with hardly any amniotic fluid and the risk of getting an infection, but was told the baby was happy and the longer spent in my womb, the better. My baby stayed put for 4 more days and then the contractions started.
That Tuesday evening, 4 days after my waters had broken and now 29 weeks +1 day (that 1 is important in premature babies – every day is), I started to have light contractions. I went back into hospital. My contractions went on through the night and then it all began to sink in – our baby really was coming this time.
It got to Wednesday afternoon and a student midwife checked on me a couple of times. I wasn’t screaming or shouting as some labouring women do. All I could do was sway my hips and breathe. I didn’t even want my poor husband to touch me.
My antenatal classes were booked to start in two weeks time, so this was literally all I could do as the contractions increased in intensity and I began to feel like the baby was coming. I told the midwife I was in a lot of pain and I was bleeding heavily with every contraction. She couldn’t offer me the support I needed. I couldn’t have internal checks on my cervix by midwives because of the bleeding and risk of infection; it had to be a doctor, which was taking too long. My husband could see the worry in my face and went to find a different midwife. Luckily, the midwife he found was experienced and with just one look at me she knew I was about to deliver.
I was transferred upstairs to a delivery room immediately.
The rest of the busy ward fell silent as the midwives began to rush about and finally take me seriously. I barely even had a bump now that I had lost all the amniotic fluid. I had only really just begun to show in the last few weeks. The other expectant mums on the ward tried not to look or stare at me. I felt their pity. It was an awful moment.
Once upstairs in the delivery suite, I actually felt relieved. I was examined and now 9cm dilated, but there was no ‘excitement,’ just worried faces. Up until this point, my baby had seemed quite happy but things began to change quickly. With every contraction, my baby’s heart rate dropped dramatically. And more worrying still, it took longer and longer to get back up. I’ll never forget the sound of the heartbeat slowing, every beat got further and further apart – this baby needed to be born. Now. I had a doppler on me and they were also scanning me at the same time to monitor my baby.
They had called for the consultant to come. The room was full of people, midwives and doctors and the atmosphere tense. When the consultant arrived, it felt as though there was a sigh of relief. I felt relieved too. In a split second he took control of the situation, I’m so grateful to him for that.
I had to have an episiotomy, as it was urgent to deliver asap. My baby was in trouble. “If this baby doesn’t come now, we’ll have to go to theatre,” he told me. But I knew there wasn’t enough time. I pushed with everything I had. It still makes me angry when people, often other mums, make comments about me having a 2lb baby. That I must have just sneezed and he popped out, or that I was ‘lucky’ not to go full term, or that I avoided a real birth. I feel like screaming Fucckkk Off when I hear these comments.
Amazingly, our baby was born in the caul and the consultant briefly placed my baby on my stomach calling it nature’s cradle. In all the chaos and worry, it was a special moment. He cut it open and there he was –
our perfect, beautiful little boy.
Our son had arrived at 29+2 on March 24th 2010 at 21:58, weighing 2lb 10oz. He was quickly taken by the paediatric team. There was silence and hush whilst the incredible team worked on keeping him alive. I asked if he was ok. I hadn’t heard a sound, no cry. They told me they had stabilised him and were now taking him to the NICU. They briefly showed him to me, as they passed and quickly left the room. I lay for a moment feeling numb and in shock.
Then I delivered my placenta. It was small and pale. The consultant asked my permission, and I signed a form for it to be sent away and examined because of the condition it was in. I later learned that I had a retro placental haemorrhage and the blood clot behind my placenta had grown so big, it eventually caused my placenta to abrupt from the uterine wall. Both me and my baby had been very lucky. The answers now clearly in front of me, caused me to have feelings of anxiety and worry about what could have happened. I still occasionally get angry, as I felt nobody really listened to me during my labour when I was contracting and bleeding. I sometimes reflect back on my own actions and inactions and know now that I should have spoken up and should not have worried about making a fuss. I wish I’d been a better advocate for my baby and myself.
I guess I was ‘lucky’ to have had the last 4 days to get my head around the fact we were going to have a premature baby and prepare for it. Maybe I should have been more prepared throughout my whole pregnancy, but the truth is, nothing prepares you for seeing your precious baby in that situation. Nothing! Not even time. It’s heartbreaking and you feel helpless. Everything feels precarious, like there’s a very real fine line between your baby surviving or not.
Our baby couldn’t be held or touched at that point. We watched him and spoke softly to him to let him know we were there, willing him to live and survive. I was taken back to the maternity ward. This time to a room on my own, which I was thankful for. I started the process of expressing breast milk (that’s another story) and then my husband had to leave. I was discharged home from hospital 12 hours later.
In the morning, I studied his beautiful little body.
It looked perfect to me, but the fragility of it scared me. Watching his chest work so hard to breathe worried me. Every jerky movement he made, made me want to cry. It looked so uncomfortable for him. I began to take in everything else – the wires and tubes that covered him and connected him to machines, monitors, and the fluids keeping him alive. Those machines would beep and alarm constantly, and I would worry and wait for it to stop, or a nurse to come and reassure me that everything was still ok as she monitored him too. The sounds will haunt me forever. I wished I could take his place and fight this fight for him.
At first we were so scared to help with his cares. To begin with, all we could do was stand by and watch as the amazing nurses in NICU carefully changed his first tiny nappies, gently wiped his beautiful face, provided oral care to stop his mouth drying out from his CPAP tubes and changed his probe and positions. I felt like I would never be able to do it, as I might tangle the wires and tubes and hurt him. A lovely nurse spent time with me and my husband, and encouraged us to have a go at his care. It was so important to have that time and encouragement.
We did it together the first couple of times, like a nervous tag team, and the more we did it the more confident we became. We began to feel like his parents and not just observers of this horrid situation. Eventually we timed it so we would do all his cares and tube-feeds, apart from a couple overnights.
After a few days, they decided to see how he’d do without the CPAP. To their amazement, he did so well breathing on his own, they removed it. We could see his beautiful face a bit better now. He still had a nasogastric tube and wore his sunglasses for the uv light treating his jaundice, but I could see his nose and mouth now.
We watched in awe as he got stronger, though not without the ups and downs NICU parents call, the ‘roller coaster.’ We had felt so lucky and were on such a high that he was doing so well for a 29 weeker, (as they told us). When we arrived one morning and were taken to a side room with a consultant and told, our baby had a bleed on his brain and they couldn’t be sure how serious or what effect it would have right now, it was like a punch in the stomach. We were told they would do another head scan the following week..
At the same time, they were concerned his long line (basically his life line, providing total parenteral nutrition) would also need changing immediately, as they suspected he had sepsis. These are words you dread in NICU. I felt like the floor was going beneath me – this was by far the worst day in NICU. Thankfully, a later head scan showed no lasting or further damage and he continued to get stronger and bigger.
After a while, we were able to hold him and begin having precious skin to skin time. He began to tolerate more of my milk, required less medication and began to gain weight. Expressing my milk paid off, as we were able to establish breastfeeding exclusively, and nearly 8 weeks later we were discharged home. We were discharged with first aid training, after he passed the car seat challenge, and armed with lots of helpful information from Bliss.
However, the worry didn’t end at the doors, the day we left. We remained under the care of the paediatricians, physiotherapists, dieticians, optometrists, dermatologists and ENT (ears, nose throat) for the next 3 years. So many hospital appointments and so grateful for the NHS.
I now have a happy, healthy and pretty smart (obviously I’m probably a bit biased) 6 year old little boy. The whole experience, mostly, feels like a lifetime ago, but some days it feels like yesterday. I find it extremely therapeutic to write my experiences, so if you’ve made it this far in my story, (I know it’s bloody long) thank you.
Mikaila is a mama of two boys, Lochlan and Arlo and is married to her best bud. They both work with homeless families and when they are not at work or on family days out, you can find her at home on her sofa with her boobs out (still feeding her 2yr old) scrolling through IG and buying a lot of shit she shouldn’t..