My Birth Story

Parenting

The Story of the Birth of Little V.

To begin with let me give you a little bit of context. I had a very unusual pregnancy. Due to a catalogue of pre-existing autoimmune conditions, I was placed under the high risk team at St Thomas’s Hospital in London.  Early on in the pregnancy I became very poorly and was in and out of hospital for appointments and check ups 3-5 times a week, with no clear answer as to what it was that was making me so ill.

At 21 weeks it was discovered that I had a condition called hyperparathyroidism which put mine and my baby’s lives at risk. I was immediately admitted to hospital for round the clock care and had a lifesaving operation at 25 weeks. (If you’d like to read more about this, you can find it by clicking this link.)

Following the operation I had continuous check ups a couple of times a week and was in ADU (the ante-natal daycare unit) for suspected pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and anaemia. I also had a number of infections which had to be monitored.

So that’s the background, and nowI’m trying to decide where to begin. It’s a little bit confusing as I was in hospital 3-5 times a week for my whole pregnancy and was always going to be induced if the baby hadn’t made an appearance by my due date.

The week before I was due, I was up at hospital on Wednesday morning having my usual tests, when some of the bloods came back as showing signs of infection. It was decided (at 2am on the Thursday morning) that I would be admitted to the ante-natal ward later that day to be induced. Hubby and I headed home to get some sleep and were told to be back at the hospital at 10am on Thursday.

We arrived at the ante-natal ward, a home from home for me having spent a lot of my pregnancy there. I was familiar with all the staff and felt like I was in very safe hands with people who knew me well. At this point in time my overriding feeling was one of excitement. I was finally going to meet the little person who, against all the odds, had thrived throughout the pregnancy and was going to be joining our family imminently. Naïvely, I thought that being induced meant the baby would be there the next day at the very latest.

How wrong was I!

The first step of an induction is a pessary. This is a small, flat device that looks like a little label on a tampon string. It has to be inserted into the cervix and the idea is that it kick-starts contractions. I had been 1cm dilated for about a week and baby’s head was quite low so, ever the optimist, I thought this would be it and we’d be off.

Hubby and I had agreed that he would be staying with me throughout, as we had no idea how quickly things would happen, home was a good 40 minute drive away in normal traffic, at rush hour we had no idea how long the journey would take. He was set up in my little area with a reclining chair, a pillow and a blanket. Sillily we didn’t pack him any PJs or really consider how uncomfortable his time in hospital with me would be. We will definitely do that differently next time round.

Anyway, late that night the first pessary was inserted and we sat back and waited. When you start an induction you are hooked up to a machine that measures your contractions as well as the baby’s heartbeat. The next morning the machine was showing signs that I was having contractions every few minutes, but I couldn’t feel them and when examined I hadn’t dilated at all.
The next stage is a gel, which is in a plastic syringe and is also put into the cervix. This was when things started to happen. Within an hour of the gel being inserted, the contractions began in earnest. I was having two 4 minute contractions in ten minutes and was realising that they hurt! On examination on Friday evening I had dilated to 4cm and was told we’d give it overnight to see how far I went, whilst being checked on regularly. At this point I was in quite a lot of pain and was offered gas and air. I gave it a go, but I’ve never been one for feeling out of control or woozy and quickly rejected it in favour of paracetamol.

The pain was intensifying and I started to feel a little vulnerable. We weren’t sure whether my waters had broken (they can break just a little bit, before the full on release) and I wasn’t in control of my body – a situation I’m not too good at handling! I had a chat to the lovely midwife on duty and we agreed I’d be moved through to the delivery room. This differed from the ward as it was a room with an en-suite and a 1:1 midwife, as opposed to the ward of 4 sharing a bathroom (which someone’s other half thought it was ok to use frequently – not ideal and not really allowed!).

Throughout my pregnancy I had been looked after by the high risk midwifery team and I had got to know them really well, but none of them were available that night. As I was wheeled through to the delivery ward, I heard the ante-natal midwife say that there was an ‘over-anxious patient’ and asking who would be allocated to me. On reflection, this was more than likely to ensure I had an understanding midwife who would put me at ease. At the time, however, it felt like I was being judged and criticised and that the team were being warned about me. I was heartbroken and felt very scared, as I wasn’t sure what to do with the fear that was building up. Having had a long stay in hospital and being operated on, I had a huge fear of the unknown and any medical intervention.

The first thing that the midwife said was that it was time to put a canular in. To say I have a phobia of these would be a massive understatement, but I knew it was a necessity. What I didn’t count on was the fact that I would need a very big one inserted ‘incase I ended up in theatre’. That, for me, was the most frightening prospect and one that I hadn’t worked through properly. My fear of this was, in fact, so great that when a role play of the c-section theatre was acted out at our NCT classes, I had to leave the room and was very shaken and upset at the prospect of having to consider this an option.  All I could do was hope that it didn’t come to that. At this point it was also decided that the contractions weren’t progressing and that it was time to use the hormone drip.

The next 12 hours are quite a blur. I know that my room was changed as they couldn’t run a warm bath in the first room I was allocated. I know that I did start having some gas and air at some point. I know that I had really wanted to move around to encourage the labour, but that for some reason I didn’t.
The next morning a new shift came on and I was encouraged to have a bath. That didn’t take much pursuading – I love a bath. It was absolute heaven and total relief from the pain of the contractions (I’m sure the gas and air was also helping, although it was making me feel totally out of it). I had originally wanted a water birth and I guess this was a nod to what that would be like and has definitely made me want one next time.

Eventually, after a lot of reheating, I had to get out the bath. The rest of the story is quite a blur for me, so I’ll do my best to share the bits I know. At some point I was put on a drip as there was a concern that I was becoming dehydrated. I was drinking as much as I could, but was being sick constantly. I had 2 anti-sickness injections, neither of which worked. I was put on anti-biotics for 24 hours, I still don’t actually know why. At one point a very lovely midwife came to cover a break and had access to aromatherapy oils. That helped massively as it was a little bit of normality and comfort in what was proving to be quite a crazy journey. My waters were broken after the bath.

For the next shift, my midwife was joined by a student midwife in her final year. She was my little guardian angel. She held my hand, spoke to me when I wasn’t in the middle of a contraction and generally offered a huge amount of support. She enabled my husband to go for a lunch break without worrying about me and was so positive and kind throughout, at no time making me feel like I wasn’t justified in the way I felt (pretty helpless, out of control and in a huge amount of pain).

This was all on Saturday. By 6pm I still hadn’t fully dilated so the hormone drip was increased. At this point I could no longer cope with the pain and went from being vehemently against an Epidural (with a phobia of cannulas the thought of having one in my spine was something I couldn’t even consider), to begging the midwife to let me have one. The anaesthetist who I had met earlier in the pregnancy came along, reassured me and inserted the line.

The next midwife came on duty shortly after this and after reading as many of my notes as she could (my maternity book was like a novel by the end of the pregnancy) she was the most compassionate and understanding midwife. I started her shift with an apology for the state of me and how emotional I was, she reassured me, told me I was incredibly strong and doing such an amazing job, and generally made me feel more confident and have a little bit of belief in myself, for the first time since the ‘anxious patient’ comment the night before.

At this point, I hadn’t eaten since Thursday and was unable to keep any fluids down, I was being violently sick every hour or so and hadn’t been able to move from the bed for a long time, especially since having had the epidural (and a catheter fitted, I forgot that bit!). Finally, at about 11pm, my midwife said that I was fully dilated. We had to stop the hormone drip, wait for an hour and then it would be time to push.

I was told to rest, sleep a bit if I could, the midwife went back to reading through my notes and hubby sat in the chair and got a little shut eye too.

Fifteen minutes later I was woken up by the midwife who was asking me to roll onto my side. I couldn’t do this due to the epidural, so she had to help me. The reason for this was that my baby’s heartbeat was no longer being picked up by the monitor. After what felt like a long time but in reality can only of been a matter of seconds, the emergency alarm was pressed and the medical team rushed in. This included doctors, nurses, midwives and a postnatal crash team. To say I was frightened doesn’t touch on how I was feeling. It felt like my worst nightmares were being realised. I had heard this alarm during my stay on the ante-natal ward and hadn’t been able to get it out my mind – now it was being pressed for me.

The team were phenomenal – my legs were put in stirrups, my notes had been read (I’d requested forceps not ventouse and the Doctor in charge knew that already) and an episiotomy was performed. I was told to push, the forceps were used and my baby girl was pulled into the world. Blue and puffy with a black eye from her brutal delivery.  And then she breathed. And then she screamed. It was the biggest relief I have ever felt in my life.

I had previously opted to have the injection immediately after the baby was born to speed up the delivery of the placenta. This was done, but I don’t remember it. I remember the Doctor doing my stitches and my husband taking our baby to put her nappy on and dress her. I remember begging for my canular to be removed. I remember feeling like I was going to die and the midwife saying she shouldn’t have taken my canular out yet. I remember being given a hot chocolate (and nothing to eat because there were no gluten free biscuits or toast) and thinking it tasted so good, then throwing it straight up again, and I remember needing to sleep.

My birth story breaks my heart. It wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want perfect, but I didn’t think it would be so scary, overwhelming, long and out of my control. I thought I’d be cuddling my baby afterwards and not handing her straight to my husband and then not remembering the next four hours. I knew it would hurt, I knew it would be a feat of endurance and pain tolerance, I just didn’t know how much.

Here’s hoping the next one is everything this one wasn’t!

I’m sharing this because I felt so wildly under-prepared for what a birth could entail. I would prefer to go into a situation like this knowing the possibilities (and not just the standard ones that we learn about at ante-natal class) so that if they happened to me, I wouldn’t be taken by surprise. I still believe that until you go through certain experiences in your life, no amount of reading or talking can prepare you for what you will face, but I also know that with an arsenal of knowledge and possibilities in your mind, the fear is less when the situation arises.

If you have any questions about any part of my birth story, want to know more about anything I’ve mentioned or just want a chat about your birth (one you’ve had or one you will have) feel free to get in touch.

Here’s the happy ending to the craziest year of my life:

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One Month On (from Too Much Milk)

Lifestyle

So, it was a month ago tomorrow that I had the game changing surgery to remove a naughty parathyroid gland that was playing havoc with my health (Too Much Milk).

I said that I would give an update and let you know how I’m feeling, so here it is!

I have never felt so good:

I have energy (as much as you would expect a 29 week pregnant person to have, anyway!).

I can concetrate on things and focus in a way I haven’t been able to do for many many months.

My skin has cleared up completely – I’m finally enjoying that pregnancy ‘glow’that had been so elusive for the first 6.5 months.

The aches and pains have gone. Seriously. My body feels like it belongs to me again, no more inexplicable pains in the middle of the night that could only be soothed by a very hot bath.

The headache is GONE. Not reduced, not there less often – gone. It’s a life changer. I’ve been living with that headache for as long as I can remember.

The anxiety is so much less. Yes I’m soon to be a Mummy and I do still have ever-so-slightly crazy hormones. But, I’m not feeling like every little thing that happens is going to be the absolute end of the world (much to the relief of my ever-patient and wonderful hubby!).

I have my bubble back. Tricky to quantify that one, so here’s a silly picture instead!

IMG_3149.JPGSo, if you are reading this as a follow up to Too Much Milk, and you or someone you know is going through the same thing – I hope this fills you with hope and excitement for what hte future holds for you. This is one month in, imagine how I’ll be feeling when I’ve had the little bubba and my body is able to 100% recover from everything!

 

Too Much Milk?

Lifestyle

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-10-20-30

That’s what you’d think, isn’t it, if someone told you that there was too much calcium in your blood!

Well, that’s what I thought when, two months ago, I was told by my obstetric medicine consultant that my blood calcium was too high, during a routine check up at the antenatal clinic.

But before I go in to what’s happened in the last month, let me go back to the beginning of this story.

A (not so) Brief Medical History

My medical journey began back in my my teens. Like many youngsters I had both my tonsils and my appendix removed before the age of twenty. I also had a cyst drained from my synus on a couple of occasions, by the same ENT surgeon who removed my tonsils. I went on to be diagnosed with endometriosis (an autoimmune disease) and polycystic ovaries and remained under the care of a gynaecologist for many years, having two operations to help reduce the pain caused by the endometriosis.

Late 2011, I returned to my gynaecologist complaining of fatigue, lethargy, aches and pains. I thought perhaps this was down to the pill I was taking and asked if we could look into it. Following some blood tests, I was re-reffered to the ENT specialist, as my thyroid hormones were not at the normal level.

My thryoid was examined with an ultrasound and biopsies were taken. I was told I had that the thyroid had an ‘unusual architecture’ and that I would need to start taking Levothyroxin (a hormone replacement) due to the fact that my thryoid did not produce enough on it’s own (underactive thyroid). I was also diagnosed with a second autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

I was hopeful that this new development would mean that the tiredness and lethargy would stop and I would go back to feeling like me again.

A few months later, this wasn’t the case, and I went to the GP a number of times over the course of the next two and a half years compaining of tiredness, lethargy, aches, pains, thirst, anxiety, stomach cramps, sore throats, difficulty overcoming normal coughs and colds and a general feeling of being permanently run down and unable to get over it. I was often told that it was normal for a young girl running her own business/studying a degree to be stressed and tired. I was told again and again that I looked well. Now that I have a full copy of my medical notes I can see that this was a common theme; I looked well, so I couldn’t be as run down and poorly as I was reporting to feel. Occasionally my Levothyroxin dose would be upped and I was sent on my way. I have popped a few pictures into this of me over the years – just to show that looks can be deceiving! All of the pictures were taken during the period of time when I was going to and from the doctors and the hospital.

Prior to feeling this way I was a bubbly, full of energy girl in my early twenties with a huge zest for life. I had recently finished school, moved out of home, set up my own company (a dance and performing arts school), embarked on a Business and Management degree and was working a part time job as a teaching assistant to ensure I could pay the bills. I was always busy, always alert and aside from the odd cough, cold and sneeze (and several bouts of tonsillitis!) I really couldn’t complain.

In early 2014 I was beginning to find it hard to get out of bed in the mornings and could easily sleep until past 11am. I would go to work in the afternoons and come home to sleep again before preparing dinner and then heading back to bed. I was very run down, felt permanently sad and anxious and no matter how positive and upbeat I tried to be, I felt very unwell. I headed back to the GP and requested some sort of further bloods tests. I knew it wasn’t right to feel this way and it was time to get some answers, no matter how ‘fit and well’ I looked/appeared. Sometimes, just because someone is succeeding on the outside, smiling and pushing forward with life, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a bigger problem under the surface.

To cut the next bit of the story short, blood tests were sent off and I was shortly thereafter diagnosed with Coeliac Disease (another autoimmune disease). I went on a strict gluten free diet, and a number of the symptoms eased, but not the tiredness, lethargy and general aches and pains.

Last year (2015), as I was preparing for my wedding, I started feeling worse than I have ever felt before. I went back to the GP and begged for more tests to be done. I have a very good friend who is a pathologist and she had suggested I ask for an autoimmune profile to be taken. Given that I had now been diagnosed with three autoimmune diseases (Endometriosis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Coeliac Disease) she felt it was worth ruling out any others.

My doctor at the time took the most comprehensive set of blood tests I have ever given, and to cut this part of the story short too, I was tenuously diagnosed with mild Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. I say tenuously, as the markers that were present in my blood were only slightly positive and the rheumatologist did not want to formally diagnose something so serious without first monitoring me for a number of months. It was also not deemed necessary to put me on any medication at this stage, as my husband and I were trying for a baby and the treatment for the symptoms I was experiencing would be steroids.

Pregnancy

In May this year (2016), I was delighted to discover that I had fallen pregnant. Due to my pre-existing medical conditions it was recommended that I registered to have the baby at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, under the care of a consultant obstetrician and her team.

This has turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to me.

The start of my pregnancy was fairly standard – morning sickness, tiredness, absolute euphoria! The twelve week scan was the highlight of our year and knowing that I was growing a very special little bean made me the happiest I have ever felt!

After twelve weeks, I started to feel poorly. I was suffering from very bad fatigue, intense headaches, a serious thirst, incredibly painful muscles and joints, all-encompassing brain fog and I felt anxious and sad a lot of the time. Not how you want to feel when the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to you is busy growing inside.

As you can see above – none of this was new to me, but it had seriousy intensified and was affecting my ability to do my job. It also made being pregnant quite scary – I was constantly wondering whether my body was up to carrying the baby and giving it everything it needed to thrive and grow.

I went to see my consultant and explained the changes I was experiencing. After consulting with a colleague, the consensus was that I was having a flare up of Lupus and I was quickly put on a medicine called Hydroxychloroquin (completely safe in pregnancy) to supress what was assumed to be the autoimmune reaction, as well as a daily dose of aspirin to hopefully pre-empt and deter pre-eclampsia.

Off I went and started on the medication. It definitely helped with some of the symptoms, particularly the painful joints, but overall I wasn’t feeling all that different. I carried on attending regular consultations and having regular blood tests.

Three weeks after one of these appointments, with a different member of the consulting team, I was sitting with the lead Professor of Obstetric Medicine, when an unexpected blood test result was picked up. My Calcium was reportedly high, at 3.02mmol/L.

I was immediately sent off for further testing and the high calcium result was confirmed.

Then followed the scariest, most overwhelming and daunting few weeks of my life.

I have condensed this part of the story and taken out a lot of the little waffly details that made it all the more scary and overwhelming. But you will get the gist.

Hypercalcaemia in Pregnancy

This is a rare condition. So rare in fact, that it came as quite a surprise to the team that I had it. There are a number of reasons for hypercalcaemia. I’m not medically trained so I’m not going to go into all the different options I was given, but the main one that was being investigated was a condition called Hyperparathyroidism.

The parathyroid glands are located around the thyroid, and it is their job to control the amount of calcium in the blood (click on the links for more complex info, I decided not to paraphrase it all here).

About a week after receiving this news, I became very unwell, very fast and was admitted to hospital for IV fluids and round the clock observations. I won’t go into all the details, but over the course of the next four weeks I had daily bloods tests, spent 24 hours a day on a drip, had to monitor every bit of fluid intake and output, had daily injections, daily consultations with obstetric medicine and endocrinology. I had two ultrasound scans of my throat, the second of which identified an adenoma (small tumour) on one of the parathryoid glands. This was almost certainly what was causing the hypercalcaemia.

The real problem in all of this was that the only choice I had in order to get better, was to have surgery to remove the affected gland. The surgeon who would be able to carry out this operation had just left the country and wouldn’t be back for over two weeks.

During my time in hospital I was put on a low calcium diet, went through a couple of days of thinking I had gestational diabetes (brought on by the fact that my diet largely consisted of fruit) and was diagnosed as anaemic and consequently put on iron tablets.

Skipping forward now: after a couple of weeks in hospital and finding that it simply wasn’t proving possible to keep my calcium down no matter how much I drank (6 litres a day for a whole week) or how long I was on the drip for and given that no medication was an option during the second trimester, plus trying to send me off to another hospital to be squeezed in to another surgeon’s timetable (unsuccessfully – but that’s a story for another day!), the surgeon finally returned from his holiday.

These few weeks were a huge drain on my husband and our families. I steadfastly refused to Google the conditions I was being diagnosed with, instead focusing on remaining positive and strong-willed throughout. This wasn’t easy, and of course there were a couple of times when I cried and felt for myself for what I was going through, but mostly I had one end goal in mind – to come out the other side fighting – and I fixated on making sure that could happen.

The day of my operation was the scariest day of my life. If you’re reading this and you’re pregnant and facing an operation, have courage; you can do it. So much will go through your head, and the consent forms and essential information that the doctors and aneasthetists have to give you is daunting, to say the least. But I am proof that it can all be ok.

When I woke up to find out that both myself and my baby were ok, it was the hugest relief. I still had a little way to go with the recovery (low blood pressure and a healing neck scar for starters), but the problem had been removed and I was awake and ready to move on.

The weeks I spent in hospital, before and after the op, weren’t without challenges, not least my crippling fear of cannulas and drips, something which every nurse, midwife, doctor and anaesthetist was soon aware of! Some of these challenges/obstacles have only really dawned on me since being home, and I just have to remind myself that I got through it at the time and it didn’t defeat me then, so it can’t defeat me now.

I’m now two weeks post op, back at work (well a little bit – I’m not teaching just yet!) and settling into real life. I’m feeling leagues better – my headache, muscle and joint pains, intense fatigue and anxiety have all but disappeared. My husband keeps running through the list to see how I’m feeling, and it constantly surprises us when I continue to answer in a positive way!

These photo show my neck the morning after, two weeks after and three weeks after the op:

So why am I writing this down?

Well, if you’ve stumbled across this because you  (or your wife, daughter or friend) finds herself in the same place I was in two months ago, I hope I can reassure you. It is scary, it is overwhelming, there is so much medical information to take in, so many tests and variables and limited literature to educate yourself with. But, you will come out the other side stronger, more complete and feeling immeasurably better than you were before. You will have a small scar on your neck (see above, it’s already barely visible and I haven’t started on the Bio-Oil yet!) and you will have memories that last forever (and not necessarily the treasured kind), but you will have survived, you will have beaten your body’s imbalance and you will be ready to face the rest of your life.

I’m only three weeks in. I’m tired and hungry, but I’m six months pregnant and judging from my friends with kids, this is how it’s supposed to be. Problems and ailments that have troubled me for years without answers appear to have cleared up and disappeared. I will post again in the future to update on how I’m doing – but put it this way: in the last week I have cleaned my whole house, I have cooked home-made meals, looked after my husband, been there for my friends and caught up with my business. I am planning our baby’s nursery and getting excited about it’s arrival (it’s the first time I’ve let myself properly plan and dream!).

I guess the title of my blog couldn’t be more appropriate. This has certainly been the cloudiest period of my life. But the sparkly lining? I am feeling better. I am stronger (both mentally and physically) than I was before. And the ultimate? My husband and I have endured the most challenging period I can imagine, and it has brought us closer, made us stronger and made us more excited than we ever imagined possible about our future as a family of three.

It’s time to get me back to being me again – but this time without anything lurking under the surface – this operation should have cured the problem, now I can live my life!

Want to know how I feel one month post op? Just click here.