Twenty-Eight Weeks and Everything Changed
*Refers to high risk pregnancy and possibly baby loss*
There was something different that day. I thought at first it was just that I had been busy with J, who was only fourteen months at the time. Maybe I just hadn’t noticed her movements as much as I normally would whilst I was playing or making squash. The midwife had visited the day before and all had been fine, so surely things wouldn’t have changed that much overnight. But it niggled at me. And by dinner time, I had become more sure that something was different. I wore a Kicks Count bracelet for this pregnancy knowing I would be much busier than in my first, and I noticed that too was not right. Usually, I would be up to number eight or nine by dinner, but that day it was just four. So, whilst still convincing myself I was making a fuss over nothing, I made the phone call to the maternity unit, who advised me to lie down on my left side and see whether I still felt unsure. An hour later I was ringing again, and arranging childcare for my son. My husband was at work, and so I took a taxi to the hospital, expecting to be home a little while later.
It was the first time I had visited the assessment unit in this situation, having had quite a straightforward pregnancy the first time, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. It was quiet, bare in some way, clinical I guess and after a few moments and a bathroom trip, I was taken into a room to be assessed and attached to a machine for monitoring our baby girl. A CTG machine; there are two bands, measuring movement and heart rate, and the machine itself that evaluates and prints the information. The aim is for the machine to determine that the criteria has been met.
After two hours, that still hadn’t happened. I had laid in every way possible, the bands had been moved and still I remained there alone unsure of what was going on. I think being my first time helped in a way because I had no concept of what was normal for the length of time it should take. But as the time went on, I remember beginning to feel twitchy. The midwives all remained calm but I could tell they were beginning to question what was happening. My husband had called and was aware I was there, but was advised that I was doing fine and there was no need to rush to the hospital. In reflection, I understand the reasons for that but at the time, I was really quite irritated by the fact I was alone, even more so when I was met by a consultant explaining to me that the failure to meet the criteria in two hours was an indication that something was wrong. Suddenly, from convincing myself everything was fine, I was faced with a stranger telling me that I was being admitted, and discussing the fact that our baby was less than twenty-nine weeks old and that we may need to consider steroid injections to help her lungs if a delivery was needed. It was at this point that I was able to call my husband and ask for him to bring an overnight bag.
And so I was taken to the ward. A maternity ward with other pregnant ladies, one of which was going into labour as I lay in the bed trying to make sense of what was happening. It couldn’t be that bad, could it? But of course I knew that it could. As much as we try not to think about it, we know that some pregnancies are not smooth sailing and they don’t always go the way we had hoped.
THE NEXT MORNING
First thing in the morning, I was informed that I was being taken back to the assessment unit and then I would be scanned. There was no prior warning and so there was not enough time for childcare to be arranged. So alone again, I made my way to a CTG machine, which did meet the criteria within forty-five minutes this time, and then continued to the scan.
I knew the lady that was doing the scan. She had been the same lady that had told us we were expecting a little girl just eight weeks earlier. This time she also had a gentleman with her that I suspect was training. I lay down as she made small talk and moved the ultrasound over my baby bump. I remember thinking that everything must be ok. She sounded so calm, so cheerful. But when we reached the end of the scan, she explained that she could see fluid within the baby’s body.
‘And that is not normal,’ she said.
I can still hear her voice say those words and imagine myself back there on that bed, staring at the screen, not knowing what I was meant to do with that information. My eyes looked around from one place to another before resting on the ceiling. I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel or what I was meant to say. I walked back to the ward in a daze and found my phone to call home.
Before it connected, my curtains were being opened and I was met by a new consultant trying to explain what the scan may suggest. An infection of some kind or perhaps a genetic condition was the thinking. She spoke of the fluid, known as Hydrops Fetalis, being an indication that something was wrong but they didn’t know what, and that it was too early to deliver our baby because she probably wouldn’t survive. It would be a case of wait and hope. I questioned the steroid injections but it was decided they would not be needed as our baby would be too poorly if they tried to deliver her now. Then the consultant was gone, and I was left sitting alone on my bed, trying to make sense of it enough to explain the information to the father of my baby too. If I’m honest, I can’t remember the phone call. I know I was upset, understandably, and I know I was trying to explain how serious it was, whilst not wanting to believe it myself.
And a little later, there was a second scan to attend with another consultant, again too soon for my husband to attend. In fact, I think I was still explaining it all to him when I was collected. The male consultant was very quiet this time and only spoke when we reached the end as he explained that the fluid in her body was a sign that she was very poorly, a symptom of whatever was actually going on, and that she was now considered to be high risk, meaning she may not survive the pregnancy. There were also references to an amniocentesis and other tests, but the whole conversation became pretty blurred following the explanation of her condition.
PROCESSING THE NEWS
Returning to the ward, I was moved to a private side room, and monitored for another night. It’s hard to explain how it felt to be told that kind of news about my unborn child, and then return to a room alone with just my thoughts. I guess shock is pretty obvious but deeper than that was the disbelief and grief. Contradicting emotions that were each winning at different times; disbelief that it was happening to me, to my baby and grief for a baby that was still alive, wriggling inside of me. But for me, and perhaps it is because I am an anxious person, I found it hard not to think about the future, perhaps without the baby I was carrying or with a poorly child. And the truth is, the grief I felt was also a sense of grieving my expectations of having two children and what that life would be like. That life suddenly felt a million miles away from what was actually unfolding. There were many, many tears in that room, waves of emotion and periods of numbness.
One of the strongest memories I have of that room was a conversation with the male consultant the next morning. I had barely been able to relax, and had not been asleep long when there was a knock at the door and the consultant came in to discuss our baby girl again. To be exact, he wanted to ensure that I understood what he had meant by high risk the day before. And so at 8am, it was being explained to me, very clearly, that our baby girl was extremely poorly and that may not survive the pregnancy. It was also explained to me that there was nothing they could do and it was really a case of hoping she could manage with whatever was happening long enough to survive. And finally, it was emphasised how important it was to monitor her movements all the time, as this was the only way of knowing whether she was starting to deteriorate.
For a long time, I was angry about that conversation, I felt it was hard and inconsiderate to wake me up and to be so blunt first thing in the morning. I knew what was happening, I didn’t want to be told again. And I guess I was also angry that I was dealing with all of those tough situations alone. Although I was the mum carrying the baby, the baby had two parents who had made the choice to bring her into the world together, so why was I facing it all completely on my own? But when I look back now, I can see that the consultant was just doing his job and that 8am was probably the only time he had available to speak to me. And maybe the reason he was so blunt and felt the need to tell me again, was because it was so shocking and he wanted to make sure I had absorbed all of the information for the sake of our baby.
Shortly after that conversation I was informed I would be discharged, not knowing what the future held. Not knowing whether we would soon be living as a family of four, or a family four with someone forever missing. And not knowing what the next few weeks would hold, just that she was solely my responsibility to monitor until our next scan. It was a different kind of responsibility and anxiety to anything I had experienced previously.
In my next post, I will be describing the weeks leading up to C's birth.
And to any mamas who have experienced something similar, I hope you know you are not alone, no matter how lonely it feels at the time. There is another woman somewhere who is experiencing or has experienced those same thoughts and feelings, and whatever you are feeling, it is o.k. All of your feelings are valid and there is no right way to respond.