Saturday, 15th July – 5am, my husband and I were hugging each other delighted to see the word “pregnant” on a digital pregnancy test. I took another one, and another one, just to be 100% sure.
It was an exhilarating moment, our lives would never be the same as we prepared for parenthood! It was the best yet most terrifying feeling knowing that I’m growing a little human inside of me! I immediately cried tears of joy.
Everything was smooth sailing until I was around 13 weeks pregnant. I kept having severe migraines that would not settle with paracetamol and sleep, and it was affecting my vision and ability to walk, so we decided to call the ambulance to find out what it could be as it was very strange and stressful. After 6 hours and lots of tests, it was confirmed that I had pregnancy induced hypertension – my blood pressure had become severely raised and I was prescribed aspirin and antihypertensives to avoid it developing into something more serious.
After two weeks, my blood pressure resumed back to normal and my doctor took me off my medication. I recall feeling so overjoyed that this complication had been resolved over two weeks…or so I thought.
Fast forward – I’m five months pregnant and had just returned from our babymoon and anniversary holiday in Japan (epic isn’t a strong enough word to describe it!) and those familiar headaches had returned. I decided to pin it down to stress and a normal symptom of pregnancy according to the million and one pregnancy milestone apps I had installed, as I was reassured by a doctor prior that I had nothing to worry about.
During the 20 week scan, the sonographer pointed out that our baby was measuring small – I asked what that meant, and he said it may be due to limited blood flow to the baby, due to high blood pressure.
“I had this issue in my first trimester, but my doctor said it had been resolved and my blood pressure was normal” was my reply.
“It may be nothing, but how about we repeat the scan at 28 weeks, then at 32 weeks and finally 36 weeks just to be sure” he said.
It sounded like a plan, and I had appointments with my midwife in between to make sure everything was okay.
Our baby girl’s heartbeat was normal, she played ball early on and was in cephalic position from 27 weeks, so I was assured that everything was fine.
My 28 week appointment was here, and it was 2 days after Christmas so we’re all in a festive, positive mood. I’d been sure to take advantage of eating for 2 in Paris just to make sure baby girl was getting everything she needs as clearly, my one meals weren’t enough!
Daras and I arrived, in good spirits and we were greeted by a not so enthusiastic sonographer who seemed in a rush and unbothered by our positivity and excitement.
After 10 painful minutes of furious clicking and clacking at the computer, with our “is everything okay?” Being met with mumbles and half answers, she finally relents.
“Your baby is still measuring small, smaller than your last appointment, were you a small baby madam?”
“No?” I replied, confused. “I’m sure I was almost 8lbs. So what does this mean?”
Again, silence. Just to add to our frustration and worry! I burst into tears as I couldn’t take it any longer.
“What have I done wrong? What does this mean and what do I need to do?” I shouted, desperate to ensure our little princess was safe and healthy.
“I’m referring you to day assessment unit, let them check you over and see what they say. At the moment it is still early days. However, your baby is fine and everything is in the normal range, she is just small.” the sonographer said, frankly.
I completely disregarded the “your baby is fine” part and fixated on small. Why is she small?! Has she stopped growing? Was it something I ate or something I didn’t eat? Was it the one day I forgot my prenatals?! Cue in paranoia and the million and one google searches of “why is my baby measuring small?” to support the paranoia! I was a complete wreck and inconsolable, thinking the absolute worst.
After 2 hours of waiting around, I was finally seen to at Day Assessment Unit (DAU) and immediately put on a CTG monitor (a monitor to analyse baby’s heartbeat, pick up patterns in movement by comparing it to a typical pattern expected from a baby of the same gestational age, to collate a criteria for the doctors to examine whether baby is stressed or happy.) All was well with the baby, so the checks on me began. After two blood tests and several raised blood pressure readings, a chronic migraine, feeling dizzy, exceeding the maximum dose of my hypertensives, the decision was made to keep me in hospital overnight, to monitor my blood pressure over a 24 hour period. I begged for them to let me go home for the night and return first thing in the morning, as 1) I was feeling extremely anxious, hungry and I hadn’t slept in my bed for 4 days. I’m sure that wasn’t helping the situation. 2) It was still Christmas! I hadn’t seen my mama in over 4 months and was missing her dearly. We negotiated that I would be admitted until 11pm and if my reading was still above a certain reading that they deemed dangerous, it would be in my best interest to stay. My husband and I agreed, and prayed furiously that I’d be discharged so I could go home and get adequate rest. 11pm came and my blood pressure was still a high reading, but not much higher than the previous reading. The doctor discharged me and advised I come back first thing tomorrow. I failed to let the doctor know that my head was still pounding as I knew that would result in me staying longer than I’d like but again, I played it down to stress and shock of how a simple ultrasound appointment turned into a completely complicated situation.
The next day, we returned and my blood pressure had stabilised, however due to the sudden unexplained spike the previous day, I was prescribed an increased dose of hypertensives again to keep it at bay, and advised to take it until the end of my pregnancy, rather than two weeks as previously prescribed. I was also made to report into DAU twice a week on a weekday morning to monitor my blood pressure, on top of seeing my midwife once a week. Talk about stress! However, I was so grateful for the thoroughness of the midwives and doctors, but also terrified as I knew this was beyond routine. I feared the worst and just desperately wanted our baby girl to be safe.
January 2019 – The new year is here and there’s officially less than 3 months until our baby girl is here! Hubby and I began babyproofing our home, bought all the essentials and made sure her bedside crib was in place.
Two weeks in to the new year, I had a routine midwife appointment and met with a student midwife rather than my usual midwife. She did the routine checks which included checking my blood pressure. Twice. She showed me the reading and asked if it’s ever been this raised as it’s borderline, I said yes and that it’s been higher before. She said she’s required to asked me to check in at DAU. I smiled and made my way, considering this has been my life for the past 3 weeks, I thought to myself: I’ve done this dance before, it’s completely nothing to worry about. I was on 4% battery and I thought I should probably text my husband to let him know I’m going into hospital for another BP check and I’ll see him at home. I remember thinking “Oh my goodness, this is so long, I’m sure everything is fine.” just little old me being stubborn and trying to convince myself I was in good shape, though I didn’t feel at all great. I had shortness of breath, acute swelling in my ankles and then of course, the good old headache. I arrived at DAU and there were at least 7 other women in front – I knew it was going to be a long wait, at least 2 hours so I got out a book and began to read. 10 minutes later, my name was called out, and I received lots of stares from women wondering why I had been called before them as I had just arrived. I was confused, and immediately knew something was wrong if I had been called forward as a matter of priority.
My symptoms continued to persist and the midwives worked tirelessly to get to the bottom of my issues. 3 blood tests, 3 urine samples and lots of blood pressure readings, it was confirmed around 4-6 hours after being admitted into hospital and a lot of to’ing and fro’ing from hospital wards, from antenatal to labour ward (a scary moment where I thought they were going to try and get the baby out!) but after a while when all the test results had returned, three doctors appeared at my bedside and I just knew something was not right. I was so apprehensive but tried to keep it together as I was sharing a bay with two other women and it was passed 10pm at this point. The three doctors informed me that I had developed severe preeclampsia and that I wouldn’t carry my baby to full-term, and a decision will be made in the next few weeks with regards to my delivery. They were very honest and said usually the best cause of action is to stay in hospital until the remainder of the pregnancy, but they will see how things go over the next 48 hours. I remember thinking the world just stopped for a moment. I was frightened, confused, stressed and disappointed all in one. I wanted to curl into a ball and cry! I wanted to shut myself off from everything and everyone. I was just so glad I had my husband right next to me to collapse into and just cry. It was an emotional night for both of us as I had to be monitored for the next 48 hours which meant no going home under any circumstances.
My emotions took another rollercoaster turn when a 48 hour hospital stay turned into 1 week, and then finally…when 1 week became 6 weeks. Yes, you read that right. I was on hospital bed rest for a grand total of 6 weeks and two days, to be precise. I sat reflecting on how the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy would be robbed from me – how simple things like going to bed every night with my husband would not happen, how our planned date nights and our last mini holiday as just the two of us had to be cancelled, how all the movies and series we’d plan to catch up on would not happen, and I just cried. We’ll never get that time back, and I was just depressed and felt helpless at the fact that there was nothing I could do, even if my blood pressure miraculously became normal, because of my diagnosis, they can’t take any risks as my symptoms are masked 70% of the time which could be fatal.
I then began to reflect on a book that was recommended to me when I was around 4 months pregnant. At first, when I read it during my first trimester, I was so inspired by the author’s description of how one could be specific in their prayers for their perfect childbirth and God would meet those needs exactly, right down to the date and time of birth! So, there I began, praying for a natural water birth with no medical intervention, though I would be open to it if and when needed. I spent days dreaming how I’d get to have the birth suite with my hubby, a gospel playlist, dimmed lights, yoga ball etc. The fact that this was no longer going to be a realistic viable option, and just a dream was truly saddening, as at that present moment – I had been admitted into hospital at 30 weeks pregnant, with talks that if things continue to take a turn for the worst, then the immediate action would be to deliver my baby.
The early days of my admission were really, really hard. I wrestled with guilt and blamed myself – what have I possibly done wrong?. I recall spending many days crying, crying of boredom, crying out of pain, crying at how much of a failure I thought I was because my pregnancy was not smooth sailing. Crying because I wouldn’t see my friends on my terms, but confined to a small space and with me propped up on a bed, covered with plasters from being pricked at several attempts to draw blood. It’s safe to say I did enter a period of depression and my faith was tested on huge levels. I no longer wanted to pray, I didn’t want anyone advising me, in fact I closed off emotionally many times to people. I mean, there was nothing you could say or do to make me feel any better, I was bitter and resented the fact that people could come and go, the key being go…go home and have a normal life and do things that we all take for granted so easily. It really did put things into perspective and in hindsight, there’s so many things I am grateful for now, but nevertheless in that moment, I was beyond annoyed.
A few weeks later with continuing tests, my blood pressure continued to fluctuate, but began to regulate into a “safe high”. A standard abnormal reading that would be deemed high to the regular, healthy person became my new normal. If you know anything about BP readings, mine was consistently showing something between the range of 143/90 and 160/110. So when I averaged at around 145/90 and the odd 138/80 and hey, even 115/70 at one point! The doctors were satisfied with this as the hypertensives were clearly doing its job. I was prescribed 4 different types of medication, to take as often as every 4 hours, as well as my blood pressure being monitored manually every 4 hours, to get as accurate of a reading as possible.
The elephant in the room had to be addressed. Daras and I’s baby shower was due to be held in our house, and it was a back and forth as to whether I’d be allowed to attend, considering I was confined to the hospital grounds. Finally on the day, the doctors granted me a 6 hour leave to attend. I was not feeling entirely great the morning of, I had a constant tight pain in my abdomen which initially were Braxton Hicks, but they began to feel more pressing. I was honest as I’d learned that my silence doesn’t do me or our baby any justice, and I knew that this meant that the decision could change as to whether I’d be allowed home or not. An emergency scan was organised and I saw my baby girl sound asleep, however, there were some signs of damage to the placenta, caused by my raised blood pressure.
I asked what this meant, and as the damage was very minimal, it wasn’t a cause for concern just yet as I was under constant monitoring. So, off I went home, excited to be back for the first time in 4 weeks!
As the day progressed, the tightens increased, with more frequency. By the end of my baby shower, I couldn’t walk. My feet were swollen and I was just plain uncomfortable. I had a lot of fluid retention in my face and my ankles and I just felt a hot mess.
“I think I’m having contractions…” I said to my husband. I began timing them, and they were approximately 6 minutes apart, before long, 3 minutes apart. I was so sure my waters were about to break in the car. Daras sped down A-roads to ensure I arrived at hospital as quickly as possible. Once we arrived, I was doubling over in agony and couldn’t actually wait to get into my hospital bed! (Never thought I’d say that!) I was immediately put on a labour monitor and my contractions were picking up at around 40-60%. The doctors were called urgently, and before I knew it, I was rushed to labour ward in a wheelchair, with 3 midwives and several doctors surrounding me. When we arrived in the labour suite, I saw a cot and an epidural drip being wheeled in. I thought, oh my goodness, this is actually happening right now. I’m so not prepared! I heard one doctor say she needs access to check how dilated I am. I was sure it was a few centimetres as the pain was intense and uncomfortable!
“Oh, your cervix is closed dear.” Erm, I’m sorry, come AGAIN?! you mean I’m not actually in labour?! Explain the contractions, the constant pain…what on earth is going on with my body right now?!
A consultant arrived and said I will be induced in the morning to speed my labour up, as I’m in the inactive stage at the moment. I remember thinking goodness me, if this is “inactive labour” then boy am I in for a treat for “active labour!”
Sunday morning came, and my induction began. A gel was inserted into my vagina to soften my cervix and then I was being monitored on machines every two hours to check our little Madam’s heartbeat and to see how she was responding to labour. It would be a further 24 hours before any action began, meaning my total hours of labour, both the active and inactive stage came to a grand total of 48 hours, and this was before any pushing! With the contractions continuing and the need for gas, air and any other painkillers I could get my hands on increasing, it was all a waiting game until Monday morning.
Monday morning came, and my cervix was examined and deemed soft enough for my waters to be broken. As the consultant made her way up to burst my waters, I was in excruciating pain and felt myself tightening up. She said that it shouldn’t be this uncomfortable and perhaps my cervix isn’t quite ready yet. I was getting very tired and fed up of waiting and she said she needs a few minutes to discuss my options with her colleagues. About 30 minutes later, a different doctor returned, and explained that the induction of labour has failed. Emergency blood tests were carried out and she came back with the results and they were not looking great. My preeclampsia began attacking my liver, which caused a worrying drop of enzymes to that organ, meaning that it’s no longer functioning as normal.
She gave me two options. “ Option 1: we can persist and wait for your body to go into labour naturally, although there’s no telling how long this will take, also because of your condition, we don’t know if your baby can take the stress of labour, so there’s an increased risk there. Also, your blood levels are worsening so we’ll have to keep monitoring it’s levels, though they are not showing any sign of improving anytime soon. Or option 2: we can do a c-section, and get your baby out that way.” Two not so great options, but I wasn’t ready to make a decision right there and then on the spot. I was extremely glad my hubby was there with me every single step of the way, and requested an hour to think and pray about the best cause of action which they respected. After prayer, consideration and advice from a lovely midwife who basically debunked the fact that I’m less of a woman if I opt for a c-section, and in her professional opinion it’s the safest option at this point as my poor baby is a petite one and needs as much care and attention as possible. Ultimately, the decision was down to me, but of course I valued my husband’s views too. Between the both of us, we decided to opt in for a c-section. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified, it was my first major operation, in fact my first operation period so I had no idea what to expect. As we were going through the paperwork and speaking to various health care professionals, it was decided my c-section would be scheduled at 3pm. Looking at the clock, it was 12:30 and to avoid spending the last few hours of my pregnancy counting down, I decided I would take rest and sleep off the anxiety. I awoke at 2:30 and waited patiently for 3pm. 3pm came and went, so did 3:15, and 3:20. At last, the doctor came in and said she would be unable to perform my c section as she’s been called into an emergency, however another doctor will be ready in the next 20 minutes. Again, more waiting. It was agonising and I was visibly shaking. Finally, it was time.
I was walked through the process by various healthcare professionals, and my husband was given scrubs to wear and allowed to enter the room with me, holding my hand and reassuring me every minute. As the anaesthetist injected the epidural in my spine, I took a deep breath and prayed: “Lord, please have your way, eradicate all fear and protect our baby. Send your angels to cover and protect her as she leaves my body and enters this world. As for me, you’ve been with me every step of the way, and you won’t leave or forsake me right now. I have no fear, but great confidence because this is your plan.” And with that, all my fear and anxiety just disappeared. I began to feel relaxed and so intrigued about what was going on down there. I was completely numb from the breasts down with a screen covering the lower part of my body and the doctors went straight to work. It literally felt like somebody was tugging underneath my belly button over and over again. At some points quite ticklish, other points just plain annoying, but never uncomfortable or painful. 20 minutes later, I heard an almighty scream and knew my girl had made it safely. I cried uncontrollable tears, praise God and couldn’t wait to hold my baby. In the blur of my tears, I saw one of the doctors write on the board to my left:
Time of birth: 16:36
“1575g?! Really?” I heard a doctor say. I had no idea what that meant, as I work in pounds and ounces. I asked my husband to do a quick conversion…3lbs and 5 oz. My heart sank. She really is small.
“Can I hold my baby?! Where is she?” Silence.
Then, a doctor handed her over to my husband, and she immediately stopped fussing. I’ve known from early on she was a daddy’s girl, but it was so beautiful to see it in the flesh. As long as she had her time with her daddy, I was cool with that.
“I know you are eager to breastfeed and bond with your baby but she weighs a little bit less than expected, she’s going to have to spend some time upstairs in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) to gain weight through assisted feeding.” Finally, they handed our baby into my arms, and she was already covered with wires and wrapped tightly in a towel. She was my splitting image. I was so in love. I held her close to my chest and burst into tears. The realisation that my whole world was about to change in that moment, is honestly indescribable. I then began to thank God for a safe delivery and prayed she’d be in the best hands possible. They whisked her away and all of a sudden I began to feel extremely hot, as if the heating had been turned on full blast. My body was on fire and I couldn’t stop sweating. I heard a machine constantly beeping nearby and I thought what on earth is going on now?! I was lifted off the operating table and onto a bed and whisked to recovery. My blood pressure was being monitored still, and had spiked to a dangerous level of 180/140. I was basically a hair strand away from going into a seizure. It was frightening. A cannula was put in my left wrist immediately and a horrible substance called magnesium sulphate was given to me intravenously.
“Bowl!” I shouted. “I need a bowl!” Whatever the heck that was, it did NOT agree with me and I needed to bring it back up, to which I did, violently. I’ll spare the details but it wasn’t a pleasant colour nor smell. I began to feel relieved and surprisingly, my blood pressure dropped drastically 120/80. So this thing was effective and very fast acting. It saved my life as there was no telling what could’ve happen if I didn’t take it as soon as possible. I felt so weak and numb, and was wheeled back to my bed, where I could only sit upright as my legs were still numb. Thankfully, within a few hours, I could feel my legs again, and was fully able to walk from day 2, unassisted. Talk about a speedy recovery!
Back to our baby girl, who we’ve called Liara, Lia for short. Lia was defying all odds in NICU, and gained enough weight to be discharged to the postnatal ward with me after just 5 days. We were told to expect 2 weeks minimum, but she puffed up and fought through in less than half of that time. What a fighter! She had gained an average of 40g per day, and her face was filling up beautifully.
We were discharged from the hospital only 9 days after her birth, and it was such an amazing feeling! Such a long journey and it’s come to this moment. Tears couldn’t stop pouring down as I thanked God for seeing us through what was the most difficult, challenging, heart breaking moment of our lives.
I was very apprehensive about writing this, purely because of the whole self-guilt I inflicted on myself, but thank God I’ve been set free from that. My pregnancy complication was not my fault. You could say it’s genetics, you could say it’s chance and that I just fell in that 6 in 100 statistic. Both are true, but either way, it wasn’t caused by me or something I had control over; I had to continuously remind myself of that.
My pregnancy taught me so much and if I’m honest, completely strengthened my faith. I mean, who do you know that could survive 6 weeks of hospital bed rest with a smile on their face? Although it was tough in the beginning, I began to thank God for hardworking doctors and midwives who caught it so early on, from my 20 week scan. I began to thank God for a period of rest. I had been so stressed and overworked that I did not value rest. It forced me to listen to my body and just enjoy precious sleep as that would become a myth in the months to come. I reflected on the fact that others are not so fortunate or fight so hard to resist healthcare intervention and the results end up tragic for mum or baby, or in some cases, both. I just began to thank God that, that wasn’t my story, that God is using this small period of suffering for a greater purpose, to birth someone so special with a big heart and lots of love to pour into people.
God has given me vision on how much Lia is going to make a difference in the lives of people and it was truly amazing to see the beginning of her journey into greatness. I’m getting emotional writing this, because I didn’t come to this realisation immediately, it took all of those 6 weeks laying in hospital. I mean, from when you’re posted on a bed all day, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day you get a LOT of time to think, I tell you. It was difficult! At some points, I had to even turn visitors away because I wasn’t plain in the mood for praying or fake smiling if I’m completely honest. But in those moments of sorrow, God reminded me that I’m not dead, neither is my baby, so I must rejoice for what He has planned and the best is yet to come. I must trust the process and the plan He has for me.
I write this also to say – to those currently pregnant or those thinking of becoming pregnant, my advice? Scrap the birth plan. I’m 110% convinced that yes, childbirth is supernatural but we don’t determine how. Yes, props to the women who can get in tune with their body and have that natural birth, but in all honesty, who cares? You don’t get a medal for having a natural birth, and it’s super self-righteous and obnoxious to view yourself as more than or better than someone who opts for a medicated or assisted birth. That was the biggest takeaway for me. From conception to delivery, it’s all a beautiful mystery that is above our human comprehension, so it feels a bit silly for me to play God and feel like I can determine how delivery will pan out. God has gifted healthcare professionals with knowledge and ways to protect mothers and babies with medical equipment. There’s nothing unnatural about that in my eyes, I think it’s intriguing, and amazing.
I read an inspiring post which speaks out against shaming women for their choice of delivery. A natural birth is just as beautiful as a c-section, or another form of an assisted birth. The key thing is birth! Bringing life into the world! I mean, a year down the line who really goes around asking “how did you bring your baby into the world?!” It becomes about looking back at cute pictures, reflecting on big milestones and having endless cuddles with your bundle of joy, and that’s what we must not lose sight of. Can I throw in another two cents to you? Close your ears to people. Like, honestly. You only need to have a few people surrounding you that you trust to encourage you and speak life into you. For me, I have two people who do that do that brilliantly, everyone else’s words are just background noise or something I take with a pinch of salt. I had people who would constantly remind me that I wouldn’t get a natural birth and I must feel oh so sad. *rolls eyes*. Everyone will have an opinion about everything, it’s up to you to decide what you will allow to affect you. Someone told me before I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia that if that’s what I had, it’s a sickness and I could die. While they aren’t entirely wrong, it’s literally the opposite of what I just said about speaking life and of course, really unhelpful…how are you just gonna declare death over me like that?! Nah, B! I’m not rolling with your words. So, my ears and my mouth were closed to several people, and boy did it feel good!
Finally, never be ashamed of your journey. Everyone is unique and God uses every single one of us for a given purpose. I believe my journey was used to bring healing to myself – I struggled with insecurity, guilt and trauma throughout many years and this was the last icing on the cake that I needed to be reminded that a beautiful gift is waiting for me at the end of it. Through bringing healing of self condemnation and guilt, I am able to then pour into another person struggling with the same or similar. It just put into perspective how this is not about me and my fairytale birth story, but all about God’s plan and bringing Him glory. Speaking back to my beautiful gift, our Lia a dream! She is so peaceful, so full of life and thriving! People stop us in the street and are convinced she’s fresh out the womb, though she is well over 6 weeks old now, talk about black don’t crack! It starts from birth! I do hope this has inspired or encouraged just one person, even if you’re not pregnant, I’m sure you can relate to going through a difficult season that has required all your strength and mind to not quit or tremble. Let this be served as a reminder that you will pull through, so long as you make joy your best friend and laughter your mother! I’m cheering you on!