Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’ve been pregnant 10 times and I have 3 living children. I have buried 2 with their grandfather. I cannot understand why women in pregnancy need to get life threateningly sick to get access to some sort of medical intervention. I almost died two years ago from overwhelming sepsis and e-coli in my bloodstream. I would have left two children without a mother and a widower to raise them alone. I am lucky, I realise how lucky I am every single day. This is my story……
On a Friday night in June 2013 while on a weekend trip to Dublin with my son who was 3 and 19 weeks into my third pregnancy my waters broke without warning while in bed. I telephoned my local maternity hospital and they advised me to go to the nearest maternity unit in Dublin which happened to be The Rotunda. I was examined in A& E where they confirmed that it was amniotic fluid that I had lost, it was all gone bar a couple of pockets of fluid around the baby. No more than a couple of spoonfuls.
I was admitted to a ward later that night and told to get some rest, I was given a broad spectrum antibiotic called ‘Erythromycin’ to help to prevent any infection. I was told by a very honest midwife that I was not going to proceed very far with the pregnancy and that in these cases I would most likely develop an infection within two weeks, my baby would be born and would not survive as she was not considered viable, I might go into labour naturally or else the baby might die at some stage. When I asked if I could be induced she said no that the law stated that I needed to get sick first before anything could be done for me.
To say that I was left in a state of shock is an understatement. I had come away for the weekend pregnant and looking forward to the delivery of that very much wanted and loved baby in early November, not facing the horrific situation and dilemma I now had to deal with.
The girl in the bed beside me had also been admitted for the same reason. So in an 8 bed ward in The Rotunda, two women almost midway through their pregnancies were potentially going to have to get a life threatening infection before there could be any medical intervention. She was pregnant with her first baby, had lost all her waters at 16 weeks and was slowly getting a very bad infection and getting very sick as time went on. She was almost 18 weeks when I met her. By the Sunday afternoon she was a deathly colour and I could smell the infection as I was only a couple of feet away from her. She was eventually wheeled away and her baby was delivered in a private room down the corridor.
As I lay in the hospital bed I had to consider things like where were we going to bury the baby, I was a couple of hundred miles from home, my son was being cared for by my sisters partner (both my sisters were away at the time) my husband had to travel to Dublin to collect him, see me and discuss next steps. I had a scan on the Monday morning and the lady scanning me was very kind but she said ‘I’m sorry things don’t look good for your baby, there are only small pockets of fluid remaining’. I was heartbroken. The hospital managed to arrange a transfer to my own hospital on the Tuesday. Before I left the hospital I went to see the girl who had been in the bed next to me. The difference was unbelievable. She now looked a pink colour and not the deathly grey and but most of all the smell was gone. She had delivered a little boy and she was burying him in Glasnevin with her mother. I was heartbroken for her and I knew leaving Dublin that his was the exact same fate that awaited me, I just didn’t know when it was going to happen.
Two weeks to the day that I had entered The Rotunda, while in my local hospital I began to develop signs of infection late into the evening. Blood cultures and more were taken. It was decided that an intervention was going to take place as my life was now in danger and I was getting an infection. I was scanned, given lots of photos of the baby’s heartbeat, and images of her before being taken to the delivery room to be induced. She was born at 1.12am and she died at 1.16am. I was taken to theatre due to retained placenta and was back in the room on the ward by 2.30am. I saw my baby the following morning. She was perfect in every way. I had a C.R.P. (infection market in the blood) of between 120-140. That Saturday was spent on antibiotics and my husband at one stage said I looked like a woman who had been bathed in baby oil. The infection was coming out through every pore of my body. By Sunday afternoon I felt well enough to shower and change into my pyjamas. The chaplain visited us and said prayers for us and for our baby. On Monday I was seen by my obstetrician who had been off for the weekend and was discharged and told to return in 6 weeks for a review. At that review I was told that what had happened to me was ‘unlucky’ and that he had never seen something like this happen to a woman twice in a row.
I left hoping he was right and knowing that at some point in the future we might try again.
On a Monday in May 2015 while 19 weeks pregnant again I attended the hospital as I’d had slight staining and was worried. They confirmed that on examination I was 3.5 cm dilated and my membranes were bulging. I immediately thought ‘not again’. I was tilted in the bed and told to rest in that position for now. By Wednesday they had arranged to have an emergency cerclage done with my consent as this also carried a risk of the membranes rupturing while being put back in. I told the doctors that I would stand on my head for the next four months if it meant I would have my baby. I spend the next few weeks in hospital resting and two and a half weeks after having the stitch inserted my waters broke. All I was told was ‘well you’re a lot closer to 24 weeks this time than you were the last time’. My heart was broken I couldn’t believe that after all we’d been through, it was happening all over again to us. Another week and a half passed on and while having a routine scan to see if there was a change in the amount of fluid around the baby it was noticed that the baby was weighing over 500grms. It was decided that I would be transferred to CUMH in Cork for the remainder of the pregnancy. I was transferred on a Friday by ambulance, I had 15 minutes to say goodbye to my son (who was now 5) and my husband.
I arrived sometime after 6 and was examined in the maternity A&E. There was a lot of discharge but no discomfort. They took samples and sent them to the lab. I eventually got a bed sometime after 10pm. I got an injection for the baby’s lungs at midnight and another injection the following morning. The doctor came to see me to explain their plan for me. The stitch was still in-situ and this would have to be removed as it posed a possible rick of infection. She called the doctor that had inserted the stitch and he was surprised that it hadn’t been removed prior to this. Removal of the stitch too place later on the Saturday night. My husband managed to come to Cork as there was a risk of going into immediate labour but that didn’t happen. I was observed in the HDU up until Monday and then I had a scan at midday that day. While we waited for the scan I turned to my sister and said ‘my worst fear is that they’ll tell me there is no heartbeat’. The lady scanning me said she wasn’t able to get all measurements but told me that there was a good strong heartbeat but she was only giving an approx weight of 450grms. My heart sank again, even though we were in one of the best hospitals in the country with the best neo-natal unit there was still a possibility that nothing could be done for my baby as he was considered not viable at this stage. On Monday evening I got transferred from HDU to my room on the 4th floor, I had a shower, changed my clothes, and a friend visited me. I felt the baby had gone a little quiet, but when I had some tea later that night I felt him moving and thought no more of it. I myself felt well in myself so didn’t worry.
On Tuesday morning I woke and I just knew he was gone. I couldn’t feel him moving like I did every other morning. I had breakfast and still felt nothing. I told the nurse of my concerns and she said she’d scan me and have a listen in. She duly did and then said she wasn’t sure what it was she could hear. I knew in my heart she didn’t hear a heartbeat and that what she was hearing was the blood flow in my body. She told me not to panic and that she was going to get a doctor and get me scanned on the bigger machine. She left the room. I sat in the chair and all of a sudden began to feel really sick, I got up to run to the bathroom but could only make it to the sink in the room. My body started to shake and I sat back down on the chair. I could see my phone ringing but couldn’t co-ordinate my hands to answer it. I managed to ring my husband, I told him to come as quickly as he could that I was getting sick. The nurse re appeared and saw me shaking uncontrollably and asked if it was because I was nervous of the scan, I said no that I thought that I was getting sick.
The doctor couldn’t read the scan and so the lady that had scanned me the previous day was called up from the scanning unit to read the machine. She took one look and then looked at me and said ‘I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat’. I said ‘You’ve just confirmed for me what I knew in my heart all along, now I’m getting sick and you need to do something, fast’. I was brought back to my room where lots of people were gathered and I was still throwing up. An antibiotic was started immediately. My sister arrived into the room. I told her ‘there’s no heartbeat and I’m getting sick’. She had travelled with my Dad who was getting cancer treatment at the time. She came with me to the HDU and Delivery Ward downstairs. While en route we met a new Mom who had just delivered a new baby. That was hard.
It was decided that I would be induced, at this stage my head was pounding, my skin had turned a raw red colour and I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest at any minute and I was so thirsty. The induction was started, the midwife was so lovely but things weren’t progressing as they’d hoped. On examination, the consultant, after about half an hour, asked me to push, she said ‘you don’t need to be fully dilated to have a baby this size’. I pushed and pushed but nothing. I knew the baby was lying breech and turned into me, as the scan had shown the previous day. I said ‘ I know my own body and this baby is not coming out the way you think it is, please can you not take me into theatre for delivery?’. She said to give it a little more time. When she returned again a short time later, I asked again to be brought to theatre for delivery. The consultant asked ‘Is this what you want us to do?’ and I said ‘well if you don’t then I’m going to die’. She went away to see if there was a theatre free and while I was put to sleep my beautiful, much wanted and much loved son was born 20 minutes later at 12.50pm weighing 660grms.
I remember coming around after theatre, there wasn’t a vein in my hand that didn’t have a needle in it, my husband was holding one hand and as I looked to my right I could see a little knitted cap and a bundle wrapped up in a cot. He looks big I thought to myself. The midwife asked if I would like to hold him and I said ‘Yes please’.
I held him and cried. He felt heavy to me so when I asked her what he weighed she told me he was 660grms, far above the expected weight for his gestation at 23½weeks. Less than a half hour after his delivery I found myself back in theatre again to have a central line put in my neck. This would be necessary to administer the much needed drugs that would hopefully get rid of the infection that was ravaging my body, administer fluids and take blood.
After 30 minutes I had a central line with 4 ports coming out of my neck. I had compression booties (don’t know the medical term for these) that inflated and deflated so that I didn’t get a blood clot in either of my legs. I had bags of fluid pumped into me that I could hardly keep count. I had a C.R.P. of 385 which continued to rise. Later that night I was transferred to the Cardiac ICU and kept there until after lunch the following day. While in the Cardiac ICU a wonderful caring nurse informed me that I was very lucky that I wasn’t on dialysis for the rest of my life or that I didn’t have to have all of the valves in my heart replaced after the trauma my body had been put through. At this stage the last thing I felt was lucky.
The following days were spent trying to recover. I would have to spend at least 10 days on antibiotics. I got around via a wheelchair after a few days then after 8 days I could walk. I never felt so weak in all my life and at my darkest times in the initial 48 hours I thought is this it, am I going to die her?
The staff and doctors in the hospital are exceptional and I was cared for and looked after in every aspect of my recovery in the most professional and compassionate way. The most difficult conversation I had to have was with my son to try to explain to him that his little brother was gone to heaven. At only 5 years of age, he just turned and said ‘not again Mam’. I told him we were all going home together in the car the next day. He said ‘I’ll mind him for you in the back seat and I can tell you if he cries. I said, ‘He won’t cry pet, he’s gone to Heaven’. My heart broke for him, for my older daughter, for my husband who had to witness the most awful scenes when I was at my sickest, for my parents, my mother in law and all our extended family. It wasn’t fair that this happened to us once but it was scandalous in my eyes that it was allowed happen a second time. On the morning that I was discharged from CUMH the doctor that discharged me conveyed his condolences on the loss of my baby and said ‘I’m really sorry that you lost your baby, but you are so lucky to be going home, not every mother does. Not everyone in this hospital knows what you look like, but everyone knows your story. In fact, your case will probably be used as an example of how quickly an infection can take hold in the body. If you ever decide to have another baby, we will be here to do all that we can to ensure it goes right for you’.
And they were …. we had a surprise …. he will be 2 in July and we were taken care of exceptionally by CUMH throughout that pregnancy.
The 8th amendment meant that I had to get so severely sick that my life was literally on the line before any intervention could take place. This is wrong on so many levels and it needs to be changed.
Please take my story on board before you vote and I ask you to Vote Yes. I know I will.
Please share my story ❤️