Our second pregnancy wasn’t planned, but a lovely surprise and a welcome blessing, nonetheless. After the initial 12 weeks of feeling incredibly tired, sick & depressed, all whilst enduring a mammoth sleep regression from Thea and her month-long ear infection to boot, it was pretty much textbook. I knew I didn’t want more than 2 children so I embraced all things pregnancy even more so this time around; growing bump, planning the nursery, thinking of names, feeling the kicks…it all somehow felt a little more precious knowing that it would be the last time. I prepared myself to balloon early on and become ‘massive’ second time around, but even that didn’t happen and it was almost exactly the same as my previous pregnancy. I had a couple of minor bleeds and went to get checked out, and both times it was confirmed by ultrasound that everything was fine.
At around 23/24 weeks I noticed I was passing what I considered an unusual amount of cervical mucus (yeuch…sorry – there’s no nice description) and became concerned that my plug might be coming away. I did the unthinkable and Googled it, and it seemed pretty common. I found out that the plug can come away throughout the pregnancy in various amounts and it simply regenerates itself…I wasn’t overly worried. I text my Mum about it who said no, it was weird, that I needed checking out and to call 111 (I deemed this a massive overreaction and of course, I didn’t do that…). I chuckled to myself about my non-emergency and told her I would call the hospital in the morning, just for peace of mind.
When Thea woke up, sometime around 5.30am (no, it’s definitely NOT a phase…) Jack and I got ourselves dressed, called the hospital and bundled Thea in the car with us when they said to come in. We were pleased to be getting it out of the way early so we could enjoy the rest of our weekend without worrying.
After a short wait, a midwife came in and after I explained my sticky situation (sorry…it was already so gross, so why not?) she did my obs and listened in for baby with a doppler. His heartbeat was absolutely fine and she reassured me that a lot of discharge can be normal in pregnancy. I think I knew deep down that it wasn’t discharge, but being politely British and not exactly body confident, I wasn’t about to ask her to rummage around and look for the sake of it. The fact that baby was safe and well was enough reassurance for us, so we left.
A week later, when Thea was in bed and about 10 minutes after Jack had left to go night fishing, I went to the toilet & noticed a weird feeling as I pushed to go. I put my hand down to wipe and to my absolute horror there was something bulging out of me, like a balloon. I quickly moved from our en suite to our bedroom to inspect in a mirror and shone the torch of my iPhone so I could see, and it was what looked like a pink/purple balloon inflating and deflating as I tensed or moved. Without even thinking, I quickly pushed it back in with my fingers and called Jack to tell him with sheer panic in my voice ‘something purple is coming out of me!’. He must have sensed how frightened I was, and he said he’d be right back. I don’t think he’s ever come home from fishing so quickly!
I text my Mum who said it sounded like it might be a prolapse and to call someone quickly. I rang triage and explained, and although they didn’t try and diagnose over the phone, it seemed that from my description that they too suspected prolapse, as they simply told me they were very busy and to come in a couple of hours, and to be prepared for a wait when we get there.
My dear parents left the party they were meant to be going to, and drove all the way down to us in Sussex from Bedfordshire, so they could be at our house with Thea while we went to the hospital. As soon as they arrived, we made our way over there. By this point I had done a fair amount of Googling and had self-diagnosed a prolapse, and convinced myself that they’d pop something inside to prop things up, and we’d be home in a couple of hours. After all, they didn’t seem too concerned on the phone, and had said it would be a while before we were seen.
When we got to the hospital, we hadn’t waited that long before a midwife had a quick look from the outside and couldn’t see anything, so we then waited for a doctor to come and take a proper look with a speculum. I was still pretty convinced at this point that it would be a prolapse, and only a minor one since the midwife couldn’t see anything popping outside anymore.
I’ll never forget the doctor’s reaction after inserting the speculum and taking the first look. ‘Agghh’ she said, her sunken tone completely loaded with conclusive dread, all in that short, mono-syllabic exclamation. I knew immediately that something was horribly wrong. “You’re fully dilated” she said, “and the amniotic sac, with baby, is coming out. We will need to deliver this baby within…*pause*…the next 24 hours”. WHAT? I don’t remember exactly what happened after that. I remember a button on the wall behind me got pushed and the room quickly filled with about 10 new people, and the labour bed I had been laying on was fast tilted to a ‘legs up’ angle. During this time, it was explained that because I was fully dilated, there was nothing that could be done to delay the baby, and that my waters were at risk of breaking at any minute, and pretty much that it was a race against time to prepare for when they did.
How was this happening? This was the POLAR opposite to my labour with Thea, where I’d had back-breaking back-to-back/transverse contractions for 2 days, stuck on 2-3cm dilated and ended up having an emergency c section (for several reasons, but the official explanation being ‘failure to progress’). How on earth was I FULLY dilated and had no idea I was in any kind of labour? It was completely surreal.
I couldn’t tell you my exact thoughts, there seemed like a million voices in the room and buzzing in my head, but I do remember thinking ‘this is it, our worst fears have come true, our baby is going to die, or be severely disabled’, and ‘our whole life is now changing forever, in this very moment’. Unwillingly initiated into a different kind of parents’ club we never dreamed we’d join. I can barely remember a word Jack and I said to each other. The only thing I can recall him saying to me was something along the lines of ‘this is our path now and we’re going to have to deal with it’. I can also remember the familiar feeling of his warm and slightly dry hands, holding onto mine when I’d needed them most.
All of a sudden I was hooked up to various wires and tubes. Steroids, which were to help the baby’s lungs mature. Antibiotics to prevent infection. Magnesium Sulphate, for the baby’s brain. A drip to keep me hydrated. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything, even water, as the baby may have come at any time and I most likely needed surgery. I remember my December lips being so incredibly dry and sore, and being weirdly preoccupied with not having any lip balm. I didn’t have anything with me except my mini handbag and phone, let alone a full-term packed hospital bag and lip balm.
I was warned by the staff that the magnesium sulphate might make me feel a bit flushed. Minor understatement…I was pink-faced and dry-heaving so hard at one point that everyone standing around me was pulling the gritting teeth emoji face, worried I would pop my waters or push the baby out. Thankfully I got away with just a small squeaky (but still very embarrassing) fart. I think I even apologised, which seems completely ridiculous now.
At some point that evening, some consultants came in and the risks of having such a premature baby were explained. The point was made about how our baby was pretty much on the cut off for when they’d ‘do something about’ saving him. I already knew this information, but that in reference to hypothetical babies. Not our baby, our real living baby, bobbing around unawares inside me, perfectly healthy and not planning an exit.
Pie charts were thrust in Jack’s direction, showing the rate of survival for a baby born at 24 weeks, and how likely they’d be to suffer long term effects and disabilities. I wasn’t shown this information, it was passed straight over me in my hospital bed and under Jack’s nose, quite deliberately not verbalised at any point. They offered to let him keep the leaflets, and I just remember him passing them back, eyes on the ground, shaking his head and saying ‘I don’t need to see this’. He told me later when the crowd had left the room that the odds were 50/50 our baby boy would survive, and that there was a very real chance of long term disability if he did.
The colour had drained from Jack’s face at this point and I could tell he was trying desperately to hold it together, for both our sakes. In a turn of events I didn’t quite expect, a midwife somehow correctly identified him as a smoker and offered to go and find him a cigarette. ‘It’s amazing what you can scrounge in L+D’, she chuckled. Being the one who initially inspected me on arrival and could see nothing, she was in the thick of the shock together with us. I would never normally be grateful for Jack smoking, or for someone facilitating it, but I knew he needed some kind of release, or even just a reason to leave the room. I felt completely helpless…
to be continued…