When I was expecting my son, I imagined the process of pregnancy and birth would be natural and beautiful, just like I had always been told. I found out the hard way that it is not always the case.
My partner and I had been trying to conceive for more than two years, so we were over the moon when the little blue line finally appeared on the pregnancy test.
I did everything I was supposed to in order to protect and nurture my unborn child: daily folic acid, prenatal vitamins, a healthy diet, regular gentle exercise, plenty of rest, no soft cheeses and if I had a pet cat, I wouldn’t have emptied its litter tray.
Community midwife and other antenatal appointments were made and attended, and a mountain of information was read.
At 24 weeks, I thought I was over the worst, riskiest part of the pregnancy and expected to just have an ever-growing bump until my waters broke at 40 weeks. I was so excited.
My whole world changed at a routine community midwife appointment that week. I had been feeling a bit rubbish during the previous week – what I thought was heartburn, breathless, and generally low.
Most of these were, I thought, normal pregnancy symptoms I would just have to put up with. However, I had been worried enough about my breathlessness to Google my symptoms. Pre-eclampsia came up as a possibility, but I dismissed it because my hands and feet were not swollen, I didn’t have headaches or flashing lights, and I was only 24 weeks gone – I thought it only affected women in late pregnancy.
So you’ll understand how shocked I was when I was diagnosed not only with severe pre-eclampsia, but also with its equally evil companion, HELLP syndrome. I had to deliver my son by emergency Caesarean section just three days later because I was very close to multiple organ failure.
You can read more about what HELLP is if, like me you had never heard of it before, here, and about what happened to me in hospital here.
My beautiful son, Hugo, born 16 weeks early and growth-restricted because of the pre-eclampsia and HELLP, fought a brave battle but sadly died aged 35 days. Words cannot adequately express my sense of devastation at losing my perfect little boy who was so full of character.
Naturally, I would much rather I did not have pre-eclampsia or HELLP, and currently be impatiently waiting for the birth of my first child. However, no amount of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself will bring Hugo back, and it will not aid my emotional and psychological recovery. I am very grateful for advances in medical knowledge and technologies that meant my condition was recognised and treated in good time, my organs did not fail, I am physically fine and that I live to tell the tale.
I am determined that Hugo’s legacy will be to help prevent another family suffering similar heartbreak. So many people have not heard of HELLP syndrome. Thankfully, it is very rare, affecting around 0.5% of all pregnancies.
HELLP is very serious – women can, and do die because of it. In my case, there was concern for my brain from stroke and seizures, and my kidneys and liver were both on the point of failure. If I had got any worse, I would have died, and Hugo would have died inside me.
Unfortunately, HELLP cannot be prevented, or screened for. No one really knows how it starts but it is related to the placenta, meaning the only real cure is to deliver the baby, irrespective of the gestation.
Women need to know about HELLP and pre-eclampsia and be able to recognise the symptoms because they can develop frighteningly quickly, putting the lives of mums and babies at risk.
HELLP and pre-eclampsia aren’t the only risks of pregnancy, so it’s also vital that women are aware of when to call their doctor or midwife when they are worried about anything during their pregnancy.
This isn’t intended to frighten pregnant women. It’s being realistic. Many pregnant women are blissfully unaware of the risks pregnancy holds for them and their babies, even if their pregnancy is classed as low-risk.
In times gone by, pregnancy and birth was as dangerous as deep sea diving is today – women and babies routinely died. Thankfully, with advances in modern medicine it is a lot safer and is usually natural and beautiful, but we need to dispel the myth that pregnancy and birth is always easy and straightforward.
Not all births will be a life-and-death battle stations event like what I experienced. There are many other reasons a birth doesn’t go to plan, from serious, traumatic incidents to disappointment that interventions such as an episiotomy or an epidural were needed.
Being open and honest about what can happen in pregnancy and birth, and giving women access to all the information they need will help save lives. It can help mitigate that sense of disappointment that some women feel if they had to have intervention during labour to safely deliver their baby. Candour will also help ensure women always get the support they need if things do not go to plan, and help them move forward with their lives.
This is why I am proud to be a part of Team MAMA.
MAMA Academy is a UK registered charity helping babies arrive safely by promoting positive pregnancy. It educates expectant mums on how to keep healthy, and when they should call their midwife for advice. The charity also supports midwives by keeping them up-to-date with current guidelines and research to aid consistent maternity care. All their information is written by our team of medical professionals to help MAMAs know best! Their website can be found at http://www.mamaacademy.org.uk and is accredited by The Royal College of Midwives for professionals.