My story of Placenta Previa, Pre-eclampsia and Premature birth (and why it’s important to follow your gut)
Giving birth to your baby should be the best day of your life, right? It should be filled with joy and tears of happiness, not sadness. The day I gave birth to our son was not the best day of my life, but one of the worst. This is my story of placenta previa, pre-eclampsia and premature birth, and my plea to other Mumma’s to always follow your gut.
My husband Grady and I have been together for almost 8 years and married for nearly 2 years. He is a FIFO worker in Roxby Downs, I am a Nurse in Port Adelaide, and we have an amazing beagle called Ronald who is my heart and soul. We were married on the 23rd of January 2016 and started trying to extend our family straight away. By May we found out I was early pregnant - I was only 3wks and 4days pregnant when I took the test in the work bathroom. Before pregnancy I had suffered from SVT and high blood pressure, which had been resolved by corrective surgery and dramatic weight loss years before we started to try for a family.
My mum had the most easy-going pregnancies…I was #5 at the age of 39. She had super quick, no intervention, no drug births. One of my brothers was even born at home and she got up and did the laundry after! So my expectation was that I would be the same - I had longed for a no drug, no intervention water birth with delayed cord clamping and skin on skin cuddles as soon as the baby was born. I got none of that.
For the first 20 weeks, my pregnancy was non-eventful. I didn’t get any morning sickness, I didn’t get extreme tiredness, in fact I got insomnia instead! But at my 20-week scan, they discovered I had placenta previa – my dodgy AF placenta started causing havoc early on. I was booked in for a rescan of my placenta position at 30 weeks gestation at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. I had also started waking up overnight with a numb, tingling right hand, which I knew was carpal tunnel, but I didn’t think anything else of it. I personally have 3 friends who have had it with no other complications.
At 25 weeks I noticed a steady increase in my blood pressure. I was keeping an eye on it during pregnancy (due to my history) to make sure it didn’t start playing up again. My beautiful work colleague who was also a retired midwife started to notice I was getting lots of swelling around my ankles and a puffy face. She suggested I call my midwife and explain what was happening. Grady had also noticed that my nose had got considerably bigger since he last saw me a week ago. My midwife suggested I come in during the week for another check-up, so off we went. They checked me for pre-eclampsia but explained it was too early for this - baby was measuring to date (on touch, not scan) and the heart beat was perfect. There was no protein in my urine and my blood results were all normal. I was told to stop checking my blood pressure, not to do any googling, and to just go with it. So I did.
I had another check-up at 29 weeks and my student got a high reading on my blood pressure. I felt the midwife should have taken more notice of that reading. I knew in myself that I had high blood pressure…I know what I looked like before I got pregnant and I didn’t look like that person anymore. My midwife re-took my blood pressure around 20 minutes later and it was sitting around 140/90. Not insanely high, but not good compared to what it used to be. I should have pushed for another urine test to see if there was protein, but I was too afraid. I didn’t want to be THAT nurse that diagnoses herself with the most outrageous conditions, or be accused of being Dr Google.
A week later we had my baby shower in December (baby was due in February). By this stage I had put on 10kgs in 5 weeks. I was so swollen that my eyes looked squinty; my ankles were non-existent; my carpal tunnel was in both hands and they were numb 24/7. I was exhausted, and I was puffy beyond belief. Unfortunately, one of my besties Nikita who is a midwife at WCH and who was also pregnant (only 3 weeks behind me), had to miss my baby shower due to a birth. I think if she had seen me at my baby shower that it would have been cancelled and I would have been escorted to emergency. I looked like hell, I felt like hell. I just put it down to the weather - being summer, hay fever, oh and an allergic reaction to an eye makeup I had used for the first time (insert laughing emoji, sorry Mum). This is what pregnancy is like, right? This is why all those women complain…you’re meant to feel like death, right? No, you are not meant to look or feel like this. If I had trusted myself and stopped worrying what other people might think, I would have ended up on bedrest a lot earlier and maybe, just maybe, our baby would have got further along.
As fate would have it (and absolute pure luck) my 30-week scan was on the Monday after my baby shower weekend. I had cracked it the morning of my scan and declared a no pant day for myself - I didn’t want to wear maternity jeans or leggings for the whole day. I wanted to feel like a girl, so I wore a dress…I still regret this decision! We only managed to get a 1-hour carpark close to WCH as we were running late (probably because of my not pants policy) so we raced up to the ultrasound suite and were seen to right away. The scan was taking a long time, but I didn’t think much of it at the time because baby had always been such a pain every time we had ultrasounds. Grady had to go and move the car and I just told him to go sit in it and I will walk to him once we were finished.
Not long after, another Sonographer walks in, this time a very senior one, and within 10 minutes she is telling me I need to go down to the Women’s Assessment Unit and be seen by a doctor straight away. She suggested I call Grady back and tell him to meet me there, not really knowing what was going on but knowing it wasn’t good. I was seen to pretty much straight away and my blood pressure was 175/115 - no wonder I was feeling so terrible. I was very quickly moved to my own room and it filled up with doctors and my primary MGP midwife. I was given quite a few doses of fast acting nifedipine and labetalol to try and bring my blood pressure down. My urine was tested and I had started uncontrollably twitching on the verge of having a eclamptic fit, but they finally got my blood pressure under control. I remember Grady was just sitting in the corner of the room wide eyed looking like WTF is going on!
The doctors got the results of the ultrasound, urine and bloods, and delivered the news which I knew deep down was the case from very early on in this pregnancy: severe early onset pre-eclampsia and extreme IUGR (under 2nd percentile) for gestation measuring at around 27 weeks at 30wks+3days. But in good news, my dodgy AF placenta had moved enough away. My whole world came crashing down in front of my eyes. On the outside I was normal, but I was screaming on the inside. I remember saying “you’re taking my baby early aren’t you”? and them replying “yes, you will have a premature baby and you will not be leaving this hospital until this baby is born.” BAD day to pick a no pants policy.
I was stable enough to move to the HDU in the delivery ward where I stayed in for 2 days having doctors and nurses in and out all day and night checking my blood pressure. I had 2 doses of steroids to get baby’s lungs ready to be born (HOLY F%#K those needles hurt like a mofo!) I honestly had the best experience in the HDU I was cared for by the best of the best. I had the most wonderful midwifes and nurses. I was told I wouldn’t be going back to work; I was told that about 100,000 times before I accepted it. I was pretty much a sitting ticking time bomb waiting to go off at any moment. I was stable enough to go down and have a tour of the NICU and get all the information we could about having a premature baby. I was told ideally they would like me to have a natural birth but it was extremely unlikely as our baby was too small and fragile and wouldn’t survive the birth. All of my dreams were crushed. None of that waiting to go in to labour enjoying bulk Netflix and chill time with my beagle on the lounge. No labouring at home as long as I could with Nikita. No water birth.
So it was a waiting game to see how long my dodgy AF placenta could last, but we didn’t get to wait long. On Thursday 8th of December, myself, Grady, and Grady’s mum Veronica were enjoying some terrible pizza from up on O’Connell Street when my midwife wanted to come in and check my blood pressure. It was 9pm at night so I told them to go home and have a good sleep and I’ll see them tomorrow. Grady was meant to be flying back to Roxby on Sunday and had called his boss to let him know I was stable enough, but there was a chance he would have to drop everything and leave at any moment. The midwife checked my blood pressure and it was very high. It had been going up and down all day. The past 3 days they had been changing my medication doses to see what would work, but this time it wasn’t coming down.
Then begins the night from hell. Doctors were in and out, I had CTG monitoring practically all night. My blood pressure was still high but not too bad at this stage. I called Grady and told him to keep his phone on loud as things weren’t looking good. I finally got to sleep at around 5am, missing breakfast all together and sleeping right up to rounds. The doctors must have had a meeting because the MFM doctor, who was so beautiful and calm, came in and sat down and very calmly told me they had done everything they could, but my blood pressure was just too high and they couldn’t control it. The baby was showing signs of distress and it was time – I would be having an emergency c section that day. I messaged Nikita first and warned her to start getting ready to come in. Then I called Grady and told him to get ready and get to the hospital. I was very quickly moved to HDU again and I started to go down-hill. My blood pressure was dangerously high again, I was twitching uncontrollably, and I had started seeing the red dots. I was hooked up to the magnesium sulphate drip which BURNED. Grady arrived, and it wasn’t long before we were taken around to theatre. It was overwhelming being pushed into a room filled with a NICU team and all of my doctors. Once again, you would have no idea I was feeling this…I have a great poker face. My spinal failed so they tried an epidural. Nikita had made it and met us in theatre, so she was talking me through what they were doing (she knew I had a pure fear of epidurals). Of course that failed as well and we were out of time and options - baby needed to come out. So I was put under a general anaesthetic and Grady was kicked out but I had Nikita with me.
IT’S A BOY! Xavier Marcus Muir born 09.12.16 @ 13:49 weighing 1250g and 40.2cm long (31 exact weeks gestation)
Xavier was born blue and required resuscitation…he just forgot to breathe. Once he was stabilized he was rushed to NICU1 where he got to meet his daddy for the first time. We had the wonderful NICU nurse Chris looking after him. She was amazing with not only Xavier, but with Grady as well.
When I woke up the first face I was looking for was Nikita’s to see: 1. how our baby was, and 2. if I still had a uterus (because apparently that was important at that time). I remember PAIN, just being in pure pain. I got given the good drugs and a Zooper Dooper and I was okay then. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot after the surgery. I was in a trance state of shock for 3 days. Grady came in to recovery and told me we had a son, Xavier. By about 4 I got to go around and meet him. I got to touch him, but I couldn’t even feel him because my hands were so numb from the carpal tunnel (which I now know is a sign of pre-eclampsia for me). I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in NICU, I had to get back to HDU. The NICU doctor came in and said Xavier was struggling a bit and needed in-out surfactant to help him. We gave permission for him to go under a light sedation and have this done and he picked up really well after that.
My primary midwife said we needed to start hand expressing milk. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I will start producing milk. This wasn’t happening, I was only 31 weeks pregnant! I’m not meant to be thinking about expressing, I’m meant to be on a late shift at work. Our family came in to see Xavier and I was able to go and see him again in my bed. After everyone left I got to sleep. I was exhausted. I could have slept for a week, but of course I had to be woken up a lot to have medication and hand express milk (they came in and literally expressed for me like I was a cow). Xavier spent 3 days in NICU1 with phototherapy for jaundice. The next morning, I think my wonderful nurses could see I needed a pick-me-up, so they wheeled the bed in to NICU to see Xavier and that’s when I got to hold my tiny little man for the first time. I could actually feel his warmth against my skin. Nikita got to be there for the whole thing (and she filmed it all). I couldn’t hold him for very long and I didn’t get to hold him again for another 2 days.
Xavier spent a total of 6 weeks in the WCH and I spent 2 weeks. He spent 3 days on CPAP in NICU1. We moved between all the different units very quickly and were in SCBU2, or the ‘fat farm’, within 2 weeks of his birth. He didn’t tolerate feed changes very well…every time they tried to increase his feeds he would start vomiting. But then one day he just changed, and we didn’t look back. He sailed through his stay, putting on 50-100g a day. He was on caffeine and suffered apnoea’s of prematurity.
Being a premature mum is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Not only are you dealing with having a premature baby, but you are also dealing with your own grief and guilt. I remember sitting in NICU2 holding Xavier and just crying saying “I’m sorry I failed you. I nearly killed you, you’re in here because of me and my stupid dodgy AF placenta.” I have never felt like I have failed at anything more than being pregnant. I couldn’t even get him past 31 weeks. It’s a raw guilt. What have I done? How could I have prevented this? But there is nothing I could have done, his fate as a premature baby was sealed from the moment that placenta was forming. However, it’s hard to see past your grief, because having a premature baby is a loss. You have lost your right to have a normal birth experience and to feel pure join when your baby is born. Instead you are filled with worry and what ifs. Will my baby get an infection and die? What if my premature baby doesn’t hit his milestones? What happens if he is disabled? What happens if his prematurity affects his whole life? Can we have any more children? Should we have any more children? Will this happen again? Can I do this again? The list is endless.
Not to mention expressing every 3 hours: my boobs attached to a machine for 40 + minutes, getting up at 2 and 6 am to express overnight, only to then wake up and drive in to the hospital and stay there all day with our baby. I personally never made enough milk for Xavier even with the medication, so he was put on to formula very early on and was exclusively formula fed from about 6 months. I remember feeling angry when people said, ‘congratulations you’ve had a baby’…there was nothing to be happy about in my head at the time. But what are people meant to say? Sorry for your loss? Because unless this has happened to you, it’s impossible to understand.
I also struggled to let people hold Xavier. No one apart from Grady and myself held him for the first 4 weeks because I felt I had missed out on so much precious cuddle time that I didn’t want to give that up to anyone that wasn’t us. I felt that annoyed some people, but this was my baby and my grief. People need to let premature parents do what they feel they can cope with and there will be a time when it will be okay to hold them. I even sometimes struggled when he was home, I was a complete baby hog, I didn’t want to ever let him go once he came home!
Finally, on 18th January 2017 we got to take our 2.3kg baby home: it was the best day of our lives! When we got home, Xavier got to meet Ronald. I think it was instant love for Xavier, Ronald is still getting used to sharing my attention, but he is the most amazing fur brother you could ask for. The first 24 hours of home life was a bit stressful. Xavier took a while to get used to his new bottles and teats, but we persisted and he got the hang of it pretty quickly. I remember the NICU parenting unit calling the next day and the first thing I said was ‘WE SURVIVED!’ He was on 3hrly feeds 24/7, he didn’t sleep very well for a good week but we got a sound machine and a night light and he was so much better. To this day, nearly a year later, he still can’t sleep without a sound machine or in complete darkness. Xavier is now a year old (10 months corrected) and he is almost crawling. He has been a bit behind on his milestones compared to other full-term babies around his corrected age, but not a great deal behind and nothing to be concerned about. He can roll everywhere and sit up unassisted. He can say ‘dad’ and he can crawl backwards…he just hasn’t worked out how to go forwards yet, but he is on the move. He weighs a massive 9.9kg and is 77cm long!!!! Ever since he was born he has stacked on the weight – it’s like he is making up for being a IUGR baby!
Being a premature mum is the hardest challenge I have ever faced. Spending Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve in SCBU and watching everyone celebrate when you’re just half a person inside your body wasn’t easy. But I wouldn’t change who he is for the world. Being a premature baby makes him even more special to us, we are both just so grateful that we survived and that we are both here to share our special story with you – I can say from experience, NEVER worry about what people might think about you. Who cares if you sound like ‘Dr Google’ or you’re ‘that nurse’, because it could cost you your own life and your baby’s. If you are worried, talk to someone! Call your doctor or you’re midwife. I feel sorry for my next doctor because I will probably call her every day!
Thank you to Nikita and Amy for all the support you have given us in our journey, we appreciate more than you know.
Thankyou to Jaimi-Lee for bravely sharing her story to help others feel less alone. Please don't hesitate to be in touch with us if you have any questions or need support <3
These are the thoughts and opinions of Stephanie and do not in any way represent Miracle Mumma or it's affiliates