“The hardest thing I’ve ever endured”: one Mumma's heartbreaking journey through pre-term labour, infant loss and infertility to her little miracle rainbow baby
In October 2010, after 4 years of marriage and lots of travel, Mr and Mrs H finally decided they were ready to try for a baby. Like most people, Mrs H assumed it would happen quite easily. But after 4-5 months off the pill with very irregular periods, she realised she was wrong. She had no idea when, or even if, she was ovulating. They started seeking medical advice, and after multiple tests including bloods, xrays and ultrasounds, it was discovered that Mrs H had a bicornuate (heart shaped) uterus with a septum. They decided to stop trying and focus on getting this fixed before she fell pregnant. Mrs H had part of her septum removed via laparoscopic surgery, leaving her uterus only slightly heart shaped. Throughout the process of sorting out Mrs H’s own fertility issues, they also discovered Mr H had a very low sperm count. This meant IVF was their only option moving forward. Twelve months passed from when they first saw their GP for investigations until November 2011 when they had their first round of IVF… a ‘fresh’ cycle including injections, egg retrieval and implantation. Mrs H couldn’t believe her ears when a few weeks later she got the phone call from Fertility SA telling her she was pregnant. “OMG I was so excited, that it happened on our very first go, and felt so lucky, because I know plenty of people who don’t”.
The next few weeks went by, all going relatively well. At about 6-7 weeks Mr and Mrs H had their first ultrasound and saw a healthy heartbeat. Perfect! Following this, Mrs H had occasional spotting, but each time (after a freak out and quick rush to Fertility SA) she was assured that everything was ok. At 9 weeks, they had another scare and did the trip once more. She saw the heartbeat and again felt reassured. The doctor told Mrs H to put her feet up over the weekend and to come back in on Monday for her own piece of mind. Thankfully she had no further bleeding over the weekend, but when she went in for her ultrasound on Monday, there was no heartbeat. “I can not describe how I was feeling…tears streaming down my face. Why me?? I’d already endured enough to even get this far.” Mrs H was told to go home and she would miscarry naturally. Sure enough, not long after getting home, Mrs H went to the toilet and felt a decent sized blob fall out of her, into the toilet. “It was horrendous. My baby didn’t deserve to fall down the toilet.” Mrs H didn’t know whether to flush it away or fish it out. Both options didn’t sit right with her. She was in hysterics, but eventually flushed it down the toilet. She was inconsolable. “How could all this be happening?”
Mrs H spent the next few months healing - physically and emotionally - but she was also keen to give it another go. In April 2012, Mr and Mrs H did another IVF cycle, but this time they did a frozen cycle (Mrs H was fortunate enough to have plenty of fertilized embryo’s in the bank). Unfortunately, this cycle didn’t work. Mrs H went through a rollercoaster of emotions…building herself up thinking she was pregnant, only not to be. She once again felt deflated and upset, having to try and pick herself up for another cycle in a couple of months time. In June 2012, they decided to go ahead with another fresh cycle and a few weeks later they got that exciting phone call that yes, Mrs H was pregnant again! This time, however, there was both excitement and apprehension. Mrs H was understandably very scared and anxious. She once again experienced intermittent spotting and the frightening possibility of history repeating itself, but when she eventually made it to 12 weeks she was able to relax a little.
In October 2012, at 15 weeks + 2 days, Mrs H was at work and felt a slight discomfort in her lower abdomen. She wasn’t in pain and she wasn’t bleeding, but something felt “not quite right”. She decided to play it safe and go home in the early afternoon to rest, but not long after arriving home she was bleeding, and very heavily this time. They drove straight to the WCH and an assessment showed Mrs H’s cervix was completely open…she would be delivering her baby that day. “Not again, and not this far into my pregnancy. No, I couldn’t do this.” To add salt to the wound, Mrs H was told that if it had been picked up earlier, they may have been able to do an emergency cervical stitch. Mrs H was admitted upstairs to the labour & delivery ward, where she went on to give birth to her baby at just 15 weeks + 3 days. “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever endured. When he came out, he was so perfectly formed, so beautiful and yet transparent.” Mrs H said that walking out of that hospital without her baby, and the physical and emotional journey that followed, was and has been extremely hard. Around this same time, she had several friends and family around her who were falling pregnant easily and went on to have healthy babies, which she found particularly difficult. She was barely coping with it all.
Once again, the months passed and Mrs H started to slowly recover physically and emotionally, but she was still determined to keep trying. The thought of never becoming a mother was too hard to bear, and was not an option for her. “I could do this”. In March 2013, they decided to try another frozen IVF cycle, which once again failed. It became obvious that fresh cycles were getting Mrs H pregnant 100% of the time, and frozen cycles were not. So in July 2013, they did another fresh cycle, and would you believe it, yet again Mrs H fell pregnant. This time, her obstetrician had a plan. She had already diagnosed Mrs H with an incompetent cervix due to her previous pre-term labour, and classified the pregnancy as high risk. Mrs H finished working at 10 weeks gestation and was at home resting as much as possible. They had decided early on that they would go ahead with a cervical stitch, but that couldn’t be done until after the 12 week mark. She was prescribed progesterone pessaries from the start. The weeks passed and Mrs H was closely monitored. At 13 weeks the length of her cervix was approximately 3.5cm, which the obstetrician was happy with. At 14 weeks, it had shortened to 3cm. Mrs H was starting to get nervous as she approached the 15 week mark (which is where things went wrong last time) and demanded they check her again at 15 weeks – she didn’t want to take any risks. And thank goodness for her Mumma instincts…her next check-up showed her cervix had now shortened to 1.5cm. The obstetrician told Mrs H to go straight to the hospital, and she had the cervical stitch put in that afternoon. She was sent home the next day and told to rest….she wasn’t able to go out or walk around too much, and was told strictly no chores.
Mrs H did as she was instructed, and she continued to be monitored every few weeks to check bubs and measure the length of her cervix. It seemed to be holding and was still measuring the same at 20 weeks. But at 23 weeks, a routine measurement showed it had shortened to 0.5cm! Mrs H’s obstetrician ordered her to go straight to the hospital where she would remain on strict bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Mrs H remembers thinking “please, not again”. Thankfully everything was still intact, but they weren’t taking any chances. Mrs H was given multiple medications to help support the pregnancy and stop her uterus from contracting. She was given steroids for bubs lungs in case she went into early labour. They were prepared. She was given a tour of the NICU and the doctors explained that every week they got through, the better off bubs would be in terms of prognosis and chance of survival. “This was extremely scary for me. After everything that I’d already been through, I didn’t want to have to endure the NICU journey as well.”
So there she was, on strict bed rest with the bed tilted, on toilet and shower privileges only. Somehow, thanks to a fantastic husband and visits from family and friends, Mrs H managed to stay sane! The weeks passed and before they knew it, she had made it to 35 weeks. They weren’t too concerned if she went into labour from that point, so after 12 weeks of being in hospital, she was finally discharged home with the advice of enjoying what was left of her pregnancy. The cervical stitch was removed at 36 weeks and she surprisingly didn’t go into labour! A scan at 36 weeks revealed their daughter had a large cyst on her right ovary, so it was decided that Mrs H would have a scheduled c-section so they could deal with the cyst once she was born. At 37 weeks + 3 days, in March 2014, Mr and Mrs H welcomed their gorgeous daughter, Little Miss C, into the world. The doctors aspirated the cyst on her ovary as soon as was out, but otherwise she was born happy and healthy. Little Miss C is now 3 years old and developing perfectly. “I still think about everything that happened to me and I certainly never imagined it would be so damn difficult, but on the whole I have moved forward and I thank my lucky stars every day for my little girl. She is the most amazing human being.”