Ever since we announced that we’re expecting a baby, I’ve repeatedly told friends how pleased I am that my plan worked. I hoped for a June baby and as luck would have it our due date is the 17th. I thought a midsummer baby would be perfect because my other children are off of school by then and my fitness classes slow down at that time of the year. I’d spend the summer recovering and relaxing with my family and return to work part-time in the autumn. Foolproof, right? Of all people, I should know better. Life has taught me again and again to expect the unexpected.
I’m in excellent health: I exercise regularly, eat well, and look after myself. Although I’m an older mom this this time around, my pregnancy has been perfectly normal. I assumed my labour and delivery would follow the same pattern as my previous three babies, even though I was in my 20’s for all of their births.
All of them were natural births lasting between 3-5 hours from start to finish. The last two babies were born at home, one in a birthing pool. My children entered the world in the soft light of dawn, to the sound of birdsong outside. I was overwhelmed by a profound sense of peace and joy cradling my newborns in the comfort of our home. I felt empowered as a mother and experienced deep gratitude for the gift of life.
The homebirth process and requirements have changed in recent years. Although we applied, we weren’t approved for a homebirth this time. Initially I was disappointed, but I also recognised that we could have a positive hospital birth. Obviously we want the safest option for this particular pregnancy.
During week 30 I started to feel off. Although many of my complaints were typical of the third trimester, I began to feel anxious that something was amiss. I was consumed by physical discomfort and mental worry. I started nesting and felt panicked because we didn’t have enough baby stuff yet. I kept saying that I thought the baby might come early, which was completely irrational.
Just when I needed my partner’s support the most he needed to travel for work. Our timing couldn’t be worse. Through no fault of his own, the project’s starting date was a month behind the original plan. I had encouraged him to take on this massive project, but the reality of it is different than what I had envisioned. We both suffer from incurable optimism and assumed everything would miraculously work out fine. The way we saw it, he’d finish his project just in time for our baby’s birth and all would be well.
During week 31 he set off for the building site, which is a 4.5 hour drive from home, with the intention of staying for 10 days. Within 24 hours of his departure I noticed swelling in my face, hands, and feet. I contacted my GP and asked if I should make an appointment with her or wait until the following week when I was due an antenatal visit at the maternity hospital. She pencilled me in for a few days later. As the week progressed I felt worse and struggled through a couple of fitness classes. My clients were visibly worried and recognised that I wasn’t myself . I was exhausted and slept whenever I could. I had no energy for housework or cooking so my kids and I ate takeaways.
I wasn’t surprised when my GP finally examined me and discovered I had symptoms of preeclampsia. I’d googled as much as I needed to know and she confirmed what I’d already suspected. It is important for pregnant women to be informed about this potentially life threatening condition and listen to their instincts. My doctor handed me a referral to the emergency room on Good Friday and warned that I might have to stay for the weekend. I quickly packed and made arrangements for my kids and pets. A friend drove me 90 km to the hospital. That’s when it really became surreal.
After more testing and waiting and testing, I was given several different medications. My blood pressure refused to cooperate and crept higher as time passed. Little was said and I had the feeling the staff wanted to keep me calm by withholding information. The kindly midwife did, however, inform me that she’d soon be administering the “most painful injection you’ll ever receive.” If I was lucky enough to not have an emergency c-section overnight, I’d be given a second steroid injection in my derriere the following morning. She explained that the steroids would help the baby’s lungs mature if I held on to him/ her for 24 hours. Suddenly I really did feel like I was in the twilight zone! My baby wasn’t due for 9 weeks… It was hard to mentally process the possibility of having a premature infant within such a short space of time.
Christy arrived around midnight after a long, stressful drive. He’d only been away 4 days but it seemed much longer. In the beginning we were told I’d be kept in hospital for observation for 48 hours. On account of Easter and the bank holiday, it was extended until Tuesday. We’ve now been here 9 days and going home is no longer an option. The reality is my condition is severe, unpredictable, and my blood pressure has been dangerously unstable.
The last week has been the most medicalised of my life. If I hadn’t received treatment I might not still be here to share my story. I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to the midwives and doctors who have given me such wonderful care. It has been a terrifying, painful, exhausting, mind-expanding, emotionally wrought experience. And it’s not over yet! At this stage I’m on the maximum dosage of medication available; if it suddenly fails to work, delivery is imminent. There is no possibility of carrying my baby to full term. Each additional day in my womb is a bonus. Living with uncertainty is difficult, but my partner and I are better prepared now. Fortunately the prospects of a happy outcome are good. Today we reached a milestone of 32 weeks and have been reassured by a neonatal doctor that our baby will likely thrive with the necessary care. All we can do now is hope for the best and wait.
My mom and oldest son will soon board flights from America to Ireland. Knowing that help is on the way has put my mind at ease. Family and friends have also offered us huge support. Whatever happens we’ll pull through this together.
When you walk through the hospital corridors you see that our humanity is inescapable; vulnerability, heartbreak, fear, sadness, tenderness and joy all coexist here. The veil between life and death is thin. What’s remarkable is the spirit of determination I’ve seen on this high risk maternity ward… we’re all fighting for our babies with everything we’ve got.