Kassie Stewart was 25 weeks pregnant with her first longed-for baby, and couldn’t wait to become a mum. She’d been collecting baby clothes for two years and had finally begun feeling baby flutters in her belly.
But last month she started to feel unwell. She tried to shake it off as pregnancy symptoms but had a gut feeling something wasn’t right. What happened over the next couple of days is harrowing, and heartbreaking, but Kassie is determined no other mum-to-be has to endure the same anguish.
A member of the Mum’s Grapevine Winter Due Group, Kassie has agreed to share her story to ensure other women have the courage to speak up.
This is Kassie’s story, in her own words.
Swelling and feeling sick just par for the course
On Tuesday the 1st of May I went to work feeling gross, but nothing unusual for us pregnant mummas. After a few hours, I noticed my feet had blown up like balloons and was feeling really queezy. Walking around made me feel dizzy and I knew something wasn’t right. I spoke to my coordinator who agreed I should go into hospital and get checked over.
I peed in a cup and was tested, but it was all clear. My blood pressure was a touch high, so they wanted to keep me for monitoring. They put me on a trace and bub sounded fine, I thought, ‘You’re just tired, it’s been a big week, I just need some rest’. They took some blood, and after a few hours nap, the results came back pretty much perfect. My iron levels were weird, but nothing a follow up test in a day or two couldn’t fix.
They recommended I take a few days off of work for the swelling and to rest and then when I return to work that I should only have light duties. On Thursday I got my follow up tests done, and on Friday morning I got the all clear, the numbers were fine, I was good to go. Friday night I was talking to my husband Trevor and noticed that bubs hadn’t moved much for the day, but wrote it off as not paying much attention.
Saturday I again noticed the lack of wriggling from Z (what we called our little surprise gender baby), but I had an anterior placenta and knew that it messed with how much I would feel Z move about. As a precaution, I texted my midwife thinking she’d let me know if I needed to worry, not realising that she was on holidays, and didn’t have her phone.
On Sunday I headed back to work, but even after sitting down my whole shift making sure I didn’t do too much I was drained more so than normal, and my swelling was back with a vengeance. Monday at work was awful, we were busy, and even though I was sitting down the whole shift I was still exhausted and considered calling into work sick for the next day. I spoke to my husband about reducing my hours at work and also brought up that I genuinely didn’t know when the last time I felt Z move was. We agreed that if I hadn’t felt much movement by after work on Tuesday that I would go to the hospital.
Expecting the worst, hoping for the best
Tuesday morning I started work early, I felt sick to my stomach, but just assumed morning sickness was back and kept a bin close to spew in. Went to the bathroom a few hours in as my co-ordinator arrived. She took one look at me, asked if I was alright and I just started crying. She took me upstairs to the office to talk privately, called in another co-ordinator and we sat down for a chat. They both remarked about how bad my swelling was, and that I didn’t look well at all. I explained to them I didn’t feel great, and then I started crying because I couldn’t remember when the last time was I felt bub move. They immediately called the hospital and told them I was coming in, followed by a call to my husband to get him to come to work as we were going to hospital.
By the time Trevor arrived, I half knew how bad things were going to be, whilst also trying to convince myself I was just wasting everyone’s time. I felt crap, but that was surely only because I hadn’t eaten a big dinner, or breakfast due to feeling sick! And sure, I hadn’t felt bub move, but that was only because of my anterior placenta, I had only JUST started to feel bub move anyway, not noticing movement for a few days was normal. And I only felt tired and dizzy because insomnia had become my best friend and I was working myself too hard, we’d all laugh about it in a few days time because I was just overreacting!
When I got into PAC (the Pregnancy Assesment Center) the midwives working were the same ones from the week before, they recognized me and told me to give them a urine sample and have a seat. I gave them my cup of pee and went and sat down, instantly putting my feet up (like it was going to fix my swelling quick enough to go home for lunch). They came and checked my blood pressure, and my temperature, made me take my shoes off so they could see my feet and then started attaching the Trace to my belly.
Pretty quickly after that, it hit the fan. My urine results came back, mind-blowingly high (we were told that a high reading is around 400, mine was 3300) I was wheeled straight into a delivery room and stripped and then a whole bunch of needles came at me. The blood pressure machine I’m pretty sure was surgically attached to my arm at this point, and I was being constantly monitored.
A heartbreaking decision
Then, my doctor, Lindsay came in and told us that I had a condition called pre-eclampsia and that I was probably going to be having a baby today. She explained that bub was going to be born via ‘classic c section’ (which is where they cut up and down instead of side to side) because my uterus was likely too small to have a standard c-section.
They wheeled me down to imaging, so I could have an ultrasound done, and the tech (who I had seen previously and knew was very funny and light-hearted) was pretty quiet while he was scanning. But our little bundle had a heartbeat still and was wriggling away, Trevor and I were crying with happiness, we figured as long as bub was okay, we’d get through this, easy.
Upon returning to our room Lindsay came back, with another doctor with a portable ultrasound machine, she just wanted to double check that the technician was correct with everything he said, she likes to be thorough you see. She turned the screen away (‘we don’t want to ruin your surprise gender baby!’) and started pointing at things, listening to bubs heart for a long while before letting us have a look. And then they explained to us that my placenta was deteriorating.
It had been for likely a few weeks, as such bub wasn’t at the almost 26 week mark size wise, she was closer to the 23/24 mark. That’s two to three weeks of very important growth. On top of this, because the placenta hadn’t been working correctly, and taking up to half her blood flow away, they weren’t entirely sure that she would make it through the night, let alone the c-section. The head of NICU came in next, to talk about what would happen if our little Z made it through the night/birth, what the chances would be of disability, both physically and mentally. How things go in NICU, and how he runs things, just so we knew everything that would be happening. Trevor and I were told we had all the time we needed to decide, however, the longer we waited the less chance she had.
We had a big chat about it all, we honestly had no idea, we were so shocked that this was happening. We joked about flipping a coin for a few minutes, trying to make light of the situation. In the end, we decided (after seeing close family friends suffer through losing their severely disabled premmie babies) that it wasn’t going to be fair on any of us to bring our baby into the world with the slim chances she had. On top of that, the recovery time and risks involved with the classic c-section scared us both. So we decided to wait until Wednesday, and start inducing me for a vaginal birth, knowing that the likelihood of our baby being born with breath was almost zero.
I had a midwife in the room with me at all times from the minute I arrived, they watched me like a hawk to make sure I didn’t start seizing. We didn’t sleep much that Tuesday night, and first thing Wednesday morning they wheeled the scanner in to check if she had made it through. Against all odds, she had survived the night, but her heartbeat wasn’t nearly as strong as it should be, and we knew we didn’t have much longer with our girl.
We were once again offered the c-section, but we had made the decision yesterday, and with her odds even lower today, we stuck by it. Wednesday afternoon we started the induction process. Wednesday night was another sleepless one, I was still swelling like a balloon and we couldn’t figure out why, and the fluid was starting to build in my lungs. As a midwife started organising an xray of my chest she noticed Trevor giving me a drink of water (by this time my swelling was so bad in my whole body I physically was unable to move unassisted, and not without a lot of pain, Trevor was an angel, scratching every itch/feeding me/giving me fluids/blowing my nose etc) and asked if I had had my fluids restricted. It turns out, in the crazy of the day before no one had restricted my fluids, which meant that I was drinking my usual 3-4L a day, which my body was hoarding as part of the pre-eclampsia.
Thursday morning they once again wheeled in the scanner and the second the roller hit my stomach I knew. My little girl was no longer with us, the stress and strain on my body and hers had been too much, and she had left us. Lindsay gave us a hug, and we were left alone for a few minutes to mourn our little girl.
The birth of baby Azula
I slept almost all of Thursday away, waking up only for my medication at two hourly intervals. At around 4pm I started cramping, I hadn’t been to the bathroom in three days (the pros of having a catheter in), and it is usually around that point where I would get what I refer to as ‘poo cramps’. It didn’t occur to me until a midwife asked why I was pulling faces at around 5.30pm that hey, maybe these were contractions!
From there things start getting hazy, they started coming harder and faster once it hit around 6.30pm I thought I had a handle on the pain, and thank god one of the midwives started organising a remyphentanol drip for me against my wishes, because very quickly that drip was my lifeline.
Unfortunately, because of how amazing it is as a drug, the standard dose was such a high for me that I was having lung sleeps (and very vivid exciting dreams) everytime I hit that magic button. So they lowered the dose to half the standard and suddenly I wasn’t sleeping through multiple contractions.
I started to feel the need to push, and it was at this moment the situation really hit me full force. My husband and amazing midwife were trying to get me to breath through the contractions and push, but all I could do was cry, I knew that it didn’t matter how good my birth was and how well I breathed through it, my little baby wasn’t going to be coming home with us.
Trevor kept coaching me, and holding me and her head was finally out. She was en caul, and my husband says it’s the most beautiful thing he has ever seen in his life. One more push and my beautiful girl was out, Trevor watched them pop the membranes, and then he cut the cord and was handed our little girl. He was crying as he and the midwives checked and found out it was a girl. Our little fire nation princess Azula was born at 8.53pm on May 10th weighing 703g.
Trevor and I remained in the hospital for four more days recovering from birth and our scare, and then had midwives come to the house daily to check my blood pressure. I still am on medication four weeks later, but hoping in the next week and a half to be done with it all. It wasn’t until after the birth that the midwives told us if we had waited much longer to come to the hospital I probably would have died.
I share this story not because I want to scare the bejeezus out of any mums, but simply to encourage you all, no matter how silly you feel, no matter how insignificant you think it is. Please, please, call your midwife, call your doctor, call your hospital. Get checked. Better to feel a little silly, and find out that it’s nothing than be on your death bed and not know.
Better to have peace of mind, knowing your bub is safe and healthy than to lose both of your lives.
The Mum’s Grapevine team is incredibly proud of Kassie for sharing her story so that others mums-to-be are better informed. If you want to know more about the sign and symptoms of pre-eclampsia, make sure you read the story shared by another Mum’s Grapevine Group member, who had a headache that turned into an emergency birth.
Images: Heartfelt Photography