Birth Story: ‘My epidural caused a cardiac arrest’

Posted in Birth Stories.

Jacki having skin-to-skin with her newborn charlie

Grapeviner mum Jade and her husband Liam had been married for six months when they decided to start trying for a baby. It didn’t take long to fall pregnant, and they were absolutely ecstatic when they found out they were expecting a little girl. But while every expectant mum hopes for an easy birth, unfortunately, Jade’s was anything but.

Here, she shares her incredible, yet terrifying, experience of nearly dying while delivering her baby.

We want to give you a heads-up. We’re going to talk about stillbirth and pregnancy loss and we know these topics can be incredibly emotional and triggering. If you’ve experienced these challenges or if you’re feeling vulnerable, it might be a good idea to skip this one for now.

“My pregnancy with Charlie was in hindsight, easy. As it was my first pregnancy everything was exciting, even the light morning sickness the first few months was tolerable in comparison to my subsequent pregnancies. I had to have a couple of extra scans towards the end due to a marginal cord insertion which ended up resolving prior to delivery.

“I had an iron infusion at 34 weeks due to low iron and also experienced horrible heartburn and the most intolerable, restless legs and insomnia. Fair to say I was a walking zombie!

“In the lead-up to labour, I was doing everything I could to get prepared. As we were in hard-core lockdowns there were no birth courses available, so I used a range of online resources to ‘try’ to get prepared. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.”

Jacki and Luke with an ultrasound photo

After what felt like a thousand years of waiting for something to happen, Jade finally started noticing constant pains while watching TV at night. She excitedly woke her husband and told him she was in labour, but said he could go back to sleep as her contractions still felt quite manageable and she figured it might be a long process.

“About 2am, I called Liam out as the contractions were five minutes apart and felt as though the intensity had significantly increased. I had a couple of large vomits and moved into the shower for some relief. Liam had called the hospital for guidance as my contractions seemed quite close together.

“Skip to 8am and I felt the need to know where I was at in terms of centimetres. I presented to the hospital for some guidance, where they advised I was in early labour and only 2cm dilated!! It was so deflating. Everything had slowed down. They sent me home with some pain medication and told me to try and get some sleep.
We did just that but awoke at 1pm to a PERFECT day outside. I said to my husband that I couldn’t stay in the house all day being in early labour and this uncomfortable, I needed a distraction, so we decided to go to a friends’ birthday party that was being held in a park about 15 minutes away from home.

“We packed our hospital bags just in case and I armed myself with my TENS machine for some relief. All of our friends were shocked when they realised I was in labour yet out and about. I kept saying ‘don’t worry, the baby isn’t going to just fall out here. First labours always take a long time’. And take a long time it did! We left the party at about 7pm as the contractions were starting to intensify and I was having trouble concentrating on the conversation. We went home and at 9pm they really ramped up. They were so sporadic I couldn’t get a rhythm and needed help.”

Jacki leans over the bed having a contraction

‘She’s turning blue’

Jade and Liam went back to the hospital, certain that they would be meeting their baby very soon. But when Jade progress was checked, she was told that she was still only 2cm dilated!

“I couldn’t believe it. How much worse was this going to get if I was still only 2cm? I didn’t see myself as a weak person but was questioning my ability to birth in that moment. We were told that Charlie’s heart rate had dropped twice, but that it was most likely only because the CTG kept slipping off my tight belly. They told me they were going to break my waters which came at a relief to me at the time.

“I was moved to the birthing suite and asked ‘how I wanted to do this’. I said I wanted an epidural so I could manage my fatigue. I couldn’t see how it was possible to get a human out of me when I was this tired and defeated. I was very “lucky” that the anaesthetist arrived so quickly. Before I knew it I was hair netted and cuddling a pillow getting ready for some relief. I remember the anaesthetist talking about the process, and I felt a contraction coming on, so I apologised and turned away to deal with it. The anaesthetist appeared to get frustrated that I was having a contraction and turned away. He inserted the epidural and I was sitting all good to go. Charlie was sitting slightly posterior so my contractions were very painful around my lower back. They sat me up on a bed to help get her in the right position, I was told to try to get some rest and in about 6 hours they would see how everything was looking.

Jacki with a fetal monitor on her belly in hospital

“I was given a button so I could top myself up if I felt I needed to keep the pain at bay. I hated the feeling each time I would press the button, I felt out of my body, as though I was really drunk. At around 12pm on Sunday afternoon, I remember feeling like I was getting the start of a headache/migraine. My hand and arm felt slightly numb and I was tensing up during contractions so it had caused me to get a bad headache. Liam was up massaging my arm and neck trying to keep me comfortable. I noticed my legs were completely numb to the point where the midwife and Liam had to move them for me. I couldn’t even wriggle my toes which was strange because from what I’d read, the epidural still gave you some movement and sensation, not completely dead. I started to notice my lip/mouth/tongue was feeling numb and I assumed this was related to my headache. I had thrown up a couple of times as well so wasn’t feeling my best.

“It got to around 12.30pm and I was advised that I was going to be checked to see if I was dilated enough to start pushing. I was so excited!”

Jade pushed the epidural button one last time in preparation to give birth. But as she laid back on the bed for the vaginal examination, she began to feel faint and only remembers holding her husband’s hand and hearing him say ‘she’s turning blue.’

‘I needed 12 minutes of CPR’

“I awoke with extremely blurred vision to the point I thought something had happened that caused me to lose my vision. I was lying there trying to work out how I’d go holding a baby and a white cane. I was told I had given birth, shown a picture and that they were stitching me up. I assumed my belly but it wasn’t.

“I had what was called an intra-partum maternal arrest, which we later found out was due to the mismanagement of my epidural. Nothing related to my health. I had about 12 minutes of CPR while my daughter was delivered with forceps. She also needed about a minute of CPR. All of this unfolding in front of Liam. He was ushered out of the room but because the door was left open, he could hear the defibrillator and the doctors saying there was no shockable rhythm and he also watched Charlie getting her CPR. I was taken to ICU to figure out what had happened. I still hadn’t even held or touched my baby. Liam shuffled between NICU and ICU and made the call to our parents. He had been wandering around in hysterics trying to make sense of the situation before finally having skin-to-skin time with Charlie. I kept asking to see Charlie. No one could say exactly what had happened, because they didn’t really know. I was moved to a high care room on the maternity ward so I could be closer to Charlie.

“When I woke up from my arrest I had what I would describe as a skull-crushing headache and had to lay completely flat on my back, this was my dural puncture and the spinal fluid leaking from the epidural insertion. It was 10pm and I was still yet to see my daughter. I was wheeled down to her but because of the dural puncture, the wheelchair didn’t help at all. I vomited on the way to her but because I was still sitting upright, I only could physically spend 10 minutes with her. I remember feeling the absolute worst I had ever felt (and this is after experiencing labour) and saying ‘I’m so sorry but I have to give her back to you’. I’d never experienced guilt quite like it.”

Baby in NICU

Jacki in a wheelchair holding her newborn

Luke holds his daughter in NICU

Jade was wheeled back to the high care unit, where midwives helped her express breastmilk every few hours. Unfortunately, when she woke up the next day her headache felt even worse.

“I felt like my head needed to be lower than horizontal. I had people messaging me asking for pictures of Charlie, which was so frustrating because I hadn’t even really seen her. Liam was going back and forth helping me express and delivering colostrum to Charlie. Liam wheeled me down to the NICU where a recliner was set up for me so I could stay longer than 10 minutes. There I was able to have a big cuddle and first feed with my daughter. It was such a mix of emotions, happy and overwhelmed, deep love and confusion.

“Charlie had nothing physically wrong with her post-birth and they were just keeping her for monitoring and to run a course of antibiotics. Although she had nothing wrong, they kept her in NICU until the end of the third day. Liam was told by a NICU midwife that the mother needs to be well enough to be able to have her baby. I had never been more infuriated in my life. All I kept saying was ‘give me my baby’.”

Jade’s surprise pregnancy and loss

While Jade recovered physically, she developed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from her nightmare birth experience. Despite her trauma, the new family of three went home and tried to look toward a brighter future. Less than a year later, Jade realised she was expecting bub #2!

“Nine months on and the morning sickness strikes again. This time, way worse. I couldn’t get off the couch which was horrible as I had a toddler to look after! This time we loved having a caseload midwife who I adored! She was everything I needed during such a testing time. I was being medicated for PTSD and working through a lot of triggering situations. We had a strong focus on creating the beautiful natural birth I longed for.

“At 31 weeks I noticed that our ‘tornado baby’ had slowed down in their movements. I went in for monitoring over a couple of days and had a scan which showed no issues. A few days later I was still second guessing things and felt something was off. I woke on the Monday with my only goal of trying to feel regular movements. I laid on the couch all day and was feeling more and more anxious. Liam came home from work and we had our nightly walk where I couldn’t contain myself.

A pregnant jacki with her toddler hugging her belly

Jacki and Luke cradle their stillborn baby

“We called our midwife and was advised to go in for monitoring. The midwife had the doppler on my belly straight away in search for the heartbeat. She advised not to worry and that she just wanted a second person to give it a go. I was trying to stay calm. I didn’t know what to think. A doctor came in with a machine to do a scan on the baby. She kept talking about how she wasn’t too familiar with the machine she was using. I was still staying calm. Liam was getting quite emotional. We were moved to a room with a more ‘familiar’ machine and after a period of time being told they just wanted to get all of the information, I knew that something wasn’t right.

“This is when I broke down. I had a sympathetic hand on my leg and told ‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.’ A second doctor came in to double check and we were again told that there was no heartbeat.

A rainbow baby arrives

“We were given some privacy where both Liam and I took turns screaming and crying. I felt like I couldn’t cry hard enough for how I was feeling. I sat there and it suddenly dawned on me that I still had to go through a labour. I was 32 weeks pregnant at this point. I kept saying ‘I don’t want to do it. I don’t want do it’. We opted to go home that evening to tell our families and be with Charlie. I barely slept and kept waking every couple of hours screaming. The reality kept hitting me that our baby had died. We didn’t know if it was a little boy or girl. It was meant to be a nice surprise.

“Early the next day, we went into the Butterfly room at the hospital and were cared for so delicately. I had a beautiful natural birth of my son, who was breech. We chose to name him Oakley and he was so perfect. I was quite anxious about the condition of how he’d be born, but he looked beautiful. After Oakley’s birth it felt like the whole world was on fire and no one even noticed. A piece of me will forever be lost.

“About 4 months after Oakley’s passing, I found out I was pregnant AGAIN and with a due date almost to the day of Oakley’s 1st anniversary.

Jacki smiling with her baby after giving birth

“We had a discussion that we needed to actively enjoy as much of this pregnancy as possible and of course acknowledge the bad parts when they chose to show their face. We had extra care and the same midwife as we did when Oakley was born. Our third beautiful child, Conor, was born earlier this year. We chose to be induced the week prior to Oakley’s 1st anniversary. Our big boy was born in the water and it couldn’t have been more ‘boring’ if we tried! It was the most amazing and empowering experience (one I’m glad I will never do again!!).”

A family photo

Wow, what an absolutely amazing, and such heartbreaking, story! We think Jade and Liam are incredible parents and wish them and their beautiful children all the best!

Heart with bandaid

Support Services

If you have experienced infant loss please know there are plenty of support services available for you and your partner including …

  • SANDS Miscarriage, stillbirth & newborn death support – 1300 308 307
  • Pregnancy, Birth & Baby – 1800 882 436
  • Bears of Hope Miscarriage – 1300 114 673
  • PANDA – 1300 726 306

More birth stories from our Grapeviner mums …

About to (or just had) a baby?

We know that the wait to meet your baby can be nerve-wracking, but we’re here to remind you that you’re not alone. Our private Pregnancy & Baby Groups are a great way to connect with other Aussie mums who are due or had their babies around the same time as you.

Got your own birth story you’re itching to tell? We’re always on the lookout for new stories to feature. Submit your birth story.


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