After settling into married life, Sally and Eric couldn’t wait to become parents. The couple, from Victoria, fell pregnant in 2018 with their first child and quickly began guessing whether they were expecting a boy or a girl.
But one thing Sally didn’t expect was the rollercoaster of a journey that lay ahead of her with pregnancy and birth.
“My husband and I, at the time, had been together 15 years (married for 3.5) when we conceived our first child, a little boy. My husband thought he was a she, but I knew from the start that he was a boy! Our pregnancy happened relatively quickly (blessing) and we couldn’t wait to be parents,” Sally shares with Mum’s Grapevine.
“I’m an organised person who loves to be in control, so I was doing everything I could to make sure I was healthy during pregnancy – no caffeine, runny eggs, deli meats, etc. My overall first trimester of pregnancy was pretty common, lots of all-day nausea (no vomits), and falling asleep by 8pm, but overall, I felt okay.
A miscarriage scare
“At about 5.5 weeks, I went to the toilet, I wiped and immediately noticed bright red blood on the toilet paper. Hyperventilating, I called my husband to the bathroom, as a first-time parent, the only thing that runs through your head is ‘miscarriage ‘. Was I one in four? I put a pad on, and off the local emergency department, we went. I got there and collapsed into my husband’s arms when arriving at triage, crying to the nurse ‘I’m 5.5 weeks pregnant and I’m bleeding’. They sat me down in the ED waiting room, and I felt numb.
“We finally got called in, and I had a beautiful nurse, who got me a warm blanket and a heat pack. She gave me a cuddle, took some blood, checked my blood pressure, and called a doctor for a scan. They couldn’t identify any heartbeat at the scan, but assured me it was ‘early on’ and not to worry.”
Sally was referred to an Early Pregnancy Assessment Service (EPAS), a clinic for women experiencing vaginal bleeding and/or lower abdominal pain under 20 weeks of pregnancy. She anxiously waited for her appointment two days later.
“They again scanned me, checked my blood pressure, and found the same outcome as the ED. They told me gently to prepare that I was likely having a miscarriage and to go home and ‘wait’. I was still bleeding every day and that shock had now turned to fear of waiting for my miscarriage to happen. I couldn’t leave the house. I’d just started in a new role at my work and had to take two weeks off because of everything that was happening.
“I was going to my GP every day and having a blood test and he was constantly checking my HCG levels to see if they were stable. He referred me to a local service at six weeks to go and get a dating scan. They determined there was a yolk sac, and that was all at this stage. Everything was still up in the air. I was told to wait till closer to 7-8 weeks for another scan. It was the longest most agonising wait of my life.
“After hearing that I was likely having a miscarriage, I spiralled into a depression, thinking I was a failure, I was ashamed, and so broken. I kept wondering why this was happening to me. At 7+2 I went for a dating scan (I’m still bleeding), and I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had a heartbeat. A strong healthy heartbeat. I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I’d be given an absolute miracle.
“By 13-14 weeks, my nausea subsided and this is when my bleeding stopped. I bled for my entire first trimester. This was an extremely triggering experience for me, and from there, I was so worried about every possible thing that could or would happen.”
‘He was safer out than in’
Sally’s pregnancy progressed without any further complications, but then at 33 weeks, she went for another ultrasound and discovered her baby was measuring smaller than average.
“I went for my scan, and Leo was measuring at the 12th percentile. They assured me this was okay, but they’d be monitoring with CTG and scans every second day from now until I give birth. I had a growth scan booked at 36+4 (a Thursday). It was here that the obstetrician gently told me that unfortunately Leo’s growth had dropped, and he was now measuring at the 5th percentile and he would be ‘safer out than in’.
“This is where my induction date was given to come back in on the Monday, at 37+1, to be induced via a balloon catheter. We were meant to be in our friend’s bridal party the following weekend, but I knew now that there was no way that would be happening. I felt extremely guilty having to tell them that neither myself nor my husband would be there.
“I came back in at 4pm on the Monday, about five hospital bags packed (one of labour snacks), ready to go! It was a long wait with lots happening before they called me in. By the time I got to a room it was 8pm and by the time the balloon catheter was inserted, it was 9pm. That in itself was painful enough. The first one they put in, burst straight away, so they had to do it again. This one held and I was told to just lay down, relax and try to get some sleep. At about 12am, I had some mild intense period pain like cramps. They gave me some Panadol and I popped a heat pack on, but was tossing and turning all night. I sent hubby home at 8am to shower and prepare. They removed the balloons at 9am and he just made it back after this. I found out the balloons did the ‘bare minimum’ and I was 1cm dilated. This was still enough that they were able to take me to birthing.
“I went there at about 11am. I got the biggest room on the ward, with a large birthing pool. Couldn’t help but laugh, as I needed to be hooked up to the monitors, I couldn’t go in even if I wanted to. At about 2pm, my waters were broken and the hormone drip was inserted. It wasn’t like I imagined, I imagined like the movies, a big gush then it stops. But no, mine was just constantly leaking the entire time, I kept wetting through my bed protector and whenever I got up to move I was trying to clean it off the floor. The midwives told me that they absolutely had that under control and not to worry.
“The experience was fairly laid back, I was snacking, laughing, and relaxing. I even had a maintenance worker ask to come in and change a light globe. Me ‘well, you better, they’ll need that light later!’ The pain was bearable, still mild, but at about 6.20pm it was starting to ramp up and they did a check and I was only 2-3cm dilated. At this moment, I felt completely defeated. I asked for the epidural, thinking, if I’m already in this amount of pain, how would my body cope later on? The anesthetist arrived, and on the third attempt (I got diagnosed with scoliosis while in labour), the epidural was put in. By 7pm, I was relaxing back on the bed feeling happy with my decision. I could feel nothing on my left and everything on my right. The epidural had only worked on one side. But that was okay, I could cope, much better than I felt before. Bub was fine after the epi, he slept right through it.
“At about 8pm, the midwives came to me and asked me to sign papers for an emergency c-section should things head that way, as things were still progressing slowly. My birth plan was “whatever you need to do to keep the baby and I safe”. So I signed in an instant. At 9pm the OB came in, as Leo’s stat’s were a little unstable. She examined me. “Good news, you’re fully dilated”. I couldn’t believe it. I was ready to push! Just as I told my hubby to get some sleep. I’d gone from 2cm to 10cm in 2 hours after the epidural. It must have helped me to relax!”
‘I was in and out of consciousness’
After nine months of excitement, worry, and fear, the time had finally come for Sally and Eric to meet their little boy! With her midwife coaching, Sally began pushing as hard as she could.
“I got told I was pushing well and to keep going. I was pushing for 25 minutes when Leo started to go into fetal distress. I got told that I’d need some ‘assistance’ to deliver Leo, and that they’d need to perform an episiotomy and deliver via forceps. I screamed and cried, I was so scared to have an episiotomy but there was no time and it was not up for debate. I still remember the scissor-cutting sound so clearly. At 9.28pm, my beautiful little boy entered the world. The OB pulled him out, put him to my cheek, and then took him away to the resuscitation table. ‘He’s a small baby, what’s your weight guess?’ she said to Eric and me. I guessed 2.2kg, and Eric said 2.5kg. To our shock, our little Leo came out a tiny 1.98kg (under the first percentile and smaller than predicted). A code was called, and the room was filled with pediatricians, midwives, and doctors, all looking after Leo.
“During this time, the OB was trying to deliver my placenta, pushing and massaging my tummy, but nothing was happening. She asked if I’d consent to her trying to remove it with her hand by inserting it elbow-deep into me. I of course said yes. She couldn’t get it out, so called her colleague and the same thing was done, with no success. During this time, I was hemorrhaging and was told I needed to go to the theatre immediately. I was so scared. Leo still wasn’t stable. I hadn’t even seen his face or heard him cry. I screamed for Eric to not leave Leo’s side, as I was being wheeled to the theatre, Leo was being transported to special care. I was asked for verbal consent to remove my placenta and they had to go through the risks of ‘hysterectomy’ being one of them. I said ‘Do I have a choice?’ and they said ‘no’, so I said, ‘well there is no question then is there’. They asked if I’d like to be fully sedated, but I declined. They said they’d ensure I was comfortable and in twilight sleep.
“They administered some drugs and straight away my body started burning. I screamed and they removed it immediately as I was having a reaction. Everything was happening so fast. I was wheeled into the theatre room, where I was greeted by about 15 staff. So clinical, but thankfully I felt like for the first time in hours, controlled. I was in and out of consciousness. I woke up in recovery at about 11pm, with my husband standing next to me. I was shaking, I was so cold (my body’s reaction to everything), and they had to keep layering me with blankets. I was still heavily medicated. I was asking every two seconds to see photos of Leo.
“I got taken to the maternity ward, where I was put into a room with three other mums and their newborns. I cried to the midwife asking how I could be expected to be here when they all had their babies and I was waking to the sound of their babies and not my own. The drugs were wearing off and I was so sore and so sad. I needed to see my son. It was 3am and they said they’d wheel my bed there, but I was determined to be able to get a better look at him, so the midwife and my husband lifted me into a wheelchair. I felt like my body had been hit by a bus. Special care was about a 5-minute walk, so not close to us. I went into pod 1, bed 1, and there was my perfect little boy. IV in his arm, in the humidicrib, sleeping. I cried with happiness and sadness. I couldn’t hold him, but could touch him through the little window. It felt so surreal.
“I then went back to my room where I tossed and turned and cried all night. The next day I was taken straight to a private room, where I remained a patient for four days. The OB came in to debrief and advised that I’d lost close to a litre of blood during the birth and the removal of the placenta.”
A tough recovery for mum and bub
Sally was offered support services, including a social worker, to help her come to terms with her difficult birth.
“The minutes, hours, and days ahead were all a blur. Surviving on no sleep and pure anxiety. It was much harder to get on with it, as I couldn’t walk, I was in agony and didn’t expect to feel this way. I thought the birth was the hard part, but I was definitely shown something else here.
“Leo remained in special care for 10 days. He had a blood clot on his brain, irregular blood sugar levels and body temperature, severe jaundice (went under lights for 24 hours), so many blood tests, IVs, a full body MRI, and a ruptured artery where he nearly lost all five fingers on one hand due to an error from the doctor administering his IV into an artery instead of a vein as he was so small.
“My husband and I were absolutely spent, the months ahead were hard for us, for me. My mental health suffered greatly and what was meant to be the best time of our lives, in those immediate moments, was horrific. It wasn’t until I birthed my second child, my little girl in 2021, that I truly began to heal.
“I thank my lucky stars every day to have my kids, and to have a healthy happy and now thriving little 4.5-year-old, the tiniest, but strongest little boy I’ve ever known.”
We are so glad to hear Sally was given the happy ending she so deserved! We also hear that she is now expecting baby #3, due in April!
If you experiencing feelings of sadness please know there are plenty of support services available for you and your partner including …
- ForWhen – 1300 224 636
- Pregnancy, Birth & Baby – 1800 882 436
- PANDA – 1300 726 306
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
More birth stories from the Grapeviners…
- Birth Story: ‘I delivered our baby, against all odds of another c section’
- Birth Story: ‘My beautiful twins were born on my birthday’
- Birth Story: ‘My baby was born unexpectedly at home’
About to (or just had) a baby?
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