"I felt guilty that I couldn’t keep my baby safe until she was ready to be born" - Emma's story

After being diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, Emma gave birth to her daughter at 31 weeks via emergency C-section. The traumatising experience left Emma with PTSD. Here, Emma talks about the birth journey and how she learned to deal with the trauma.

The day we found out our baby was a girl I was so emotional I couldn’t even talk. My pregnancy had been hard, with severe exhaustion and nausea, but knowing I was expecting a girl, when we already have two boys, made it all worth it. I had previously had pre-eclampsia (a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and after labour) at 37 weeks, so this was an at-risk pregnancy.

At my daughter’s 28 week scan, we were told she was on the small side, but it was nothing to worry about, but at my observations, my blood pressure was very high. I was observed in clinic for an hour and then I was sent home and told to visit my midwife for a check-up. I did this two days later and was sent back to hospital. This happened three times.

On the third time at 30+4 weeks, I was admitted, as my blood pressure kept going up. After two days of medication, I was told I didn’t have pre-eclampsia. The following night, after a day in bed, I had intense pain under my ribs. Within a couple of hours, it had become so sharp that I couldn’t stand properly and was rushed back to triage.

By the time I’d reached the hospital, I was in agony and my blood pressure was very high. I was given an ultrasound, which showed that my placenta was not working properly, and our girl had stopped growing. My bloods then showed that I had HELLP Syndrome, a condition I knew nothing about. It causes red cells in the blood to break down and causes problems with the liver, bleeding, and blood pressure.

The doctors were worried I might have a stroke and they told me that I needed to deliver my baby, even though I was only at 31 weeks. Throughout the pregnancy, I’d said that she wouldn’t stay in me for 9 months with how ill I had been, but I never expected it to be this way.

My midwife and doctor were present at my side all day and told me they would try to keep my baby in as long as they could, whilst keeping me safe. This ended up being 12 hours. That night, at 3am, I was rushed to theatre for an emergency C-section. It was like living in a weird dream. Our baby cried as soon as she came out, but was whisked away quickly in her incubator, just giving us a glance at this tiny doll-like figure. She weighed a tiny 2lb 7oz.

I didn’t get to meet Savannah for eight hours, as I was unstable. She was like a doll, so precious with wires and tubes all over her. I felt an overwhelming love for her instantly, but I also felt guilty. Guilty that I couldn’t keep my baby safe until she was ready to be born. I felt like I had let everyone down and ruined the experience of our last babies' birth. I spent every minute that I could sat at her incubator for the six weeks she was there, so she knew who I was. I learned to do her tube feeds and take care of our premature baby. Doing it all helped us bond.

Whilst there she had feeding problems. Her little belly wasn’t ready for cow's milk and she gave us a scare when she started showing signs of necrotising enterocolitis, or NEC (the most common and serious intestinal disease among premature babies, it happens when tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or inflamed).

We were called in to see her and I’d never been so scared in my life. She was made nil by mouth for over a week, but when her symptoms passed, she was put onto formula and she flourished. A few days later we went in for our daily visit and our favourite nurse said we could take her home. We were all crying, including the nurses. They had become friends and they will all remain in our hearts forever for taking such good care of our girl.

We took Savannah home and she was just the greatest baby. No problems with feeds or sleeps, she was really settled. However, I had something bothering me. I felt detached from life and this feeling went on for months. I was feeling anxiety over everything and had lots of disturbing nightmares about the birth. I spoke about it to my GP and had a breakdown. My GP explained that it was likely I had PTSD.

Talking about my experience with him was like removing a dark cloud and he started me on anti-depressants and told me to open up to people. As hard as that was, telling people was the best medicine for me. The PTSD hasn’t fully gone away, but I can deal with how it makes me feel and I know when it's starting to creep in in my life.

Savannah is 23 months old now and has beaten all her milestones. She started walking at ten months, she eats well, and has completed our lives. I hope that people read this and see that there can be a light at the end of the dark tunnel.