"I wish I had taken a break when I could" - Vanessa's story

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I found out I was pregnant mid-May 2020, right in the heart of a pandemic, when my husband had just left for Afghanistan.

I became determined to only give him positive news. It was my way of patting myself on the shoulder, encouraging myself that I can do this, that this pregnancy will be different than the others.

This was my 8th pregnancy, one of which I lost our son Kurt to PPROM at 26 weeks. It was a very difficult time. Having two boys ages 11 and 7 and finding out I was pregnant again, I was determined to fight this pregnancy all the way through.

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As soon as I found out, I rang my community midwife team, who then had me booked in for my booking appointment, which was done over the phone due to COVID-19. I was deemed high- risk so I was given an eight week scan. I soon became very ill suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a pregnancy complication that is characterised by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and possibly dehydration. I was in and out of hospital, constantly dehydrated to the point my veins collapsed.

I also suffer from an insufficient cervix. At my eight week scan everything was fine and I saw my baby’s heartbeat for the very first time. The next few weeks became more and more difficult I was now just over 16 weeks and my HG had still not shifted. I was given more medication in the hope that it would get better soon. I was also transferred to another hospital that deals with high-risk pregnancies as I got further along in my pregnancy.

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I was now at 18 weeks and had my normal weekly scans. Both abdominal and vaginal scans showed baby was growing nice and healthy.

I went home feeling pleased. Despite the rocky few months, things were looking more positive. Sadly, at week 19, this all changed when I went in for my normal weekly scan. I could tell by the look on the midwife’s face that something was wrong. She said she needed to perform a vaginal scan to confirm what she was seeing. It was confirmed that I had little to no cervix left.

My consultant was then informed, and she sat me down to let me know that I needed emergency surgery to have a stitch put in to keep my cervix closed. This was very risky as my cervix was so short, so I was informed of the risk and told that this kind of procedure may cause my membranes to rapture. I was also given a test to determine how soon I will go into labour, and this was done via vaginal swab. The results came back in 14 days, which was even more of a reason why I needed emergency surgery.

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This is where I had to exercise my faith more than ever. Before going into surgery, my consultant and midwife were very helpful with making the call to get my husband home from Afghanistan. The surgery was a success, and I was given the news that my husband was coming home. I was kept for 24 hours to make sure all was well, then I was sent home on bed rest.

It was exactly day 15, I was now 22+1. When I woke up and went to the toilet, I felt a rush of water and knew that my waters had broken. My husband and I phoned the hospital to let them know what happened. Due to COVID-19 restrictions in hospitals, my husband was not allowed in, so he had to wait in the car.

The midwife on duty confirmed that my waters had gone and that the doctor on duty would be in to talk to me soon. Although I knew the risk, as I have been through PPROM before, nothing prepared me for this news.

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I was told that my baby cannot survive at this stage without any water and that I had become infected. The doctor told me that women normally go into labour 24 to 48 hours after their waters have broken and if this happens to me, that there would be little they can do as I was only 22+1 weeks and it would be classed as a miscarriage.

I was told I would be admitted onto the ward for observations. Despite all the heavy news I did not let it get to me and I kept my faith. I believed that everything was going to be okay. 72 hours had passed, and I had not gone into labour, no bleeding, no pain, no discharge.

There was light at the end of the tunnel. Every week was a milestone, the further along I got, the better the chances for my baby. It was week 25 now and my consultant was happy to send me home on continued bed rest. I was excited to go home and be with my husband and my boys, as they weren't allowed to visit. I was asked to report two times a week for blood tests and regular check-ups and my midwife continued with home visits.

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At 26 weeks, I woke up with mild pains, they were uncomfortable and it was hard to determine if they were contractions. My midwife was due to visit at 12 that day, so I waited for her visit to tell her about what was happening. She later advised that I go in to have it checked, she phoned ahead to let them know that I was coming. On arrival I was checked and admitted straight away and given mild painkillers.

The next day the pain kept coming and going but the painkillers did not help. It was day three of being in hospital when the pain started again, this time I knew straight away that I was in labour. An hour went by and the pain grew increasingly. Eventually I was taken down to the delivery room and my husband was phoned and told he can come in.

My contractions increased drastically and were finally showing on the monitor. I was surrounded by midwives, doctors and consultants talking through what to do next. The decision was made to remove the stitches and allow me to give birth. Within 15 minutes I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We named her Faith. She weighed 880g and I heard her give a little cry. The neonatal team worked on her and rushed her to the NICU.

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The consultant later came over to tell us how she was doing, and that we can see her. In that moment looking at my baby girl fighting, so small, so many wires, ventilated. I was told it was up to her now, that we had to wait and see how she does. After 79 days in NICU, our baby girl was finally allowed home.

I wish I had taken a break when I could. Both my husband and I visited Faith every day for the 79 days she was in hospital. We were only allowed two hour visits due to COVID-19. This wasn’t enough. We became drained both mentally and physically. There were days when I broke down crying to my husband telling him I didn’t want to go the next day. But the next day I always pulled myself together and went to see Faith. I want to let any mother currently in a similar situation know that it’s okay to take a break. Don’t feel guilty, look after yourself.

Faith is doing extremely well now. She was discharged with a heart murmur, and a hole in her heart about 4mm, but the doctors are hopeful that this will clear up on its own. Our tiny miracle overcame so much and amazed all the doctors and nurses that looked after her. She is our little fighter, a princess worthy of the name Faith.