My labour with sepsis, acidosis and HIE – Jess' story

Nothing about the birth of Jess' baby went to plan, but ever since Oliver has been thriving.

I was 36+3 weeks pregnant, we had moved into a new house ready for our baby and had got engaged just a week before - it was the best time of my life! Then, when we were on our way to meet our friends for breakfast, I started to feel unwell - nothing major, my back hurt and I was really hot, but as I was nearing the end of pregnancy and it was late July it seemed pretty normal.

Then, I started to have stitch-like pains every now and then, which took my breath away and made me feel like I was going to be sick. The pains soon got worse, so I called the maternity unit for advice. Because I hadn't felt any strong movement that day, they asked me to come in to the hospital. I screamed the whole way there - it felt like I was on fire.

When I was being monitored, I kept being sick, and my vomit was almost black in colour. I’d never seen anything like it and it made me panic. I couldn’t even hold down the anti-sickness and pain relief medication. I was told I wasn't in labour but was severely dehydrated and had an infection so I was given IV fluids and antibiotics through a drip. I felt delirious, I couldn’t stay awake, and my fiancé Ross says that I seemed drunk as I couldn't put a sentence together.

The next morning, I was in agony. I had vomited every ounce of fluid and medication I had been given over the last three days; nothing was working and I was exhausted. Later on, the monitor showed my baby's movements were abnormal, and my blood tests showed I had sepsis and acidosis, with dangerously high blood pressure.

I was told I had to have an emergency C-section under general anaesthetic because I was so ill and that Ross, my fiancé, would have to wait in a separate room. By this point, I was so tired and confused that I wasn't sure what was going on or where I was, but I managed to sign the paperwork because I just wanted it all to be over.

When our baby, Oliver, was born, it took the neonatal team several minutes to resuscitate him. He took his first breath after three minutes but he was not well. His brain scans showed a lack of oxygen before birth and the decision was made to place him on a cooling treatment to treat him for HIE. He was in his incubator on a cold mat to keep his temperature down, which is meant to allow the brain to rest and minimise any damage or brain injury, for three days.

The first time I was well enough to see him was 24 hours after he was born. It was overwhelming: there were more wires than I thought there would be - wires to check his heart rate, temperature and brain function. He looked pale, blue and limp. The nurses managed to take him out of his incubator while still keeping him on the cool mat and attached to all his wires so I could hold him. It felt unnatural - when you see a tiny newborn, all you want to do is cuddle them and wrap them up warm but I couldn't actually touch his skin anywhere except his hands.

I didn't feel like a mum yet: I hadn't seen him be born, I hadn't fed him, I hadn't had skin-to-skin contact with him, I hadn't changed his nappy. He was swollen from the morphine so I couldn't even see any resemblance with me and Ross, which was a horrible feeling.

Over those three days of cooling, Oliver improved hugely and he was off the ventilator by the end of that time. After a few more days, he was moved to a Low Dependency Unit, where he was in an open cot so we could hold and cuddle him as much as we wanted. I definitely bonded properly with him there and I was in hysterics when I had to go back to my ward and leave him there overnight.

He spent two nights in the LDU before we were allowed for him to stay with me on my ward overnight – this was our first night together as a family. It wasn't in circumstances we ever would have imagined but, nevertheless, we were finally a three! The day we finally got to go home, after I'd been in hospital for two weeks, was the best day of my life: it was the first day we felt like real parents.

The birth and our time in hospital is on my mind daily: I often have nightmares about the birth and flashbacks. I can't remember much detail from the actual event - even now, nine months later, I talk to Ross about it and realise there are whole days missing from my memory. I never expected the arrival of our son to be so traumatic. I was aiming for a natural birth and hoping for no medical intervention other than pain relief, but what I got was the complete opposite. We weren't in control of anything that happened. But as time has gone on, the feelings of sadness have eased and I've felt more and more like a mum.

We now know that the reason I was so ill was an infection which was missed and turned into sepsis. I also had signs of pre-eclampsia and the excessive vomiting caused my body to go into metabolic acidosis. Knowing what happened has been a huge help in moving forward.

I'd like other parents to know that it's normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed with a premature or poorly baby: we have this birth plan pushed on us and told how important it is but really, you just can't plan everything, you never know what will happen. And I hope Oliver's story reassures parents of babies born with HIE because our time on the NICU was made much more stressful by the fact we couldn't find much information online about the condition and most of the stories I could find made me worry about his development.

But, as it turned out, the results from Oliver's MRI scan were completely normal. He will be monitored until he is at least two, but he is hitting all his developmental milestones without an issue and makes us so proud every day.