pregnancy

Emma was told she had gastro while pregnant at 37 weeks. The misdiagnosis nearly killed her.

Warning: This post contains mentions of stillbirth and may be triggering for some readers.

One month after our wedding Nick and I fell pregnant. I was 30, extremely fit, healthy and excited (if not slightly daunted) at the prospect of becoming a mum. My whole pregnancy was considered ‘low risk’ and ‘textbook’. I did all the classes, read all the books and had the very best clinicians on my side (including midwives, obstetricians, a nutritionist and a prenatal Pilates instructor).

I was however a complete ‘Pollyanna’. Unknowingly, I was completely uninformed and oblivious to any risk factors or complications that could happen to me and my unborn baby. Sure, I knew to avoid oysters, brie and champagne, but that really was the limit of it. I believed (and wasn’t told otherwise), that once you pass the 12 week mark of pregnancy, everything is relatively smooth sailing.

Questions about childbirth answered by mums and non-mums. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

Being pregnant and having a baby is the most ordinary thing I would ever do. Women have done it all over the world for centuries – right? Well yes, but I was oblivious to the fact that women and babies have been (and continue) to die every day.

36 weeks went by smoothly. Suddenly, at 37 weeks I experienced severe vomiting, diarrhoea and a stabbing upper abdomen pain. I phoned my healthcare provider immediately, who told me it was simply gastro and not to worry. I actually felt silly for calling the hospital.

I left it for seven days and then the feeling came back. I phoned my healthcare provider once again, only this time on loudspeaker with Nick involved in the call. They said, once again, it was probably gastro and I’d be fine. My husband interjected and challenged this – as I was very, very, very sick, it seemed more serious. The midwife then told me to “come in if I wanted”. My husband made the call, we were going to the hospital.

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This decision saved both my own and my daughter’s life.

Upon arriving to hospital we realised my blood pressure had risen to over 190. It was 120 throughout my pregnancy. They also realised I had protein in my urine. It turns out I had severe, undiagnosed HELLP Syndrome.

HELLP Syndrome is a pregnancy complication, has a maternal mortality rate of 1 in 4 and a stillbirth rate of up to 60 per cent. The upper abdomen pain I was feeling was my liver rupturing. It took them 12 hours whilst in the hospital to diagnose me. During this time I had a seizure – they thought it was Preeclampsia. Eventually, I was hooked up to the CTG monitor and by this time, Grace went into foetal distress. Her heart rate plummeted. She was struggling.

She was born within 15 minutes… a healthy, perfect baby girl. She was safe only because Nick and I acted when we did. I, on the other hand, had the fight of my life on my hands.

I was on the operating table for five hours. They couldn’t stitch up my wound. I had blood and platelet transfusions on the spot. My platelet levels were so low, the transfusions were hardly working. They eventually put a drain on my caesarean wound and I was transferred to another hospital’s ICU. All I remember was a nurse fainting and me desperately wanting to know what was taking so long. Why couldn’t I see my baby?

When my husband and family asked what was wrong, they were advised to pray and to get any family overseas back home (my sister lived in Florida at the time) – they might not see me again. Grace stayed in NICU at the original hospital. It still breaks my heart that I was separated from her.

Hellp syndrome
"Grace was safe only because Nick and I acted when we did. I, on the other hand, had the fight of my life on my hands." Image: Supplied.
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It then transpired I had a haematoma (caused by HELLP) of 30cm on my liver. I also had excess fluid on my lungs making it difficult to breathe. I was, quite literally, drowning in my own fluids. I had a drain inserted into my chest (where they initially drained two litres of fluid) and wore this for five days. I stabilised in ICU after five days.

All of this time I did not get to hold Grace. The midwives would come in every three hours and ‘milk me’ as I was still determined to breastfeed. I was eventually transferred to another ward and Grace was transferred to my hospital. I had several more complications including pneumonia, clots in my arm (due to being in a hospital bed for four weeks) and kidney issues. But I was extremely lucky to have survived. If I had listened to my care provider and not gone into hospital, Grace and I most certainly would have died in the night.

Our story is one of hope. We survived, contrary to our odds. At the time of this pregnancy I ran a global branding agency and was extremely career focused. Since becoming a mother and living through this experience my perspective has completely changed and I now work part time for Still Aware. Still Aware is the only not for profit organisation whose mission is to end preventable stillbirth.

Every day in Australia six babies are born still, making stillbirth the leading cause of death of children under 14 years. Staggeringly, over half these deaths are preventable. Still Aware looks to change these alarming figures through promoting healthy pregnancies, educating families about the importance of trusting their intuition, working together as a family unit (exactly as Nick and I did) and getting to know your baby's normal from movement and frequency. The information Still Aware provides is lifesaving - Grace and I are here to prove it.

I am now 28 weeks pregnant. People are worried for me. Of course there is a certain level of anxiety, as with any pregnancy, but I feel completely in control and empowered. I'm working together with my healthcare providers and my family as a unit, and following Still Aware's daily actions for a safer pregnancy. Everyone deserves this information.

If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637.

For more information about Still Aware you can visit their website, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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