Thursday 30 June 2011

My Toxic Pregnancy - and How I Survived It

I was reading well watching this post by the very lovely Karin at Cafe Bebe. And was moved by her obvious distress at how she is being managed, or otherwise, in her pregnancy. I have contacted her and offered some of my "wisdom" following my bitter experience.

Just to explain, in our area your pregnancy is managed by a community midwife based in your GP surgery.  Then you go to hospital for your 12 week and 20 week scan. Some lucky people, like me, have to have "shared care" where you are consultant led, but you still see the community midwife for regular appointments.

I kind of fell pregnant by accident. Sort of. I had previously been on depo provera shots, but had gained a lot  of weight and was having problems with maintaining a healthy blood pressure. I decided to stop the injections aobut six months before our wedding in September 2008. We decided that we would just go with the flow, and not prevent pregnancy but not actively try either. To our joint astonishment, we found out we were pregnant in the November.

Now throughout my pregnancy I felt "wrong". I had been pregnant twice before, but sadly miscarried, this was my first pregnancy that had gone longer than 8 weeks. With every passing week, it felt more "wrong". At every appointment my blood pressure was a little higher. By 16 weeks I was incredibly concerned, because I started feeling awful. Not just "morning sickness" but crushingly tired, and just generally "not myself", little things really rattled me, I felt highly anxious and worried all the time.

At the end of my 15th week of pregnancy I was signed off with complications of pregnancy. My GP thought I might have ante natal depression. It was suggested I take antidepressants, but I didn't feel that was appropriate, and I felt my baby was at risk as it was with my blood pressure and didn't want to add to the problem by taking medication for depression. I also didn't feel clinically anxious. I felt like something was wrong.

I saw my midwife just into my 18th week and she referred me to the hospital, although I had been marked for consultant led care due to my high BMI I had never seen one. So I toddled off to see the consultant at 18 weeks.

What followed still upsets and shocks me. I was seen by a very junior doctor, not a consultant. He was nasty. He told me I was incredibly fat and irresponsible (now I am fat, I'll admit it, but I was/am a size 20-22 and had not gained a gramme in pregnancy) and that I would get gestational diabetes and have a 12lb baby. He told me I was ridiculous to be worried about pre eclampsia, it was clear I had essential hypertension (which I had never been diagnosed with). He refused to listen to the heartbeat or refer me for scan on the grounds that I was so fat he wouldn't be able to hear me, and the sonographer would be unable to perform a scan.

Um, I'd had no problems at my 12 week scan, and the trainee midwife had heard the heartbeat at my appointment the previous day. He went on to book me for a diabetes test at 28 weeks (I was horrified to hear that I'd have to buy my own Lucozade!!!) He left me by saying that I was to avoid all stress, but not to avoid work (um I worked in a call centre managing complex spinal surgeries, in patient admissions and ITU stays as well as complex chemo requests) and to basically stop wasting everyone's time.

So I did what anyone would do. I howled all the way home. I was so upset. I felt like a child being told off. Once the tears died down, I got mad. I rang my hospital's PALS (Patient Advisory Liaison Service) and made a complaint. The kind lady was absolutely horrified at my treatment and promised that something would be done. I rang my community midwife and went to see her the next week.

My community midwife was also horrified as was my GP, they both felt I needed regular monitoring from the consultant team at the hospital, which is standard practice for expectant mothers with high blood pressure. So the midwife rang the chief midwife, who must have, by that time, heard about my complaint and arranged me to see the "head honcho" the following day.

It was a Friday, the beginning of my 19th week of pregnancy. The consultant was lovely, and in complete contrast, reassured me, but looked at me and shook her head. She said "you might be at risk of pre eclampsia and I want to monitor you closely" I could have kissed her. I was booked for an anaesthetic review and growth scan the same day as my diabetes check, at 28 weeks pregnant.

At 24 weeks I went again, but the consultant wasn't available, but I saw a different junior doctor this time, who was just adorable. She checked everything carefully, put me on medication, and then explained to me exactly what to look for in terms of pre eclampsia. She was just amazingly kind, but also thorough.

From that point on, my monitoring became daily. I had to attend either the walk in centre or midwife every day for blood pressure checks. My last check was on the 6th May. I missed my appointment on the 7th May, I still feel guilty as I had forgotten to call the surgery, I was in hospital by this time. On the 8th May my baby had been delivered.

I felt so sorry for my community midwife. She'd popped into the hospital on the Friday just to go through all her notes and cases and saw "Mrs Hodges......delivered" she nearly fainted, on the Wednesday morning I was ok, by the Thursday I was critically ill. That's how quick pre eclampsia is. One minute your pregnant, the next minute your not.

I am very grateful to the NHS, when it mattered, they were brilliant, but it could have been so very different had I not queried that first doctor and in my next post I want to explain more about what do when things go wrong.


  1. Your post brings back almost flash backs for me, but in a different way. My first sonwas delievered at 30.4 weeks due to pre-enclampsia but I had no symptoms until my placental ruptured. My high blood pressure was detected the week before at my 28 (well 29 week) appointment, and they decided the baby was far to small and I was admitted to hospital, and did the whole PE 24 hour urine thing. There was only trace protein and after 3 days of bed rest my bp had dropped so they sent me home. Problem was I didn't have 1 single symptom, other than a posisble tiny baby and even then most were saying I simply had my dates wrong. That first night I was admitted though one senior midwife faught for me to have steroid injections and told me she was convinced I would deliver early. Thank god for her. I got the steroids and she saw me after the even and said when she was back on and saw I had been sent home she couldnt beleive it. Reading between the lines, I think it was because it was Christmas. Anyhow less than 48 hours later I was haemoraghing and well, lets just say the quick emergency services and actions of the delivery ward saved our son. I have recently blogged about it. However, your post reminds me more of my 2nd pregnancy. I of course was petrified of PE again and had to ask to be consultant led, the midwife didn't see me as high risk. I had never even met my consultant from my first pregnancy and he had refused me an appointment after my first son to ask what had happened so I asked for a different consultant. He was fantastic and this time round, I decided to be PE free but have grade 4 placental previa instead so I was in hospital from 25 week until I delivered at 34 weeks. At 25 weeks I woke in the middle of the night and knew I was bleeding, we were 200 miles away at my parents so we went to the local hospital. I was besides myself at the way they treated me. I was left in a room bleeding what to me seemed heavily, convinced I was have another abruption and no-one came to see me for 4 hours. They refused to scan me telling me that it wasn;t hospital policy to scan before 28 weeks, and did nothing to reassure me. I even had a consultant see me and tell me I was irresponsible for travelling when pregnant and not staying in my home townm despite my own consultant saying it was fine. He was horrified when I got back home and was admitted to his care and couldn't believe they had not scanned me. However during those 9 weeks in the more local hospital I was shocked over the attitudes of some of the midwifes I came across, they really did make you feel crap, and did nothing to help you. one even tried to have me sent over to the pyschiatric unti because I spent each day in tears, I lost my temper at that point an told her I didn't need an expert to work out I was petrified I would abrupt again and lose the baby, and I hated being sperated from my 2 year old and husband 20 miles away! At the end of the day, I can not fault the NHS both times, first time round thier quick actions saved our son's life, second time round, they saved my life, but my experience of how you are treated in a high risk pregnancy, especially by different trusts, is not the best. Alls well that ends well as they say and I hope the junior doctor that spoke to you the way he did, got an official warning, I admire you for making the complaint. Sorry I have written such a long essay, its a ubject close to my heart and not one I wish on anyone x

  2. The NHS can be such swings and roundabouts. I had to fight for my health against their "your fine" when I knew I wasn't at the end of my first pregnancy. Thankfully this time round they are listening to me more and its all going ok! You do have to stand up to them though because ultimately you know best!

  3. Goodness, that made my blood run cold. I think that's the thing I found, is that when things go wrong, the NHS are amazing, and neither Joseph or I would be here without them, but its the prevention that they need to work on. I think antenatal services are just so stretched.

    On day 5 when my son nearly died of NEC I had to have a psychiatric evaluation, because I was crying, erratic, and difficult to deal with - um hello? Where in "What to Expect when Your Expecting" do they cover how to deal with this stuff?

    On the junior doctor it was quite um, funny. The next time I went to antenatal when pregnant he'd been put on gynae and taken off ante natal. He was brought back for my section and was on the crash team in case I had a seizure. He apologised, he was so sweet, actually he just said "I don't know what to say to you" with a tear in his eye, and I said "just start with sorry and promise me you will never ever speak to pregnant woman like that ever again".

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