It's something all of us hope and wish will never happen us but as more of my friends and family have had children I've come to realise that there rarely is a 'normal' pregnancy anymore. Whether it's a premature baby, pregnancy diabetes, pre-eclampsia, an emergency c-section, difficulties getting the baby out requiring intervention or a small to more serious tear it unfortunately seems to be more and more common that most women will experience 'something' out of the norm with their pregnancy be it a little thing or something more serious.
My first pregnancy was an incredibly difficult one. I developed severe Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP or also known as SPD) at 20 weeks. Every day tasks soon became the ultimate challenge. From putting on my clothes, to sitting up and getting down and even walking five steps to the bathroom. I winced in constant pain and was in tears by the end of each night with it. There was little the physio could do to treat it and there was nothing that was relieving it. Then around 32 weeks I was at my cousins daughters christening sitting with her girlfriends and someone took a photo of all of us. When I saw the photo I instantly thought something was strange about my face. I would be the first to admit that with pregnancy I had put on a little weight but this was different. My face was incredibly puffy and swollen looking. I'm not sure how I hadn't noticed this. I was feeling good about myself that today so I was obviously in denial! I decided to just put it down to normal pregnancy weight gain. Then the next evening I was out with my friends and one of the girls noticed that my feet were incredibly swollen and asked me about them. It was the first time I had 'dressed up' and put on a pair of heels in a while so I put it down to that. Within 3 days I had put on four stone weight. A trip to the A&E and a young doctor with not enough experience sent me away and said I was fine. I kept on working in my job while I got sicker and sicker as I was too embarresed to get checked out again and didn't want to seem like I was making a fuss by bothering them again in the hospital. I felt like I was being silly and that I might be making a deal out of it. At this point I couldn't fit my feet in runners and I could barely fit any clothes. I was pouring out of everything. I had a check-up booked in with my consultant a few days later and when I arrived in she took one look at me and admitted me to hospital till the baby arrived. I had severe pre-eclampsia. Something I had only heard about but never really knew much about it. I was one of those pregnant women who decided to not read about every possible eventuality and to just let it happen.
So I began what I thought was another eight or so weeks in a pokey hospital ward, with a plastic mattress that squeaked every time I turned at night (which was a lot!!). I had the nurses demented wondering could I manage to sneak out one or two of the days to get my hair done or do a pregnancy pilates class as I was so bored. Little did I know how sick I was. I slowly got worse and worse till one of the days I begged them to scan me as I knew something wasn't right and my gut was right, the ultrasound showed there was no waters at all left in my womb! I was brought straight to surgery and had the baby 30 minutes later at 34 weeks. My world was turned upside down. This wasn't at all what I had expected it to be like. All that time worrying about what the birth would be like and ignoring all the information on c-sections as that would never be me. Thankfully my beautiful little boy Nathaniel had arrived safely. I however then went into septic shock and my PGP flared up to the point I was in a wheelchair. I still have nightmares about that time and I shudder when I think back to it. It was three very tough days later that I first got to meet my beautiful little man. He was in the NICU for a little jaundice and for feeding as he wasn't able to suckle yet as the reflex hadn't developed. He had to be fed through a feeding tube. It was heartbreaking to watch, always trying to will him on to feed but bottles were taking two hours to get into him so we kept having to go back to the feeding tubes. These became 19 of the hardest days of my life. As I had a c-section I couldn't drive so was totally reliant on others to pick me up and drop me in 3 times a day as it was only the parents allowed into the unit. I was pumping trying to feed him but barely getting any milk as I was so early and so sick. The nurses said I needed to be pumping every 2 hours to stimulate my milk and that it was important for him that I did it as he was so premature so I was exhausted setting my alarm every 2 hours and then sitting there for 45 minutes as I got an ounce of milk at the end of it each time. It was like a minefield trying to schedule everything as I was trying to be so diligent about the pumping for fear my milk would totally go and also they would only allow him to be picked up if he was awake so each day I was trying to time me being there with him when he was due to be fed. I would call a few times each day so I could time it right but more often than not I got there and he was back to sleep moments before I made it in so I would just sit there and watch him for hours. We made it in the end, tired, emotional, physically exhausted but our story ended well and we got our little man home.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for most. For me I learned the importance of asking for help, taking it when it's offered and leaning on others for support. I'm not sure where I would be today if I hadn't done that at the time. There is a sort of post traumatic stress that can happen after birth and a sense of loss of the vision of how you thought it would be. It's so important to be kind to yourself and understanding of the situations that may arise and to seek help if you need it in whatever form that is. There are some great support groups out there if you need to talk and if you just need support get everyone you know involved whether it's cleaning, letting you sleep for an hour, picking up groceries or more often than not in my case just holding my little man for half an hour just to give a tired mom a rest and time to catch up with herself.
It's worth visiting http://www.pnd.ie/ and http://aimsireland.ie/birth-trauma/ for more information and help.