Miracle Mum, Charlene knew something wasn't quite right when she started to experience leaking fluid. She shares the moments that led up to baby Maddox's arrival in the world at 29 weeks and the frustration that went with not being supported or informed about her medical journey.
“Yep, that’s definitely your waters”, are not words you expect to hear at only 29 weeks pregnant. I had a smooth start to my pregnancy. Out of my three pregnancies, this one was probably the most enjoyable for me. I didn’t have morning sickness or mood swings, I was loving it. The one thing that was different, was this time round I was having a BOY.
Day 1. It was a Thursday when I started not feeling quite myself. Chris, my husband, drove out to work and I spent the day at home in the pool trying to relax. I had the worst heartburn that day. I would lay down on the couch to try and feel better and the moment my head hit the pillow I’d feel that horrible sensation in my chest. I had heartburn a bit through this pregnancy but nothing like this.
Day 2. This was the day I realized something wasn’t quite right ‘down there’. I had some fluid leak out and it wasn’t anything that I had seen there before. Later that night I woke up sweating. I had the air-con on and couldn’t figure out why I was so hot. I fell back asleep and then woke up freezing. I was proper shivering, borderline having a fit. I ran a hot shower to try and warm up a bit, this only worked slightly. I took a Panadol, but I ended up just vomiting it back up anyway. I then went back to bed and ended up having to change my underwear up to 4 times that night from the fluid leaking.
Day 3. It’s now Saturday morning. I made the decision to phone my midwife to see what she thinks could be happening. I didn’t get a hold of her that day, but instead her partner midwife answered. She was always so lovely to deal with, I could tell she actually cared. Once I let her know what was going on, she seemed worried and told me to go up to the birth suite immediately, and that she’d call to let them know I was on my way.
I arrived at the birth suite, and straight away they knew who I was and what I was there for. They introduced me to the nurses who would be caring for me and hooked me up to the monitor. They had me lay down flat on my back for an hour until the doctor could come and do an internal examination. Apparently lying down flat will allow the fluid to pool up if there is anything leaking. My observations were all fine, baby was doing great (besides the fact that they couldn’t get a good enough reading on his heart rate because he was moving around so much).
An hour passes and the doctor comes in to do an internal examination. She couldn’t see any fluid leaking, only normal discharge, which she questioned me whether that was the stuff that I had been seeing on my panty liner. I assured her that it definitely wasn’t, it was a completely different consistency and texture. They then did an ultrasound to measure the fluid around the baby. All seemed to be well, there was the right amount of fluid in there. The doctor told me she couldn’t see any evidence of my waters being broken and sent me home.
I went home and had a nap as I was supposed to be driving out to stay with Chris for a night. I laugh now because wow, how stupid of me to still drive out there given how I was feeling. Was I crazy? I still had fluid leaking and didn’t feel 100%. But being there with Chris took my mind off things and made me feel okay for a moment.
Day 4. Sunday morning in Charters Towers. Chris gets up to go to work early and I sleep in. I wake up still feeling unwell and still leaking fluid. Nothing had improved. I drive home, I felt ok to be driving just really lethargic. Besides obviously telling Chris about what was going on, I was also informing our friend Mel. We had previously asked her to be there to photograph the birth, so I always made sure she was kept in the loop with everything going on. Being the amazing friend that she is, she had offered to have the kids that night so I could go back up to the hospital. She was convinced something wasn’t right and was saying I needed to go. I knew I had an appointment with my midwife the next day so I didn’t see the point going up that Sunday night. I hated the idea that I could go up there again and be told that it was all good. I didn’t want to be dramatic so I told Mel that I’d just go to my appointment in the morning the next day and see what my midwife had to say then.
Day 5. Monday morning I woke up feeling even more lethargic then the day before. This is how I know I wasn’t in a good state, I didn’t even have the energy to drive my kids all the way to day care and school. Thank goodness Chris’ mum lives only a block away. I dropped the girls off to her house, they got to skip school while I went up to the birth centre for my appointment with my midwife.
Now this is a different midwife to the one who told me to go straight up to the hospital days before, that was her partner, this is my actual midwife. Weirdly enough weeks before all of this happened, after my last midwife appointment with her, I was talking to Chris about how I’m not sure how I feel about this lady delivering my baby. She had a ‘don’t care’ attitude and was quite abrupt.
Reflecting back to this day, I was at my appointment with her and as usual she had the don’t care attitude. I explained to her how I was feeling, and about the fluid. She knew I went up to the hospital days before and said to me that if there was an issue, they would have found it and acted on it and if they were worried they would have kept me in. She thought I was probably just sick, had the flu or something coming on. If the baby wasn’t okay, she would be able to tell by his heart rate (which was normal up until he was cut out). When I told her I was considering returning to the birth suite she said that it’d be a waste of time and that I should go to my GP to see why I felt so unwell. I was pretty upset, I knew deep down I didn’t feel quite right, that something was wrong. I hated that no one took me seriously, but at the same time I didn’t want to be pushy because I am self-conscious about seeming over dramatic. This isn't the first time she behaved this way towards me when I'd come to her with problems.
My day was made when Chris called and said he was on his way home. He was leaving work early to come care for me. I knew that the last thing he needed to deal with was me being sick while he was at work so I tried my hardest to refrain from making a big deal to him this whole time. I’d tell him I didn’t feel right but as much as I tried to not make a fuss he must have known I needed him and his help with the kids; so he drove home immediately. Through the night I had the sweating and shivering, and again throwing up my Panadol.
Day 6. Tuesday the 21st of February. I was only 29 weeks pregnant and not due until the 8th of May. When I woke up that morning I didn’t expect to be having a baby that night. I woke up to a pad soaked in fluid. That’s when I knew. I phoned the birth suite and they told me to come up immediately.
On our way up to the hospital I started talking to Chris saying ‘it probably is something gross like normal discharge but a lot of it’. I tried to convince myself it was anything but my waters. We arrive and exactly like the last time I was put in a room, strapped to machines and told to lay flat on my back for half an hour or so until the doctor would come around and do an internal. This time there was a couple of doctors and nurses in the room. The female Dr did an internal examination. The look on her face is probably something I’ll never forget. Along with the tone in her voice. “Yep, that’s definitely your waters” she says as she’s looking and as she pulled the duck bill out I could feel even more water leaking out, like a huge gush.
They then did another ultrasound to confirm how much fluid was actually missing. It was the weirdest thing to see, my baby in there not surrounded by anything. There was no water. It was like the Sahara desert in there. I had a few tears in my eyes, I felt bad for him. Like, what has my body done?
She began to say that I wasn’t going home anytime soon, that the baby could come tonight or in three weeks time despite my waters having broken. You could tell she didn’t want me to freak out, but I knew that he wasn’t going to stay in there any longer than a day, I knew he was coming out as soon as possible. She gave us heaps of information of what was likely going to happen from now onward. I don’t remember exactly what conversations happened and when, I only remember little bits. The day was so full on, with so much information thrown at us that I didn’t even have time to absorb it all or really feel any sort of emotions right away. This is when they notice my blood pressure going up, but they put that down to a reaction from being told that my baby was coming early.
Everyone left the room and Chris and I looked at each other like ‘oh my god’. I don’t even remember what words were spoken between us to be honest. I just remember us trying to organise someone to have our kids for the night. I had the male doctor come in and cannulate me and have steroids injected to help my son’s lungs get stronger. They had planned on giving me a few doses but I only got to have the one as he came sooner than expected.
Chris leaves to get the girls from school early and drop them off at his mums. While he was gone, the doctor apologised for having to sell me this while Chris wasn’t here. She went on to say that she had discussed my situation with the other doctors and they had all agreed that I needed to be induced as soon as Chris comes back. Once Chris arrived, they move me to a room where I’d potentially be giving birth. They hooked me up to start the induction. The next few hours go by so quickly. I have slight contractions throughout this time but nothing too intense. The doctors said I needed to dilate relatively quickly (I’m positive they only gave me a window of 4 hours to be fully dilated). Within this time the nurses noticed they had to slow the induction down because Maddox wasn’t reacting well to it.
Given I was only 29 weeks pregnant and about to give birth 11 weeks early, the NICU doctors come in to introduce themselves and explain everything to me. They were so informative and didn’t sugar coat anything. They were upfront and told me what to expect in both the best and worst case scenarios. I’m not sure of what the time was by this point, maybe 8 pm? Either way it had only been 3 hours since the start of the induction when a doctor comes in to check how dilated I was. Nothing had changed in 3 hours and my blood pressure was still going up, so they decided it’d be best to do an emergency C-section.
I didn’t really have any emotion. I didn’t panic. I didn’t cry. I didn’t get excited. One of my biggest fears was having a C-section, but it didn’t even bother me in this moment. Chris got dressed up in his scrubs, me in my gown and off we went. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it’d be, the staff were amazing. I got wheeled into the operating theatre on my bed without Chris, he was made to wait outside until I had been hooked up to everything, and Mel couldn’t see me until I was in the recovery room.
In comes Chris, he sits by my head and holds my hand as I tell him that ‘this all feels like a dream’. Then one of the nurses takes my camera and takes a few pics for us. Out came baby Maddox. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him. In that moment I cried. One of the things the doctors told me was that if he cries right away that it’s a good sign. I cried, because he cried. Chris had to leave me immediately to go with Maddox. I was in the room getting stitched up while the surgeon leans over and says he is glad he made the decision to do a C-section and that I wouldn’t have been able to deliver him naturally anyway as he had just discovered that I had a placental abruption. My placenta had moved away from the side of my cervix.
I was still getting stitched up when Chris comes running back into me, he has the biggest smile on his face. He looked the happiest I have ever seen him. He was saying “he is doing good, he is so good”, while showing me pictures he took of Maddox. Then in he comes, wrapped up with a beanie on, his face all smooshy and his lips so beautiful. He didn’t even look 11 weeks premature. He looked like a newborn baby only way tinier. I had this horrible image that he would practically still have a tail and see through skin. No, he was perfect. I asked Chris if he got to name him and he said he did, that he gave the only name we could agree on; Maddox Charles.
They told me to give him a kiss and then they took him away with Chris again. I was told if Maddox wasn’t doing that good when he was born that I wouldn’t get to see him right away, but I did. It almost felt as though I was at full term having a c-section. Everything felt relatively normal. For that moment anyway…
Before going to the maternity ward to recover, Mel made sure I was able to stop by and visit Maddox in NICU first. I couldn’t really see him too well through the isollette, I didn’t even feel overwhelmed seeing him with all of the leads on him. It still hadn’t hit me yet. The next few days kind of blur into one. I don’t really remember much of what happened. I remember being in pain and being refused pain killers and Mel yelling at the nurse to get me morphine. I remember Chris being with me every moment he possibly could, and with Maddox every moment he wasn’t.
I felt out of the loop, what was even going on? Was it because I couldn’t get sleep because I was having observations every hour and trying to express milk for Maddox in between? Why are the doctors asking if I have pain in certain parts of my stomach? I was pumped full of antibiotics because they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had 3 different types of antibiotics. The surgeon even said they might need to cut me open again to scrape out an infection. It wasn’t an infection though the tests came back negative. What the hell was it? I convinced myself that I felt fine, I literally thought the way I was feeling was to be expected after major surgery.
They soon decided to move me from the maternity ward back to the birth suite so I could have closer observation. Here I was having observations every half hour, and finger pricks too. I had ultrasounds and CT scans. I don’t even remember being told what they picked up from these scans. One morning I even had to have a bone marrow sample taken. I was so scared by this point. Chris wasn’t there, but he was on his way up to see me. I had all these doctors practically having a conference in front of me about what they should do with me, discussing what condition it could be amongst themselves. The haematologist was phoned to come up to the hospital. The doctor who then performed the bone marrow was also rushed up to me. Why the hell did they need bone marrow? They suspected I had a condition called HLH, I showed all the symptoms, so they needed to send bone marrow to Melbourne to confirm. This had to be done as soon as possible because if I did have HLH, that is a serious condition requiring urgent chemo as a treatment. I was then moved to the intensive care unit and I was in and out of consciousness by this point. The moment I realized I was pumped full of so much medication was the moment I finally got to visit Maddox and they had a list of all the medications up on the wall. They had to keep track because it could pass through my breast milk on to him. The steroids helped me recover, I didn’t end up needing chemo. But was it HLH? Or was it a pregnancy condition called HELLP.
I finally started to make sense of how seriously ill I was. I had a blood condition, it wasn’t clotting. My platelet count was all kinds of messed up, people had to wear masks around me so I wouldn’t get sick. I had to have 5 bags of plasma transfusions. A normal healthy liver should be in the 60s. Mine was in the 6000s. Yep, that’s REALLY bad. At one point there was discussion of flying me to Brisbane, for specialist treatment.
I miraculously recovered and got to go home but left my little baby boy behind. He weighed 1.4 kgs at birth and had no major issues with being born prematurely. He was a real fighter and did so well until the day he got to come home. He spent 3 months in hospital and is now a thriving happy and healthy two year old who is measuring in the 90th percentile for his height!"
Thank you, Charlene for sharing your story.
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