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Natalie Burridge: My birth story

One mother’s battle with pre-eclampsia through pregnancy

Author Natalie Burridge
Categories   Birth Stories

The Edit

[TW: This article discusses pre-eclampsia and may be triggering for some readers.]

We found out we were expecting our baby girl in October 2019, with an expected due date of May 1st. My pregnancy was extremely smooth to start with and we couldn’t wait for every scan just to see her again. Little flutters soon turned into kicks and I could tell she was going to be strong. And strong she is.

One evening I started to feel a bit unwell in a way I couldn’t really explain, other than the odd pain in my ribs and breathless after walking up the stairs. I dismissed it for a while, as I was growing a little human after all.

We went to the walk-in centre and the doctor asked for a urine sample. Once the tests were complete he told me to get to triage immediately, and said he’d call ahead as I had extremely high levels of protein – which I later discovered meant I had severe pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia affects the arteries carrying blood to the placenta. If the placenta doesn't get enough blood, the baby receives inadequate blood, oxygen and fewer nutrients. This can cause preterm birth, and pregnancy loss or stillbirth. In some cases, severe pre-eclampsia can lead to organ failure or stroke and seizures for the mother.

Fast forward to a two-week blur – 24/7 monitoring, consultations, growth scans, frequent bloods taken, blood pressure medication and strict hospital bed rest. With an extreme amount of swelling, my body was in so much pain. If you pushed on my skin, it would take 30-40 seconds before the dent disappeared.

Headaches, blurred vision and just breathing was becoming increasingly painful. My observation was every four hours and through the night midwives would come and wake me for bloods and check my pressure. Every single one of them became increasingly worried about my swelling and the future for both me and my baby.

My blood pressure medicine maintained a steady reading for most of the time, then I would have what they called a ‘spell’ where it rocketed. My heart would be thumping, panic would set in and it felt like everything was chaotic for a good 20 minutes. Alarms went off and the hospital staff rushed in and attended to me. Then baby’s heart rate would dramatically drop for a few moments.

Once this had happened twice, we were told her due date would more than likely be April (a month early) as whilst my body fought to fend off the pre-eclampsia, the levels of protein leaking from my blood were getting higher.

I was woken up on Wednesday 18th March at around 3am by my midwife, Hollie, who informed me I was no longer going in a flat line direction. I was deteriorating every day and keeping the baby in was going to be a struggle. I was only 33+2 weeks, so I was to have steroid injections to help the baby’s lungs mature.

They gave me these injections in my thighs, split over 24 hours. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammation medicines that help the baby's lungs to mature before being born. They are usually given to women at risk of early labour and they were extremely painful, but as long as it helped my baby that was all that mattered. I was scared and remember sitting there thinking, even though I was about to become a mum I just wanted my own mum. Becoming a parent makes you appreciate your parents on a whole new level.

On the outside Covid was becoming a continuous fear, the numbers of infections and deaths were going through the roof. Restrictions were coming into play at the hospital meaning only the same one person could visit. Luckily I was able to see my mum once before this change, but after that my partner was only allowed to visit for an hour a day. All I could think about was the birth chapter I skipped in all my baby books. Birth plan? What’s the point, the baby decides anyway, right? How wrong I was – in my case, pre-eclampsia decided for us.

That Friday morning another ‘spell’ happened and this was the worst one yet. They took me down to the delivery suite just to be on the safe side. At 9pm, just as Harry was leaving and visiting hour was over, the door opened followed by 11 people – nurses, doctors, an anaesthetist, consultant obstetrician, paediatrician, several assistants.

“We’re delivering this baby now. We’ve been monitoring extra closely and in the last two hours your figures have dropped dangerously. We must act now. We can’t hold off anymore.”

It sounds scary and dramatic but it wasn’t – it was surprisingly calm. For 2.5 weeks it had all been unknown and now there was a plan. I quickly called my mum to tell her everything and absorbed her words of wisdom, as heartbreakingly Covid restrictions prevented her from being there.

At 9.30am I was already in the bright, cold and sterile theatre. Thankfully my midwife from the very start, Hollie, decided to work past her shift and promised to stay with us every step of the way. It took an extremely skilled anaesthetist over 30 mins to get the epidural in, due to my severe swelling.

The blue curtain was up and we were ready, staring at the clock wondering what time she’d be delivered. After what felt like an eternity of tugging and pulling, my surgeon said: “She’s small.”

Then, after one last tug, we saw her – our tiny baby girl all pink with long legs, taken straight to be wrapped up and given oxygen, but that’s when we heard her cry. It was the best sound ever and a total relief. Her daddy cut the cord and we managed a quick picture before she was whisked away to NICU as she was born at 3lbs 15oz. I then spent two hours in recovery, but I had done it, my baby girl was safe.

I stayed in the delivery suite for two more days on oxygen, a magnesium drip and morphine as the pre-eclampsia started to leave my body. My surgeon came in and congratulated me and said any longer and they don’t believe my daughter or I would be here. My magnesium drip was really cranked up, which makes you feel like you’re next to the sun, and you’re restricted to 30ml of water every five hours until pre-eclampsia has gone.

When I woke up the next day, Harry had already been able to visit our daughter in her incubator in NICU, so he took photos on my phone for me. Midwives switched two small pieces of fabric between us every few hours so she could smell me and I could smell her. She was doing really well and didn’t need oxygen for more than a day. After 48 hours she was moved out of Level 3 Intensive Care and into Level 2 Special Care.
My first official cuddle was on Mothering Sunday, my first Mother’s Day. There is no feeling like it in the world, holding my precious tiny girl. Navigating around all the wires was tricky but she was here thriving and most importantly safe.

When I look back at that two-week stay, I remember how exhausting and incredibly lonely it was to sit on your own night after night and watch your daughter from her plastic castle. And in those blurry early days, how hard it is to ask permission to hold your own baby. To watch somebody else change her nappy, to watch a stranger feed her via her feeding tube was even harder.

Fast forward to April 2022 and our perfect, clever, funny, strong two-year-old girl is the perfect mix of me and her daddy. She has taught me true happiness – if it wasn't for her I wouldn't be as strong as I am now. I feel like a new piece of me was born that day too. To see everything through her eyes is just magic.

Author Natalie Burridge

After battling pre-eclampsia during her pregnancy, Natalie Burridge shares her story to help and support other mothers-to-be on the same journey. 

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