I have always felt a bit apprehensive when it came to the topic of having children. Don’t get me wrong – I have always loved kids but the sheer thought of the responsibility, loss of social life/financial freedom etc terrified me. So, when I did find out that me and my husband were expecting, my initial go to reaction was to have a semi-mini meltdown. After a few pep talks with the hubby and multiple bowls of pepper soup, my nervousness subsided and my excitement grew.
We spent the majority of our pregnancy planning and preparing ourselves for our new life as parents, from moving to a new apartment, taking antenatal classes, and reading any pregnancy/birth related books (I was shook when my husband came home with a book, he usually reserves his reading to be car based material only!) We did our best to prepare for the arrival of our son. Aside from a mild UTI (urinary tract infection – pretty standard) in my third trimester, and a mild form of pregnancy related anaemia everything was pretty routine, and my pregnancy was considered low risk.
My problems started around the time I reached my due date, I couldn’t place my finger on it but something seemed off. I didn’t know if it was the strain of carrying a full-term baby, or the extreme summer heat but day by day his movements began to change quite drastically. After the second visit to the hospital in the space of a week for lack of movement, the decision was made to induce me (I was full term at this point). My nerves went into high gear, I was coming to the finish line but the hardest part was the bit that came next.
My son Leo was born at 01:14 on the 23/06/2017, via emergency caesarean section under general anaesthetic. He was unconscious and had undiagnosed Group B Strep (GBS) infection at birth, I distinctly remember being told by the medical staff that they realised I had an infection as soon as they opened me up due to the smell. Usually GBS is a non problematic bacteria carried by both men and women, and is commonly found in the gut/rectum but can also be found in the vagina. The issue with GBS arises with pregnant women as the infection can then spread to the baby and causes them to become very – if not severely ill with some cases resulting in brain damage (due to fits) sepsis and unfortunately can cause for some babies to be born stillborn. Due to his poor condition at the time, he was immediately rushed to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) where he spent the next nine days recovering. My labour is still such a blur to me, there had been no inkling or sign that I was suffering from this infection, but I do remember distinctly feeling like I was running a temperature at some point. Unfortunately the pain was so intense at this point (and I was sucking on that gas and air for dear life once my contractions fully kicked in) I wasn’t capable of mentioning anything to anyone. Besides, I half-assumed it was labour related anyway.
Waking up to be told that of the condition of my son was undoubtedly the scariest experience of my life. There are no words to measure the level of shock, or fear that I felt in that precise moment – I was completely blindsided with the information given to us, being told that he didn’t breathe for 10 minutes, that the next 24 hours were crucial along with the possible short/long side effects. Throughout our pregnancy we had not been warned or informed of the possibility of GBS, and although we consider ourselves extremely lucky that Leo has been able to make a full recovery, unfortunately the same cannot be said for some other families affected by GBS.
My aim in sharing this is not to instil fear but to spread awareness, as most people I have come across have near to no knowledge of this condition. GBS has near to no symptoms at all but is treatable if discovered beforehand. It is the leading cause of severe bacterial infections and meningitis in babies under 3 months within the UK, yet we are one of the few developed countries to not routinely run tests on pregnant women. Recent changes in the last year have meant that it is now being recommended that all pregnant women are provided with an information leaflet on GBS but it will be a while before this fully integrated at all the NHS trusts.
Tests are available to buy privately online for £35, and as July is GBS awareness month there is currently a £5 discount. For more information go to https://gbss.org.uk/.
Written by Valerie Adiukwu