My heart was pounding. I looked down at the pregnancy test, mentally preparing myself for what I would see. And there it was: “2-3 weeks pregnant”.
I had already known from the moment I’d conceived, however this didn’t waver my shock or excitement. I was sat in a Sainsbury’s toilet cubicle in Salford, with the rest of my life vividly playing out in my mind. I had just finished university and was on my way to meet my husband for a conference at the University of Manchester. I had to tell him, but didn’t want to wait till I got home. How could I hold in my excitement for a full 3 hours?! Instead, I asked him to meet me in the girls’ area of the prayer room at Manchester Metropolitan University, and he begrudgingly did so!
This memory, like many others throughout my pregnancy, will never be forgotten.
I was 20 weeks pregnant and lying on a hospital bed being prepped for my second scan. I and the husband had already decided we wanted the sex of the baby to be a surprise, so we didn’t ask. Yet there was another surprise of which I wasn’t expecting. The midwife informed me that I had a low-lying placenta, a symptom formally known as “Placenta Previa”. She encouragingly told me not to worry, yet telling an expectant mother not to worry is like telling the weather to go easy with the rain in Manchester. I also had this odd feeling from the tone of her voice that Placenta Previa was something serious, and a little far from the norm for a first pregnancy.
Being a journalist, it is my job to look up information on different subjects on a day-to-day basis. As soon as I sat back in my husband’s car I looked up the term straight away, even though I had been booked in for a meeting with the consultant at 32 weeks.
It was as I feared, if not worse. I read all the definitions, statistics and personal accounts on Placenta Previa. However, it was something I felt I could deal with. “It is normal at this stage in your pregnancy” a lot of specialists had told me. One gynaecologist who was visiting my mother when I was 25 weeks told me it is common at this stage of any pregnancy, and that it will “sort itself out”. I heard this term many times, so many times to the point where I had all but forgotten about my low-lying placenta, and thought it really would sort itself out and not get any worse. I still ask myself about whether I am right in being so bitter about how things turned out, or if it was because everyone I spoke to told me I would be okay.
95% of cases with placenta previa are lucky enough for the placentas to move. This is naturally caused by the baby growing and, in turn, the placenta moving away from the cervix allowing the mother to have a natural delivery. Cases of low-lying placenta or similar means you are unable to give birth naturally. This condition also affects a lot more than what is just written on the internet, and this is what I slowly learned during my pregnancy.
Because I had a low-lying placenta which was discovered from 20 weeks, wearing anything that had a slight waist band or anything similar was a no-go. I was rendered incapable of wearing any type of maternity pants or jeans, no matter how loose. Everything was uncomfortable. I was lucky enough for the weather to be quite nice throughout my pregnancy, as this meant it was warm enough to wear dresses. I had one dress which I bought from a shopping centre close to my university. I brought it, and changed my clothes in the stores’ changing room due to feeling so uncomfortable. The strap around my new size 12 jeans were just too tight. I was originally a size 8.
Other problems it created was feeling as though I couldn’t really discuss my pregnancy, like it was something taboo that there was something wrong with my placenta. I felt as though speaking about it would raise suspicion about me having done something towards my body or my baby that caused me to have this condition. Surely enough, I had told some people who were very close to me early on that I was Suffering from this complication. “It is because you were doing such and such”. No to-be mother wants to hear that their baby’s life and theirs is now in danger from something they did. Suffice to say the only support I had received was from my husband – who repeatedly told me that I was not responsible for the situation I was in.
I had been so upset by this statement from others, that to be sure that It wasn’t my fault that I had placenta previa, I looked it up online for the causes, and was immediately put at ease. Though making me search thoroughly for the causes put more questions in my mind. Some of the facts were that you were more likely to have placenta previa if you had had a precious miscarriage; a previous caesarian; drug abuse; old age and other internal problems. None of which I had. I was 25 years old, what wished for a normal water birth, yet it seemed this was too much to ask.
As above mentioned, I had been told so many times that my placenta would rise enabling me to have a normal birth. By 32 weeks – before my consultant appointment – I was scheduled in for another scan. “Let’s just get this over and done with” I thought, thinking that my placenta would be fine. The midwife frowned while looked at the screen. “It’s lower than it was”. I had never felt the feeling of my world coming crashing down. It’s like I was plunged into a cold dark lake where all the hope had been suffocated out of me. I was speechless and tearing up in front of my husband and the midwife. I quickly wiped myself from the cold gel on my stomach and jumped off the bed. While my husband went back into the waiting room, I ran into the corridor and balled my eyes out hoping no one would see.
The doctors had previously told me that if my placenta was in the same position that I would have to be admitted into hospital because the risk of me bleeding out would be too high from this many weeks. No one mentioned that it could get worse. My placenta was now completely covering my cervix, which meant I had what is formally known as “complete placenta previa”. From what the doctors told my at the consultation post 32-week scan, that the placenta itself now had a 2% chance of moving, and that most likely it would be better for me to start preparing myself for a c-section birth. The doctor then booked me in for a 34 week scan and a 36 week scan. The additional scans would just be to see how close to my placenta was to my cervix; if they had to cut through and if it had moved at all (as there was still very little chance).
In my 34-week scan, the doctors had noticed that the growth of the baby was not as it was. So they now had to do more regular scans to check if the baby was okay. At 36 weeks I was admitted into hospital. I came bright and early for my scan (which was not near my last) and had a suitcase of my clothes, books, shoes and other bits and bobs to keep me occupied throughout my stay in the hospital. I had been booked in for a c-section at 29 weeks – yet this date had been moved to 28 weeks due to the growth of the baby. My doctors’ conclusion was that it was just too dangerous for the baby to remain inside my womb. It was as if I was taking one pinch after another with this pregnancy.
My birth story – which is also very long and detailed – is something I will leave for another blog post. Let’s just say for now that I never made it to 28 weeks.
Looking back now – with a beautiful, happy and healthy six month-old daughter – I can honestly say that if people weren’t as nice to me, it probably would have helped me prepare for what was to come. The sugar-coating definition of placenta previa which I was given from doctors and strangers had me living in a fairy-tale where all things are merry. I wish someone had told me that things could go very wrong – yet everything will be fine. Instead of this, I heard this everything will be fine and normal and you will have it easy. This was not an easy experience and not one I will forget ever. I will have more children, yet my fear of having placenta previa again will always be there. I will be holding my breath for next time and I will expect the worst in order to prepare myself.
And one more thing – there is not enough information about placenta previa online. 1 in 200 women suffer from this condition yet it is not taken as seriously as it should be. In my research, I found that some hospitals aren’t even equipped in dealing with this type of complication. It is not treated as severe as pre-eclampsia yet sometimes the worst of placenta previa can also lead to death. One is more common than the other yet this is not an excuse for one to be given more awareness over the other. I also found that some specialists didn’t even know about this condition. I am just glad that I didn’t have to explain to a doctor about what it was – like some women had to. Though it was always difficult explaining what it was to others – which is why in the end, I didn’t confide in anyone except my husband. It just became too personal. And in my culture, people try to put two and two together. “It’s because she ate this”. Please.
Below are some of the links listen for various groups offering support. These groups mainly contain women who are going through the same thing. What helped me the most is knowing I was not alone.
Many of these groups are closed so you may be required to ask to join.
*Image obtained from Facebook group page.