Pregnant and itchy, a dangerous combo - my birth stories
At thirty weeks pregnant, I had a bit of a scare the past week: my feet had started to itch and before I knew it, I was on the maternity ward having blood drawn and on the monitor. In my last two pregnancies I was induced at 37 weeks for obstetric cholestasis, a rather less-known condition but with its dangers none-the-less.
Hi, doctor, my feet itch
I was pregnant with Elliot about the same time of year as I now am with our third baby. (I was due August 13th and this time I’m due Sept 5th) It was a hot week in July, when I noticed a bizarre feeling on the soles of my feet. They were itchy but there was nothing to be seen, the skin wasn’t dry or red or whatever. I thought nothing of it, maybe it’s the heat and moreover, I had been itchy before in this pregnancy. In the first months my legs and belly had been very itchy and that had just passed and been a typical pregnancy ailment apparently. On the third day, I decided to leave my gynecologist a message. I’d be seeing her another three days later so I didn’t wan’t to bother her for something simple as itchy feet but the feeling was quite peculiar and so that’s what I told her on voicemail: “I know this is going to sound weird, aaaaand it’s probably nothing but,… my feet and sometimes hands are feeling a little itchy.” I usually hear back from her within 24 hours but this time I didn’t. I took it as good news, and figured I’d be seeing her later that week anyway.
We’d be holding our baby only a day later!
At my 37 week appointment, all was well. Elliot was still up high in my belly and nowhere near planning on coming out, so we’d probably still be seeing each other two weeks later, the doctor said. We were about to say our goodbyes, when suddenly I remembered and told her about the somewhat funny message I had left her. “What message?”, she asked. She had been away at a convention and had, uncharacteristically, missed that voicemail. She was calm and advised us to drive home past a lab to have a blood sample taken. We’d have the results the same day. She had been so calm, that we had no idea we’d be holding our firstborn only a day later!
We came home, and I took the best nap ever. There was still some work to be done: the baby’s announcement cards and treats weren’t completely finished and I hadn’t packed my bag yet, but after this consultation I was confident I still had some time on my hands. When I woke up, Bart told me to sit down: “Honey, there’s no reason to panic but, we’re going to pack and go to the hospital now. We’re having our baby tonight.” For the next half an hour I bawled my eyes out. He had had a call from the doctor while I had been sleeping and she had told him to let me sleep but to check in at the maternity ward by 8pm. My results showed that my liver was struggling to eliminate waste products. This would become dangerous for the baby, once they started to pile up. This wasn’t the case yet but at this stage there was no predicting how fast things would progress, so the standard procedure with obstetric cholestasis is to induce after 37 weeks.
Epidural for the win!
After I had calmed down, I called the doctor myself with some questions about induction. I had been preparing for a natural birth, taking Bart to specialized yoga sessions with me, but was this birth plan one I could still stick to now? She was reassuring and told me the decision was mine but, that with how high up Elliot still was and my body still shut tight, this would be a long delivery and being induced in my case would be quite painful. She advised me to ask for an epidural and gave me the best advice I still give moms myself: it’s not the way you deliver the baby that matters, it’s what you do after that. You’ll be a mom and you’ll need your energy then. I’m not one to argue with that, so when we checked in at the hospital an hour later, I immediately informed the midwives I’d be going for an epidural.
On our way over to the hospital, I called my mom. “Okay honey, sounds good- keep me updated and we’ll talk later. Bye!”. I turned over to Bart and told him I didn’t think my mom had quite understood what I had just said. She was so calm!? Then my phone rang: “Wait, honey, did I understand this right,…?” And there my mom was at the other end of the line, crying by the delicatessen isle at the grocery store, the news sinking in.
At the hospital I was given a balloon and a pill (forgive me, I’ve forgotten the exact order of events). I remember crossing the hallway from that room to mine and suddenly getting the craziest pain jolt out of my life. Was this what a contraction was really like? I was impressed and disappointed, I would be getting an epidural within two hours - when the anesthesiologist would be finishing his rounds, so I knew this was going to be over soon but I would never have been able to deliver a baby without an epidural! What had I been thinking? “How naive have I been?”, I thought while I doubled up from the excruciating pain. Then a midwife consoled me. Of course I could have done this, she explained. In this type of induction you go from nothing to a hundred. My body hadn’t had the time to respond with the necessary hormones to help me through it, as it would have when things had built up slowly.
There he was
When I got the epidural, my body immediately relaxed and Bart and I finished up the announcement cards, and packed candy treats. Stuck address stickers on envelopes and stamped the evening away. We had a relatively calm night of sleep. Of course our sleep was interrupted a lot to check the monitor and things but not much was moving until well into the next day. At 15 PM, my water was broken and three pushes later, I pulled Elliot onto my chest. (Kardashian style, I’ve been told. I always get surprised reactions to this, but when the doctor asked I didn’t hesitate and I thought it was beautiful.) He was gorgeous, and my worries about having an earlier birth, faded. He was a 3,320 kg and 51 cm at 37 weeks and 3 days. Afterwards I did mourn the idea of the delivery I had had in my head: one without medication and with me using my mommy instincts. However, I didn’t feel too bad about it too long. This too had been a wonderful experience. One I had been very present in and I had had such a “good” epidural. I had felt everything, could move my legs, even had the feeling I could just get up and walk around (which I could’ t have really though). I was able to feel the contractions and push at exactly the right time. I just hadn’t felt the pain.
Elliot was healthy but did show signs of his preterm birth
Elliot was beaming with health, there were however, some signs of his early birth. Elliot was a little yellow (actually it looked more like a tan:p), I was given the advice to breastfeed him as much a I could, he would literally drink the yellow away. We were also told to often put him by the window or in natural sunlight. (A few weeks later, his skin color was completely normal).
Another sign was that he did have a good sucking reflex but he didn’t have the stamina to drink long enough. Therefore we had a difficult start breastfeeding, but with the good advice at the hospital and mommy instincts taking over, we made it. It did, however, set the trend for a rather difficult feeding and sleeping parcours. (read more here and here).
When she visited us later on her rounds, the gynecologist told me that there was a 40% chance for this to reoccur in a next pregnancy. Bart asked her to come back the next day, to talk to me again because I had a bit of a breakdown later that night, thinking it was irresponsible for us to ever have any other children. Luckily, those were the hormones talking and the doctor stressed that this was no reason not to have any other babies. In the majority of the cases, 37 weeks is reached and if not that there is medication to prolong the pregnancy.
The postnatal weeks were amazing on the one hand. Besides feeling like I’d run a marathon my body bounced back, it seems, even before I left the hospital and we were on cloud nine with our gorgeous, little baby boy. On the other hand, it was clear to me that Elliot would have rather still been in my tummy. We were inseparable and I was feeding him constantly. In between feedings, I was pumping to give him what was only like 10ml from a cup. (this was nerve-racking but the cutest sight! We jokingly compared it to feeding a baby bat. His tongue would come out and he’d lick up the milk). After three weeks of this, Elliot was a strong, alert baby and breastfeeding and sleeping slipped into a bit more of a routine. Albeit, a routine of two hours,…
Happy birthday, you’re pregnant again!
Although obstetric cholestasis only presents itself during pregnancy and there is no problem with my liver whatsoever outside of pregnancy, it was advised to steer away from several ways of birth control. The best option was an IUD but with our wish of having another baby with two to three years, it seemed a less interesting option and so we decided to just “take care”. In comes Amelia,…:p
When Elliot was 9 months old, I was getting ready for a day of birthday celebrations, when I was holding a positive pregnancy test. We were baffled, the first time around we had tried for a while and now there it was a beaming plus! It was quick but we were so happy!
At 37 weeks, I was telling my colleagues at our housewarming, that I was pretty sure I had dodged the cholestasis bullet this time! The next morning, I was coming down the stairs and noticed myself liking the feeling of my feet gliding over the steps,… oh no: I was itching!
Copy-paste Elliot’s birth story minus the anxiety, really. We called our families, Barts mom picked up Elliot and took a last picture of us as a family of three. I was induced at 9 PM and good that Bart decided to stay because it didn’t take as long as it had done with Elliot. This time my water broke spontaneously. Bart was sleeping in a pullout bed next to me, when suddenly, it was like someone stood over us and popped a giant water balloon. We sprang up and were both covered in what, after a few seconds, we realized was amniotic fluid!
At 5 AM I pulled our little Amelia onto my chest. (Call me Kim :p) Again after a very peaceful and nice delivery. At 37 weeks and 6 days, she was 3,550 kg and 49 cm. It seemed to me that those few extra days had in my tummy had done her good. She wasn’t yellow and was a good eater. This time breastfeeding went easily. Amelia was a very calm and peaceful baby and although I still believed in holding her close as much as possible, I only now understood what a baby pen was for. With Elliot I had never been able to really use it, as he would get unhappy and nervous left alone.
Today, at thirty weeks pregnant
I sit here writing this, feeling our little girl’s kicks and rubbing my feet over the floor. They really do seem a bit itchy. The first results I got on Wednesday were good: so my liver is not under any stress yet. However, Monday’s bile acid results could still show an increase.
I hope I’m not right, and that nothing’s the matter yet, but I do have the feeling that next week we’ll be talking about extra consultations and medicine to prolong this pregnancy till al least 35 weeks and hopefully 37.
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