I always wanted a family of my own, but after being diagnosed with endometriosis in 2011, I knew my chances of conceiving naturally were slim. Mark and I had agreed that we wanted children, but if it didn’t happen, we were fine with that too. We had decided to avoid contraception with the view that if we did conceive, we should be thankful regardless of the timing or the circumstances, but after 6 years of being together and still no baby, we brushed the topic aside.
In October 2016 we got married in New York. Soon after, we discussed our options with a doctor as we had decided that we definitely wanted to start our own family and would try anything to make it happen. At the beginning of 2017, I underwent a second laparoscopy to remove any visible endometriosis and undergo a dye test to check for fallopian tube blockages which could have been contributing to my lack of fertility. After all the necessary checks had been done, we began hormone treatment.
The day I found out I was pregnant
I was naive to begin with and thought I’d be pregnant within a month or so, but instead, every month became a predictable, painstaking form of torture.
The month would start with a phone call to the Assisted Reproduction Unit (ARU) to inform them my period had begun, I’d then be called in for a scan at around day 3 and given FSH injections to be administered daily at home. I would have a follow-up scan at around day 10 to check on the progress of the follicles, a few more days of injections if needed and a further scan. If too many follicles had grown, we had to cancel the cycle at the risk of multiples. If the follicles and the endometrium lining were both of the right sizes, we were given an HCG injection to help release the eggs, and told to have sex for the next few days – romantic!
Almost every month I would do a pregnancy test, certain that the twinge in my belly was different from the previous month, or that the headache I was feeling must be linked to pregnancy. When no pink line showed I’d convince myself the test was faulty, and often do two or three… and then my period would arrive, and the vicious cycle would start again.
After 15 months of treatment, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t pregnant – I didn’t smoke, I barely drank, I ate well and exercised regularly, so why wasn’t it happening? Friends and family members were getting pregnant, some without even trying. I struggled with my reactions as part of me was happy for them, but there was also a part of me that was so deeply jealous.
We spoke to the doctor about IVF and had decided to give it a go after one more month of injections. On Friday 13th April my period arrived, I rang ARU and followed the steps we were all too familiar with. On Thursday 26th April I administered my HCG injection and went to bed. All weekend I couldn’t bring myself to engage in intercourse, I had gone so far passed frustration I just didn’t care anymore. We both knew it wasn’t going to do anything, but out of feeling guilty for not even trying, we had intercourse on Monday 30th April.
I had the odd dizzy day, headaches and a weird ‘feeling’ but I knew this was most likely my period on the way. On Wednesday 16th May, 2 days before my period was due, I had a morning nap at around 11am – that was not like me. Could I be? Am I…pregnant? When Mark returned home, I immediately did a pregnancy test… OH. MY. GOD - IT’S WORKED! I burst out crying and kept staring at the very prominent pink line. I’m pregnant. I looked at Mark and we burst out laughing, I’m not sure what we found funny at that exact moment, but his face is an expression I won’t ever forget.
The first hospital admission for Hyperemisis
I have decided that anybody who says pregnancy is amazing is either lying or very, very fortunate.
At just 5 weeks pregnant, I was pale, shaky, weak and vomiting approximately 30 – 40 times a day. I remember thinking ‘wow, mums are bad-ass to deal with morning sickness’, little did I know I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) - a pregnancy complication characterised by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and possible dehydration. Just my luck.
If you’ve ever had a hangover so crippling you can’t physically move, you can probably imagine what HG feels like. The only difference? You know you’re going to feel exactly the same the next day, and most likely the day after that too.
Even with anti-sickness tablets, the vomiting was so bad, some days I just stayed on the bathroom floor. I couldn’t keep anything down, even water. At just 10 weeks pregnant I was hospitalised due to dehydration and given IV fluids for a week. I returned home with alternative anti-sickness medication and the realisation that this pregnancy was going to suck.
I had migraines almost daily and struggled to navigate my way around the house without sunglasses and a hand glued to my head. At about 4 months, I’d had enough - this pregnancy was taking it out of me, physically, mentally and emotionally. I could no longer cope. I had a lengthy conversation with Mark about whether I could continue with the pregnancy – it was just that bad. After almost two years of hormone treatment, I absolutely knew I wanted the baby so these feelings must be due to increased hormones and severe sickness. I can do this.
Going in for our 20-week scan was both exciting and nerve-wracking. Our priority was making sure the baby was healthy, but we were also both keen to find out the sex of the baby. We had already agreed on names, were we going to have a Beatrice or were we going to have a Max? After a few star-jumps and prods from the sonographer, the baby finally showed us what we needed to see. It’s a girl! I felt an overwhelming feeling of love for the first time and was more anxious than ever to meet her – especially after the crap she’d put me through so far!
We had heard of Hypnobirthing and were quite open to trying it, anything to make the birth easier seemed like a good idea at this point. May and Jan, who run the classes, taught us how to induce deep relaxation using breathing techniques, visualisation and reading scripts to help have an easier, quicker labour.
We were as prepared as we could be. We had been practicing the breathing techniques, Mark had been reading scripts to me, and I had been using my birthing ball religiously. My birthing preference included staying at home for as long as possible, followed by a natural pool birth. I understood that the pool may not be available, so I had also prepared for a standing birth. We had playlists ready, and a list of snacks the length of my arm. Suffice to say, when you are advised to have a backup plan, make 2 or 3!
As my due date of 18th January approached, I was feeling fed up and so done with pregnancy – I’d had Braxton Hicks every day since week 16, I was still being sick accompanied by nose bleeds, I had severe pelvic girdle meaning I needed crutches to walk and I’d been diagnosed with an irritable uterus after further stays in the hospital – I was so done with pregnancy.
Beatrice Matilda at 18 minutes old
I had been experiencing mild period-like cramping pains for about a week, so every day was a guessing game ‘am I/ aren’t I in labour?’
At 8:30pm on Sunday 20th January, I felt a sudden wave of nausea and needed to run to the bathroom, nothing new. I went to bed shortly after but woke at 10pm with cramping pains, I was certain this time, early labour had begun. I slept on and off until about 2am when the contractions were too strong to sleep through. I woke Mark, had a shower, washed my hair and shaved my legs and excitedly made my way to the living room to begin our birthing plan. I listened to a relaxing playlist and bounced on the birthing ball, breathing through every contraction. At about 4am we rang the maternity unit to let them know my contractions were now every 3 to 5 minutes apart and lasting for just over a minute each. I was advised to take a bath and wait it out a little longer – that was frustrating as I was sure they were going to tell me to head in!
At 5:30 I had my first bout of diarrhoea, followed quickly by violent vomiting – this continued every few minutes for about half an hour. At 6:08, I messaged my mum (our designated driver) to let her know things were progressing – the message read:
‘Today is the day for sure. After I was sick last night the contractions and pain started very strong, slept on and off until 2am but been up since then. Very strong contractions, very painful and sickness and diarrhoea every few minutes. Spoke to midwife she said ring back when contractions are every 3 minutes, it’s heading that way.’
Having endometriosis causes incredibly painful periods with nausea, sickness and often fainting so I presumed I had a high enough pain threshold to deal with labour naturally. Just before 7am the pain now seemed to be constant and the contractions had disappeared. What’s going on? I did what you’re advised not to do and started Googling. The outcome? Diarrhoea cramps! I couldn’t believe it, this whole time I thought I’d been managing my labour well, but it turns out I just had an upset stomach. I felt like such a failure, I was supposed to be stronger than this. I remember saying to Mark ‘I know I said I don’t want an epidural, and I know I said that even if I beg when I’m in labour not to let me have one – please, please pretend I didn’t say that as I’m struggling just with an upset stomach!’
At 7am I ran to the loo, but something was preventing me from sitting down. I looked down and saw a puddle of blood, it was pouring out of me – something definitely didn’t seem right. Mark rang the maternity unit who advised us to call an ambulance immediately.
We arrived at the hospital at 7:30am, where I was given Entonox (gas and air) to help manage the pain, but as I didn’t know what was wrong, I started to panic. Once the midwife had checked me over, she reassured me that I was probably in labour and I would most likely give birth that day. My membranes were bulging out of my cervix making it hard to see how far into labour I was, so when my waters did eventually break, I think we were all shocked to learn I was actually 8.5cm dilated!
Suddenly everything felt real, I couldn’t believe I thought I just had an upset stomach when I was really in the last stage of labour.
Things took a sudden turn though.
‘It’s breach!’ Screamed the midwife. With the press of the panic button, I was suddenly surrounded by 10 other people – doctors, nurses, and midwives. I could feel the fright in the room, it suddenly felt very intense. The bottom half of the bed was released, and my legs put in stirrups. With no time for a C-section or pain relief, I was going to have to push this baby out. I was given an episiotomy where the doctors then realised the baby was footling breech.
At just before 8:30am, with a mighty scream and big push, her left leg came out, shortly followed by her right leg. A couple more big pushes and she was here.
Beatrice Matilda Wilkinson was born at 8:40am on 21st January 2019, weighing a healthy 7lb15oz.
After everything we had been through, from trying to conceive to dealing with a horrendous pregnancy, I really shouldn’t have been surprised that my labour would be any less dramatic. It took a little while for everything to sink in, but when it did, my heart just filled with pride and joy – I now know what true love is.