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Kirsten A's story

24th March 2019

Twenty-eight-year-old Kirsten, from Bonnyrigg in Midlothian, was pregnant with her second child, Benjamin, when she became ill

Kirsten A's story

What started with a severe headache and vomiting was viral meningitis.

Although this affected her unborn baby – now happily delivered – and they will have to wait to see the full impact of this, they are happy to be on the road to recovery as a family of four.

“We had been trying for a baby for over a year when we got our happy news – a positive pregnancy test!

“I felt exhausted, but I didn’t have any other symptoms until around week 11, when I started vomiting and having headaches. I had morning sickness during my first pregnancy, so I felt strangely reassured by the vomiting, as if it was an outward sign of the baby growing away inside.

“My 12-week scan showed a healthy, growing baby.

Headache got worse

“Over the course of my nightshift, the headache got worse. Every time I stood up my head throbbed. Towards the morning it got so bad it took my breath away with each pulse. I put it down to a combination of early pregnancy and working nightshift exhaustion.

“I texted my friend to see if she had any tips for dealing with headaches during pregnancy, because I was trying to avoid taking pain relief. She had a recommendation for a headache soothing balm but advised me to call my midwife in case it was due to high blood pressure.

“I finished my shift and went home. The drive home was incredibly difficult as I was struggling with the brightness and every noise sounded painfully loud. I phoned my midwife when I got home from work. I couldn’t get hold of her, so I called the GP for a phone appointment as I was struggling to move by this point.

Advice on pain relief

“I told the GP I thought I was having a migraine and wanted advice on what pain relief I could take. She didn’t think it sounded like a migraine. I felt frustrated that she didn’t think it was bad enough to be a migraine. I thought she was dismissing me. I couldn’t look at any light by this point. I had closed the curtains in the living room and was lying on the sofa in the dark with my toddler Christopher watching tv with the volume right down.

“The GP decided to come out for a home visit when she wasn’t convinced my symptoms were a migraine. I had a moment of worry because I thought it meant I was likely to have high blood pressure.

Flashes of pain

“Before she arrived, my Tesco delivery turned up. The noise from the doorbell sent flashes of pain through my head and it felt like my head was going to burst open. I vomited twice as I made my way to the door. I then opened the door crying in pain. The delivery lady popped all the shopping on my hallway floor, as instructed by me, and I went back to the sofa without putting anything away.

“With my husband Abe at work I was looking after our 3-year-old. I had managed to look out clothes for him and he had put on trousers, enjoying me being unable to force him into a full outfit. I had put on the tv and he raided the shopping bags for treats. I felt so awful that he was being neglected (and looked feral!) but I couldn’t stand up without vomiting and could hardly open my eyes.

“The GP came, checked me over and said to phone my husband to come home, as I would need to go to hospital.

Don’t remember much

“I don’t remember much from the next day or so. My headache was unbearable. I genuinely thought I was going to die. I couldn’t focus on anything and just wanted to pass out to stop the pain. A lumbar puncture showed I had meningitis. It had never occurred to me that meningitis was a possibility. I tried to check my body for a rash but couldn’t see anything.

“I remember the doctor moving me (I was on a bed in the hospital corridor), holding my hand and telling me it was meningitis. I didn’t know anything about meningitis other than I didn’t want it, and especially didn’t want it when pregnant. I was in too much pain to think it through and look up any information. The doctor asked if I needed to contact anyone.

Assumed I had a migraine

“I had told my husband to take our toddler home as A&E is no place for a wee one with a picking-stuff-off-the-floor habit. I had assumed I would be phoning them for a lift home soon. I hadn’t told my parents or anyone that I was going to hospital. I assumed I had a migraine and didn’t think it was worth telling them.

“The next day or two was a blur of antibiotics, tests, drips, vomiting, fever and painkillers. I overheard a midwife telling another midwife that I kept asking about my baby, and wondering what she should tell me.

“There were a number of miscommunications between the staff and in turn, what was told to me, which lead to me being heartbroken, believing I needed to prepare to miscarry my much-loved baby. I was told that at this early stage I could just ‘try again’ once I was healthy.

Couldn’t watch tv or read

“I spent a few more nights in hospital. I couldn’t watch tv, or read for more than a few minutes and instead just lay in bed wishing time away. My husband and son came in, bringing me beautiful flowers and get well soon prezzies, and I shouted at my husband to take our boy away. It happened before I realised what I was doing. I panicked and didn’t want my son catching anything by being there. But all he saw was his sick mummy shouting for them to leave. I still feel guilty thinking about it.

“He cried. I cried. I missed him so much. I had hardly spent any time away from him since he was born. I felt guilty for not being home with him, and I felt guilty for being unwell when I was meant to be providing a safe home for the baby in my belly to grow and develop. I felt guilty, but too exhausted, weak and unwell to do anything.

Didn’t miscarry

“Despite all the worry I didn’t miscarry. I did fully recover, albeit slowly. I waited with baited breath throughout my pregnancy. My baby, Benjamin is now here, I am in love and forever thankful.

“The things I’ve learned from this are:

  • You can have meningitis without having a rash.
  • Sometimes health professionals forget that your unborn baby is still your much-loved baby, even at 13 weeks. It’s okay to remind them.
  • Whilst turning to Google when ill or pregnant is inadvisable, it is worth finding a reputable source of information. The unknown is often more scary, and hospital staff don’t have time to explain fully (they can help find a good source of information though).
  • I’ve got a brilliant support system.
  • Mental recovery is important too. Even though I’ve recovered and my baby is safely here, I still have anxious days. I worry that I’ll miss the signs of an illness, like I missed the signs of meningitis. I feel the ache and overwhelming helplessness. I don’t think I’d cope, mentally, with another pregnancy, but my heart is full with my two wee boys.

Viral meningitis is often talked about as being no big deal, so I felt traumatised after my experience but silly for feeling like that, until I read others’ experiences of how life changing it was. My baby was born with hearing loss and vision problems as a result of me having meningitis during pregnancy. We’re not sure how badly he has been affected yet and won’t know until he’s bigger.”