On August 18, 1997, I was having morning coffee with colleagues at work but I wasn't feeling too well. Thinking I possibly had a kidney Infection, a friend insisted I see my GP, so a few hours later I went to the doctor's surgery only to be told I was 4cm dilated and should be at the hospital.
The next few hours were a blur. I wasn't expecting to go into labour. I was only 35 weeks and hadn't even a bag packed for the hospital. The hospital that I had booked into was an 18 mile trip and when I got there they assessed me and they predicted the baby to be 6lbs 1oz and that I had no need to be near a special care baby unit (which was at the next hospital - 25 miles away).
After a very quick second stage labour (19 minutes), Heather was born weighing 5lbs 15oz and all seemed okay. She was small and didn't seem interested in taking to the breast so I started bottle feeding her.
As she was born five weeks early we were being kept in some extra days for observation. During the night of day three, one of the midwives noticed that Heather was 'jittery' (as she described) and that her temperature was raised. I was awakened and by the time I got to the nursery, the paediatrician was there and was already making arrangements for Heather to be transferred to the hospital with the SCBU. I watched her leave in an incubator with the ambulance blue light flashing. I was stunned and it is a memory that will never leave me.
My husband came to collect me and take me to the SCBU. He was so traumatised that he forgot to bring me clothes so I left hospital in slippers and pyjamas. By the time we got to the SCBU, the doctors were seeking our permission to do a lumbar puncture and a short time after this, it was confirmed that Heather had Strep B meningitis.
The next few hours and days melted into a haze. Heather was kept in SCBU for two weeks and we seemed to get bad news after bad news. She was constantly scanned and monitored. We were told that they found a slight bleed on her brain and that she had a slight heart murmur. Every day we were told our baby was very ill and that basically she was having 'bleach' pumped through her wee body. It was strange seeing her in the SCBU compared to all the other babies. Heather was the biggest by a long way but the sister in charge put all in context ... she probably, at that time, was the sickest.
After two weeks we were given the all clear to bring her home. The following year and a half were spent running to consultant check-ups and tests such as hearing, sight, development etc and thankfully everything came back good. She didn't walk until she was 15 months which worried us at the time but now we see that she was just a lazy lump.
Now Heather is 13 and in her second year at our local Girls' Grammar school. She is a very bright child who is hitting top marks in nearly all of her subjects. She loves playing hockey and is a brilliant swimmer. She's working on her Grade 4 piano exam and Grade 3 Flute exam. She is just like every other teenage girl ... loves make-up, shopping, dressing up, listening to music and going to discos/barn parties.
I thank God every day that she survived this killer disease and was once reminded by a doctor that she does not have a condition ... she had an illness but recovered. Many parents have not been as fortunate as us and my heart goes out to them. I also thank God for the midwife who spotted the signs of ill health. Had it not been for her, we would have taken Heather home the next day and I am sure she would now no longer be with us. As a new mum and still in shock from going into labour early, I probably wouldn't have picked up on things until it was too late.
Good news story
A few days after Heather was diagnosed with Strep B, I was confirmed positive for the bacteria and given antibiotics. I was told that Antrim Hospital (where the SCBU was), at that time routinely swabbed in-labour woman for Strep B and if they tested positive were given antibiotics and the baby when born was also treated. So, when I was expecting for the second time, I opted to go to Antrim in the first instance. At 30 weeks I was admitted due to the way the baby was pressing on a nerve and I tested positive for Strep B at this stage. I was given antibiotics. I then went into labour at 38 weeks and again was tested but this time was negative. Robert was born a healthy 7lbs 9oz. He was given antibiotics immediately after birth and we were kept in for a week to be monitored. Thankfully all went well with my second child.
This has been a good news story ... very traumatic at the time and something that I would never wish on anyone. Even today I find it difficult to talk about and I try not to look at the pictures of Heather when she was very poorly. To look at her now, you would never believe the trauma that she went through. People often can remember where they were or what they were doing when significant events in history happened e.g. when President Kennedy was shot. When Lady Diana died in Paris, I was praying for a very sick baby.