Rebecca's story

11th November 2014

Rebecca Williams fell ill with meningitis when she was 21 weeks pregnant, which initially caused confusion with doctors who thought she had a migraine. She thankfully pulled through but wants there to be greater awareness about the disease in pregnant women

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Meningitis and pregnancy

It was early February 2009, and I had been feeling under the weather with a mild headache and flu symptoms for a few days. We had just had the 20 week scan for our second baby, and later that evening I experienced a very sudden onset of a severe headache. I could barely stand up and had to close my eyes because of the pain. I had to sit in the dark and was almost screaming with pain because the headache was so severe. Even moving was extremely painful and difficult.

I discussed going to hospital with my husband David but because our 18-month-old son Jack was asleep, we decided I should try to sleep it off. There was no improvement overnight so I called NHS Direct who weren't a lot of help, suggesting I called my GP in the morning.

Admitted to hospital

In the morning we decided to go straight to the labour ward at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, where we were admitted at 7am.

The doctors were very concerned but, being pregnant, initial lines of enquiry focussed on pre-eclampsia and migraines. Then the symptoms changed slightly and I started to see purple and yellow castle shapes, which are apparently common with migraines. They also seemed to be considering the possibility of a stroke. Codeine made little impact. Being curious, David plugged the symptoms (severe headache, photophobia, faint rash although it faded under pressure) into Google using his BlackBerry and hit on meningitis.

Not just for babies

We were aware of meningitis but wrongly associated it exclusively with babies - indeed only a week before we had taken Jack in to be checked for a rash although it was a false alarm and he was suspected as having the parvo virus.

The doctors said it was unlikely to be meningitis, although they were still perplexed. By 2pm we did an MRI scan, but that was clear. At 6pm, as a last resort they did a lumbar puncture but didn't seem concerned as to the eye the fluid was clear. But, two hours later, a mad panic ensued when the results came back as positive for bacterial meningitis. The doctors literally came flying into the room and said how ill I was.

I was put on broad spectrum antibiotics, and was taken to a high dependency unit. I immediately turned the corner and started to improve. To my relief, I became coherent again three or four hours later. When we expressed concern about the baby the doctors made the point that their primary concern was me.

They asked Jack to be brought in to be examined and prescribed both him and David with Rifadin as a precaution. I was also given a steroid injection for my ears.

Quick recovery

Thankfully I made a quick recovery from the headaches and was kept in for seven days on IV antibiotics. I felt rough for about two or three months afterwards. The hospital never conclusively proved which strain of meningitis it was as they were unable to grow any bacteria in their tests.

Being pregnant and having bacterial meningitis took a lot out of me and I needed several weeks of relative rest to recover, but thankfully I did. The baby was monitored regularly but showed no signs of distress.

Little information was available about whether bacterial meningitis can pass through the placenta, and we had to take the doctors' word that the antibiotics would do no harm - this was hard as there are so few drugs you can take when pregnant.

Barney arrives

They weren't sure if I would be able to give birth naturally because of the pressure on my brain but it was fine. Happily, Barney was born July 28, nine days late but weighing in at a 9lb 10oz and everyone is doing well.