Pre-Eclampsia Stories

Cathy And Terry McCullagh's Story

For us to say that Erin's early arrival was unexpected is a monumentel understatement. We were totally unprepared, mainly becauseCathy had had such a smooth and trouble-free pregnancy. We had been warned that Erin would be a small baby by a discrepancy on the week 18 ultrasound, but since neither of us were of mammoth proportions, that did not concern us. Cathy even confessed to being slightly relieved, as nine and ten pound babies did sound rather painful!

Cathy’s healthy and happy pregnancy continued up until her thirtieth week, when sudden swelling of the feet signalled the onset of Pre-eclampsia. She was immediately hospitalized by her doctor with very high blood pressure and a significant amount of protein in the urine. Cathy’shospitilisation was our first big shock. We had great faith in our doctor and the lovely midwives but all the same we feared for our baby who, although as yet unborn, was already a source of such joy and hope to our families. We wondered how and when to tell our finds and relatives without causing too much worry and alarm, particularly for Cathy's mum who was in the midst of an election campaign for mayor of her town.

As the days in hospital rolled by, prospects for keeping our baby in the womb gradually diminished. When our doctor gave us the "mother comes first" talk and moved Cathy into a private room, we knew the situation was beginning to deteriorate. Cathy’s blood pressure remained high and her platelets began to drop until, only four days after her admission on a Saturday at 1pm, she was told she was to have an emergency caesarean at 2.30pm that day. Terry came straight in, hunting desperately for the final list of names which we hadn't thought we'd need for nine weeks yet! Cathy was prepared for her operation and wheeled up to theatre, feeling unnaturally calm but confident in her medical carers. At 2.39pm Erin Kathleen McCullagh kicked vand screamed her way into the big wide world.

Erin was a tiny baby, weighing only 960grms (2lb 2oz) but was inredibly strong and needed no ventilation, although she “wore” a head box for a few days. Her first few days were spent in Bay 1 of Neonatal Intensive Care in a humidicrib, swathed in bubble wrap, and then spread eagled under lights with a headband and eyeshades, looking for all the world like a tiny nude sunbather. Cathy's first glimpse of Erin was on her way back from the recovery, and amounted to the memory of tiny pink fingers in the humidicrib. It wasn't until Sunday that she realised just how tiny her daughter was, and how lucky we were to have her. The drip, monitors and leads worried Cathy; she hated to see such a tiny being in such pain, and wondered desperately why Erin couldn't have remained in the womb even just a few days longer. Above all however, we both felt very strongly that Erin was ours, the daughter we had longed for and planned for with such joy. Members of the nursing staff had tried to cushion what may have been a shock at Cathy's first sight of the tiny Erin by explaining that many parents find premature babies ugly and can't reconcile them with the "Women's Weekly baby" they thought they were having. Despite this, we both felt from the first that our daughter was beautiful and that she was ours.

Erin's two months of hospitalisation was a time of great strain for both of us. Not being able to hold our baby close, to reassure her of our love for her and that she would come through her present pain, was a feeling we found difficult to bear. Cathy and Terry were distressed to leave Erin in hospital when she went home, six days later. Thrice daily trips to the hospital to see our daughter were exhausting and took their toll on us. Born of these feelings of helplessness and remoteness from Erin was a determination to do what little we could for her. Cathy was totally determined to maintain the punishing routine of expressing every four hours day and night to provide the best possible nourishment for her little girl. The fight to teach Erin to take from the breast, rather than gum away at her tube, was one that took ten days of determined coaching from a number of wonderful midwives, but was ultimately successful and is still the source of much pleasure for both parents and baby.

In many ways we realise that we were very lucky that Erin was so strong. She did not need to be ventilated, likewise she did not need surgery for the little duct that opened up in her heart and fortunately, was closed by a cocktail of powerful medicines.

Unfortunately, she did need an operation to close groinal hernia, and the prospect of surgery on our tiny baby who had been through so much, really frightened us. Her operation took only forty minutes, but they were the longest forty minutes of our lives. She was wheeled back into the nursery looking very distressed but, importantly for us, we felt we had survived the worst. Two days later, after a night in the parents' room of the hospital, Cathy and Terry were able to take little Erin home 64 days after her birth, achieving a milestone that we had dreamed about for so long.