It was a normal pregnancy, but then everything changed
My wife was struck with pre-eclampsia -- putting her life and our unborn baby in danger, says John Meagher
For months, July 4 had been fixed in my mind. How ironic that my first child's due date was on the same day that Americans celebrate independence. I lost count of the number of people who chortled the same thing: "That's your independence out the window then."
I was so fixated on the idea that she -- we had long ago discovered the gender -- would be born on or around July 4 that I didn't even countenance the possibility that the birth could happen sooner. Much sooner.
Emani came into the world in the early hours of Friday, May 11, almost eight weeks premature. Her birth weight was 1.34kg -- or two pounds, 15 ounces. She spent a month under the care of the fantastic staff at the Neonatal Unit at Holles Street National Maternity Hospital.
My wife Lynn had had a smooth first two trimesters. Everything pointed to a normal birth. But with the onset of the third term, significant changes manifested. At the end of week 31, she suddenly started feeling unwell, was lethargic and had a constant headache. And then her ankles, calves, lips and eyelids started to swell. Badly.
Lynn had read pregnancy books voraciously and was worried that the swelling pointed to pre-eclampsia.
Also known as toxaemia, this condition happens in instances where blood pressure rises and excessive proteins leak into the urine. It causes fluid retention and can "poison" the placenta. It is potentially dangerous to both unborn baby and mother and, if left untreated, it can result in blindness, brain damage or death.
It has been in the news recently, after researchers at Trinity College Dublin published breakthrough findings on why pre-eclampsia develops.
Lynn wasted little time in getting to Holles Street where her suspicions were confirmed. But rather than prescribe a course of medication, the doctors were adamant that her condition required more stringent treatment. She would have to stay in hospital until the baby was born.
The prospect of Lynn having to stay in a hospital bed for two months occupied my thoughts as I went home.
As a primary school teacher, Lynn had been in the final days of preparing a class for First Communion. Now, a colleague would have to take the reins and the simple pleasure of saying good luck to her pupils was denied her. But I'm married to one resilient woman and by the time I'd arrived back in hospital, she had had time to come to terms with the news and was palpably upbeat about the future.
Within days, however, it looked like the birth would have to be induced sooner than thought. On her third night in the hospital she was told that she would probably be induced the next day.
At 4.45am, a call woke me. I can't recall a single aspect of the short drive to Merrion Square, but I do remember how madly my heart pounded as I raced up to the third floor.
The kind young obstetrician calmly told me a caesarean would need to happen within minutes -- Emani's heart rate had dipped significantly, so there was no time to waste.
Like most mothers-to-be, Lynn had hoped for a "normal" birth, to be awake for the moment when our baby was born. But such was the urgency to operate that a general anaesthetic had to be administered. That meant Lynn wouldn't be conscious for Emani's arrival and I wouldn't be allowed into the operating theatre.
After a few minutes in the waiting room, I heard a sharp baby's cry and then a midwife poked her head around the door to tell me both Emani and Lynn had come through and there was no immediate danger to either. Enormous relief flooded over me -- and then a happiness of a kind I have never experienced before.
Lynn's recovery took longer than expected. She was too poorly to be brought up to the neonatal unit to meet Emani for the first 28 hours; and later in the week, when her mobility had improved, she had to stay in hospital until her blood pressure had returned to safe levels.
She was discharged eight nights after giving birth, but understandably it was a terrible wrench for her to have to go home without our baby.
Emani, meanwhile, is a feisty, gorgeous little thing who's growing slowly but steadily each day. She's home now, and I'm more than happy to lose my "independence".