I’d suffered a previous miscarriage at eight weeks so, as soon as I fell pregnant again, I felt anxious and it stayed with me. I had a couple of bleeds early on, one on Christmas Day, and I remember saying to my sister, ‘It’s happening again’, but a scan on Boxing Day showed baby was fine.
The itching started at 34 weeks
It wasn’t until 34 weeks that the itching started and I can only describe it as feeling like something was crawling around the soles of my feet. Initially I put it down to fluid retention but I’d scratch and scratch to try and relieve it.
I’d had mild itchiness on my bump, that I put down to my skin stretching, and I when it got worse I figured it was the summer heat.
"I can only describe it as feeling like something was crawling around the soles of my feet"
I didn’t mention it to my midwife until I was 36 weeks and she gave me blood tests, she also mentioned it might mean having to be induced but I didn’t really give it much thought.
Later that day the doctor called and told me I had obstetric cholestasis, which is also known as intraheptic cholestasis of pregnancy. I’d read about itchiness in magazines but knew it was uncommon and usually affected women from a different ethnic background. At that point of diagnosis I had no idea what the implications were or how serious it could be for my baby.
Still working, and with a big meeting the next morning, I asked the doctor if I could delay a visit to the surgery until the following day and he agreed.
It dawned on me that I was at higher risk for stillbirth
But when I got home my partner, Rob, had been researching on the internet and for the first time it dawned that OC could put my baby at risk, that it had, in some cases, resulted in stillbirth.
Having been anxious throughout my pregnancy, to discover your biggest fear, that you could potentially lose your child, was terrifying. I felt such an idiot for putting my doctor’s appointment on hold and planned to call my midwife first thing in the morning.
She beat me to it, explained what obstetric cholestasis was and insisted I went straight to the hospital and told me I’d be under consultant care going forward.
When I got there they found my bile acids measuring 24. Depending on the hospital, either over 10 or over 14 means you get a diagnosis of OC. They gave me some medication, Urso, but if anything the itching got worse. I was monitored then returned a week later by which time my bile acids were at 68. There was a lot of contradiction between the two consultants I saw, one saying I could go full term but the other saying I must be induced.
In the end I was booked in for induction a week after my diagnosis at almost 38 weeks.
I’d done a hypnobirthing course and I liked the idea of a water birth, all natural. I’d even toyed with the idea of a home birth with as little intervention as possible, so to go to a delivery suite under consultant care really wasn’t what I’d wanted. But my overriding feeling was that anxiety, I just wanted my baby here safely.
My midwife was very clued up on OC, but the GP didn't seem to be
The induction was pretty awful, not so much the pain, it just took such a long time. It started on the Friday and, in the end, they broke my waters on the Monday but after nine hours our baby got stuck, his heart rate dropped and I was rushed down for an emergency C-section. I can’t remember much about it but I know that it was very traumatic and frightening for Rob, so much so that we may not have more children because he’s not sure he could go through that process, that terror again.
I was so relieved to have Teddy here, safe and sound, but I was left with a feeling of failure for having to have a caesarean, for having a condition that put my baby at risk.
The care I received was so mixed, my midwife was very clued up but my GP didn’t seem to be, otherwise he’d never have advised me to wait an extra day for further monitoring. His aftercare, too, wasn’t great, at my six-week check-up I had to tell him he needed to give me blood tests to check my liver function. It was only thanks to the ICP website I knew to ask for that follow-up test, their website was incredibly helpful and it would have been great to be pointed in that direction when I was diagnosed, rather than having to search around on Google.
There needs to be more awareness about OC, I got lucky but I know some women don’t. The itching was an irritation more than anything, it mostly happened at night and I wasn’t sleeping that well anyway. For me, the real nightmare was, having had an anxious pregnancy, having just started to relax a little, to be told something could go wrong, that I could lose my child was terrifying.