The itching was unbearable

Sinead was diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis (OC) at around 32 weeks after a month of itching. She was induced and son Charlie arrived at 37.5 weeks.

I fell pregnant a couple of weeks after we married so Charlie was very much a honeymoon baby and we were surprised, but delighted.

I’d had early scans because they were worried it was an ectopic pregnancy but other than that, and a bit of sickness, everything was going really well. At 17 weeks, just before Christmas, we had an extra scan and found we were expecting a little boy which was like a wee present just for Andrew and I.

Then at 27 weeks things changed. I’d been feeling itchy on my hands and feet and it soon spread to my arms and thighs. It was unbearable, I spent evenings grinding my feet into the carpet, scratching. It literally started overnight and there were moments when I felt like crying because I was so frustrated but I just thought it was my skin changing and stretching.

She knew it wasn’t a normal itch.

I mentioned it at my 28 week midwife appointment and, though she didn’t reference obstetric cholestasis (OC) I wonder if it was in the back of her mind when she took a blood sample. She clearly knew it wasn’t a normal itch.

It wasn’t until three weeks later that the diagnosis came back and they started regular blood tests. Initially my bile levels were borderline but they steadily rose. When they hit 21 the consultant came to tell me that I had OC and started me on Urso and Piriton and suggested I use calamine lotion to sooth the itching.

The drugs took time to work so, in all, I spent about seven weeks itching. Obviously some days were better than others but, at its worst, it was horrendous with parts of my body feeling on fire because I just couldn’t stop scratching which left me covered in angry red marks. I didn’t sleep well, I’d just walk the floor at night and it regularly brought me to tears, I just couldn’t bear to feel like that anymore.

I was also consumed with the feeling that this could harm my baby. When you’re carrying a child you want to protect them and the idea that something in my body could affect our wee one was really upsetting.

The risks of obstetric cholestasis left me terrified

They risks were referenced when I was diagnosed but it wasn’t until I researched myself online that I saw words like ‘premature labour’ and ‘stillbirth’. The information was scarce and very factual and medical, it offered no comfort and was very focused on the worse-case scenario which left me terrified.

I also felt terribly guilty. Why was my body doing this? It was my liver and the condition had the potential to kill my child. I couldn’t’ shake the thought that my own body was putting my child at risk.

I did feel better once the medication kicked in and I started getting some sleep and the fact they continued to monitor me and take bloods twice a week was reassuring.

I had to insist on being seen sooner

The maternity unit were amazing, they couldn’t do enough for me, but my own consultant was very laid back and I didn’t feel he was taking it as seriously as, perhaps, he should. When I went to see him at 34 weeks, he said he’d see me again four weeks later and I had to insist that it be sooner.

When I did go for that next appointment at 36 weeks, he’d been called to theatre for an emergency and I saw another consultant who asked about my history. When I explained I’d got OC, he opened his diary, lifted the phone and said I needed an induction. I nearly died with shock.

It was a Wednesday and he booked me in for the following Monday. It was a slow process and two days after arriving at hospital they took me down to break my waters and hooked me up to a drip. It kicked off around 7am, Charlie arrived at 13.57 and I was so relieved. He was absolutely perfect.

The itching just went away, I stopped taking the medication and it disappeared, like magic. I had a follow-up appointment and bloods showed everything had returned to normal.

I just wish there had been more information available for women suffering OC and I’d also love to see all medical professionals basing their treatment on the same information. Although I had some amazing doctors, some were so laid back, while others really scared you, which made a difficult time very confusing. It also left me feeling less reassured, in fact, knowing the risks, I really didn’t feel confident until I had Charlie in my arms.

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