For Helen*, 2019 was a miracle year. It was wonderful to be part of Helen’s miracle!
I met Helen in 2018, after she was referred to me for care by a close friend. She had to travel into the city to see me. It was painful to see the desolation in Helen’s eyes. She was a woman who had gone through such intense pain and loss that no words could describe. She said very little and it took a lot of patience to hear her full story.
In summary, Helen had been pregnant five times in four years and in all those times, she had left the hospital empty-handed. The urge to be a mother was overwhelming, but the loss had crushed her spirit. She was withdrawn and hardly ever made eye contact. My heart went out to her.
Four of the five babies she had lost were pregnancies below 28 weeks hence categorised as miscarriages. However, one tough cookie had managed 32 weeks, filling her with hope, only to be painfully dashed by a preterm delivery to a still birth.
After a three-hour consult, Helen and I had gone through a whole box of tissues, evidenced by swollen red eyes. No medical school training prepares you for this. We all crack sometimes and embrace the patient’s pain because beneath it all, we are human, we are mothers and we all know what loss means.
There was need for a lot of counselling, medical tests and patient education. This bore fruit as Helen became more confident, understanding her predicament and participating fully in charting out her care plan. We received the medical reports and celebrated each positive finding with unreserved glee.
Helen went back home with strict instructions to come back at the first sign of pregnancy. We had agreed she would stay with her extended family during the pregnancy for close monitoring. She was back in just two months. The confirmation of the pregnancy was the beginning of the holding of a very long breath. She was five weeks pregnant. It was going to be a long walk to delivery.
Helen followed all instructions religiously. She attended her visits with dedication, she reported every single thing she was unsure of, took her medication with 100 per cent compliance and honoured all her test requests. She underwent a Mc Donald Stitch insertion at 13 weeks, a procedure where the cervix is tied in a purse-string fashion to prevent it from opening before the baby is due. This was in an attempt to prevent preterm labour.
I thought about Helen all the time. I enrolled my mother in praying for Helen just because my parents are the most prayerful people I know. There was a lot to be done and we needed all the help we could get, including prayers. I shared this with Helen, and though she thought I was a little crazy, it went a long way in boosting her spirit, knowing that someone who did not know her, was rooting for her.
The first time Helen saw her baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound scan, she wept. Thankfully, I had alerted the radiologist to handle her with extra care. He did not fail us. At 20 weeks, Helen had her anomaly scan done.
She was extremely apprehensive and was overjoyed at the report giving baby a clean bill of health. She even forgot to ask about the baby’s gender in her excitement. It really did not matter, the little angel having normal organ development was all the information she needed.
All her screening tests continued to encourage us. In the second trimester, she was glowing radiantly. She steadfastly believed this is the baby God had planned for her to nurse. This belief paid off as baby continued to grow steadily and at 28 weeks, he was within expected percentiles for growth.
The clinic visits became more frequent, but Helen did not complain. She reported weekly without fail. At 33 weeks, we noted baby’s weight gain was slowing down though on the lower margin of normal. All other parameters were normal and Helen was doing great. At exactly 35 weeks, Helen came to the clinic that afternoon, looking and feeling normal, but her blood pressure had hit the roof. The little angel was just fine as manifested by the fetal kicks.
I explained to Helen that it was time for us to take the action we had talked about many times before. She did not object to this as we transferred her to the hospital immediately. The hospital was ready for her, expediting her admission and commencing on the prescribed interventions to stabilise her while keeping a hawk’s eye on baby. The evening ultrasound reassured us that baby was hanging in there.
Overnight, Helen’s blood pressure gradually settled to near normal while she received steroid injections as a cautionary measure to ensure the baby’s lungs were as mature as possible. The entire team caring for Helen took one look at her file and understood that this was no ordinary situation. Everyone made it their mission to ensure Helen and her baby had a good outcome. We scheduled the delivery at 10 o’clock the next morning by caesarean section.
By morning, Helen was feeling great; her liver and kidney functions were normal as were her blood haemoglobin and cell levels. She was wheeled into the operating room by the entire team, wishing her well as she was handed over to the theatre crew.
At exactly 10.37am, the precious little bundle of joy was delivered and received by the kindly paediatrician. His first cry elicited a cheer from the operating team while mummy shed gallons of tears unreservedly. She was finally a mom! The long journey had ended.
As Helen was being settled in the ward after surgery, I noted the nurse handling her was the same one from the night before. It had been five hours since her shift ended. I asked why she was still at work and her answer misted my eyes. Helen was her shift, she was going nowhere until she saw her breastfeeding her son. I called my mom and she celebrated like she had just received a new grandson.
Our little hero weighed only 1.97kg, but that did not hold him back. Over the next few days in the hospital, he proved that he was well able to show his mother that she was indeed every inch a mom. He demanded to be breastfed and did a great job of it. Within 10 weeks he had doubled his weight and there was no looking back.
Helen’s miracle will forever remain a shared miracle by all of us. The dedication by her spouse, the entire family and the medical team was immensely touching. Indeed babies are a gift.
Dr Bosire is an obstetrician/gynaecologist