Top left: Penelope on ECMO when she was born. Top right: Penelope doing marvellously at 10 months old. Bottom: Penelope is now one, and a lovely little girl, kick counter wristband can be seen.
Top left: Penelope on ECMO when she was born. Top right: Penelope doing marvellously at 10 months old. Bottom: Penelope is now one, and a lovely little girl, kick counter wristband can be seen.

‘I wish I’d have known about Count the Kicks’ during my last pregnancy.

My daughter was born last June, by emergency C-section. After recently having a debrief about the birth, it has become much more clear to us just how lucky we are to have her here today.

I had a lovey pregnancy, hardly any sickness in the first months, baby was measuring splendidly, etc. Everything was “textbook”. Until my due date. It came and went. But, even when it had passed, I never felt particularly uncomfortable, despite it being (oddly) warm (for Britain)!
On the tenth day past my due date I lost a little fluid. I had planned on having my baby at a midwife led unit, as I was considered low risk, so I went in and they confirmed that it was in fact amniotic fluid. I was sent home and told to keep checking my temperature and rest up until contractions started. I had a few contractions on and off over night. But, here is where I really wish I had known about CTK. As I was busy concentrating on contractions and timing them etc, I cannot remember being advised to keep an eye on baby’s movements. In the morning I went back and as labour had not progressed I was sent to the hospital. There I was monitored and it was picked up on straight away that baby was not happy. They needed to get labour started and fast. I had a cannula put in and my waters properly broke; but once it was evident that there was A LOT of meconium present I had a team ready to take me down to theatre in no time. It becomes a bit hazy here, but I knew they had to get her out, and quickly. She was delivered at 13:43 on 6th June, they flashed a bright green baby above the curtain, and although the room was full of people it seemed disturbingly quiet. I hadn’t heard her cry. My husband was in as much shock as I was and as I looked at him we finally heard the faintest of whimpers. She was then wheeled past me- she needed help breathing.

My husband followed her down to NICU. She had severe meconium aspiration which had led to persistent pulmonary hypertension. Our local NICU quickly exhausted all the options (oscillator, nitric oxide) and it wasn’t looking good. She was on 100% oxygen and could not breathe on her own. We were told there was maybe one option left. A life-saving, last-resort treatment called ECMO. But, only a handful of places in the country do it, the closest to us being Leicester, three and a half hours away. Luckily, her good birth weight (8lb 13) and other factors meant the team at Leicester were thankfully able to come and perform the procedure that involved taking the deoxygenated blood from the heart via a tube in the neck, where the oxygen was added externally to the body and then returned through another tube (doing the lungs job). Once she was on ECMO she was taken by ambulance to Leicester where she stayed on ECMO for 36hours, thus giving her lungs a break and allowing the meconium to be cleaned out, it was four days before I got to hold her. She was then helicoptered back to our local NICU.

Had I waited any longer to go in it would likely have been a different story, so said the obstetrician going over my notes. Meconium is often present when a baby is distressed, and although I can never know what it was that distressed my baby so much, had I been aware of the importance of counting kicks, even during contractions I might have been able to act faster. As a noticeable decrease in kicks might have indicated her distress. Only around 50 babies a year need ECMO. It saved Penelope’s life, and for that I owe it mine!

I am due baby number two in August, and I am so much more familiarised with his pattern of movements, using my kick counter. And, although I will be having an elective section, I will continue to regularly be aware of his movements right up until the moment he arrives.


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