It was an uncomplicated, easy pregnancy and at 23 weeks I had left some of the pregnancy complaints behind and was feeling strong, healthy and happy when I went in for the 23 week foetal assessment scan at Kingsbury’s Foetal Assessment Centre.
Everything changed that day when they saw that our baby had a massive heart abnormality. In fact, it was actually three different abnormalities all manifested at the same time and included: Transposition of the Great Vessels (where the two major vessels that carry blood away from the heart – the aorta and the pulmonary artery – are switched); Double Outlet Right Ventricle (DORV, where both the pulmonary artery and aorta come from the same pumping chamber and no arteries are connected to the left ventricle); and no separation between the ventricles on the left or right sides of the heart.
Everything changed that day when they saw that our baby had a massive heart abnormality.
Many consultations with a cardiac specialist, foetal heart surgeon and psychologist later and we were advised that the best course of action would be to terminate the pregnancy as our baby girl had little to no chance of surviving once born and the chances of successful surgery and a good prognosis were very slim – and so on the 19th of October we had a medical termination at 25 weeks and on the 20th I was induced and delivered a tiny stillborn baby girl. It was the hardest thing I, and my husband, have ever been through.
But we chose to try again. Luckily, I fell pregnant just a few months later, and after early monitoring of baby’s heart was told that all was fine – baby was absolutely healthy! Then at 19 weeks I realised something was not right and went to our local hospital emergency room where it was discovered that I had dilated and the bag of waters was bulging through my cervix. I was rushed in for an emergency cerclage…sadly the cerclage didn’t work and my waters ruptured. We were devastated at the news and after a week of lying in hospital flat on my back hoping for the best, I delivered another stillborn baby girl at 20 weeks in April 2012.
So now I was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix and told we would need another cerclage placed early in the next pregnancy. I did loads of research and we were not happy with the stats for success and so some more research later and a consult with my doctor and we found a doctor at Tygerberg, (also a professor at Stellenbosch) who does what is called a Transabdominal Cerclage (TAC) – basically the stitch is placed inside your abdomen at the very top of the cervix.
After an examination by Professor Hall it was decided that I was a candidate for the procedure as my cervix is damaged with lots of scar tissue – possibly from a previous tear. After a year of trying to fall pregnant again, and then once pregnant, another stringent round of scans and tests to assess baby’s health, at 14 weeks I went in for the procedure in Tygerberg. The TAC involves the surgeon making an incision like they make for a caesarean, they then move the uterus (baby and all) out of the way before placing the stitch at the top where the cervix starts and the uterus ends. I spent a week in Tygerberg being monitored as the procedure is not without risks of infection, early labour and waters rupturing. Thankfully, all went well and I went home with my bionic cervix as they call them.
We were very lucky to find Professor Hall and for him to agree to do the TAC procedure. Other South African woman have flown to the US to have it done as it is very popular/common there to treat incompetent cervix – whereas in SA we tend to opt for the less successful TVC (vaginally placed cerclage). I found a website called Abbyloopers which helped hugely as a means of support.
We were very lucky to find Professor Hall and for him to agree to do the Transabdominal Cerclage procedure.
From there on out it was a high risk pregnancy with a visit to my regular OB-Gyn every two weeks. I suffered a fair amount of pain due to the operation and as my uterus stretched so too did the fresh scar tissue which was very uncomfortable. The worst was probably the anxiety that something would go wrong again this time!
Thankfully I managed to carry our little boy to term and he was delivered via caesarean at 36 weeks. The caesarean was scheduled earlier so that I did not risk going into labour naturally as this can cause tearing at the site of the stitch. (The stitch stays in forever now unless I wanted to have it removed via another abdominal op – which I won’t be doing.)
He is now a healthy happy and naughty 18 month old and our miracle baby.
Our perseverance paid off. People asked us if we were mad trying AGAIN for a baby after everything we had been through but when I look at our little boy running around and feel the joy that he brings to us I know I would do it all over again a thousand times!
This real life story was shared by brave mom Catherine Pate.