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Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Experiences of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or High Dependency Units (HDU)

Often women who experience severe life-threatening complications in childbirth need to spend some time in intensive care or on a high dependency unit in the hospital after the birth. Here we look at these experiences.
 
Intensive Care
Women are admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) - sometimes called intensive therapy units (ITUs) or critical care units (CCUs) - if their condition is life threatening and they need constant, close monitoring and support from equipment and medication to keep normal body functions going. This is a level of care that most maternity units are not equipped to offer (although a very few hospitals do have maternity critical care units). Women will receive 24 hour, one to one nursing care and monitoring. Situations in which this might be necessary include: if the woman is suffering from septicaemia (blood poisoning), if she has had major life-saving surgery (e.g. an emergency hysterectomy) or if she has had a major haemorrhage (heavy uncontrolled bleeding).
 
Waking up
For women who have gone to hospital to have their baby, it can be a deep shock to find themselves in critical care or high dependency, separated from their baby. Women going into labour had no expectation of needing to go to intensive care before their labour started. There had been a medical emergency during or just after labour, which was unexpected, so when they woke up they had no idea where they were and it was frightening. Hannah was sent up to intensive care after a uterine rupture. “I think there was nowhere else to send me… so that was quite a scary thing. I think that was the scariest thing of all.”
 

Rebecca had a planned caesarean, but doctors discovered during surgery that she had placenta...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 40
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I briefly saw, I very briefly saw my husband and he, then I woke up the next morning and I was in the High Care Unit at [name]. Which was another unpleasant experience because you’re not, you’re with people with all different traumas. You’re not as I would thought, in a place where may be there’s other people who have been through pregnancy related or birth related issues. I was in this, some old man ranting, there was a man ranting and pulling out his drips on one side. There was a man who’d had an accident opposite me. They brought in somebody who they discovered had e coli next to me and then she died next to me, and they were busy cleaning up. 
 
It was awful experience to wake up, and you know, you’ve had a baby. You can’t see the baby. She was in the neo natal unit. I couldn’t see because I wasn’t even on site then, because I was at the hospital. I woke up, my husband wasn’t there because it wasn’t visiting times and they weren’t flexible. And you know, I couldn’t, my leg had swollen up, my whole body had swollen but my leg had swollen up and a few, I think he next day they ended up having to take me into, into surgery again because I’d got a, I think it’s called an embolism where, in my leg. And they had to do a fasciotomy which involved three more operations, to open up, to close one side, close the next side and which is in the end resulted in me having drop foot. I can’t move my foot. I need to wear a brace in my shoes now and things like that.
 
 

Hana had emergency surgery to deliver her twins. Waking up in intensive care was “very surreal”....

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 38
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And yes, I woke up the next morning. I felt I was in Spain or somewhere. Actually it was quite surreal, because I was in a place which didn’t look like an NHS hospital, it was very clean, it was very spacious. And as I say when I was being put, well going back to when I was being put under, I just kept saying to myself I was, I was going to be okay, and it was like I was like saying to you earlier before we were recording that I had spirits or somebody or people watching over me. Because I have this phrase that I say to myself, ‘I’m surrounded by golden light of love, warmth and protection’, and I say that to myself when I’m in times of trouble or need or whatever, and I remember saying that to myself when I was being put out. And I really do believe that. That helped protect me and that stage, and I’m glad when I look back at that, that it was something that I feel is quite important.
 
And so when I woke up the next day in this bizarre place it was quite strange, when I woke up with my husband next to me. He had a picture of my two children one of him holding [daughter], she was the bigger one she was five pound ten and [son] who was four pound five, he was in the, in the incubation. We had a picture of him. And it was quite emotional at that point, because I’d had my children but they weren’t with me. And it was really quite sad because it was something that was going to be really important to me to experience this natural delivery and it wasn’t like that at all. And I feel as though I was a bit robbed to be honest with you that it didn’t happen like that. 
 
 

Alison had a haemorrhage and hysterectomy. She came round in intensive care but had no idea where...

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
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And the next point was when I came round, looking at the clock, the first thing I did, is, really strange that I looked at the clock when I came round and when I came round I’d got tubes that didn’t, I didn’t know that I’d got tubes everywhere, but kind of, could obviously feel that I’d got something in my throat, and in my nose. And I do, I just remember being very, very groggy, and coming round and I must have at some point, asked them for my glasses. Because without them I wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all. And I remember looking at the clock and it was early hours of the morning and thinking, I don’t know why I knew it was the early hours of the morning, but I knew that it must have, it was sort of probably, it was, it must have been about half, was it half three or five o’clock, something like that anyway. It was, it was, and I thought, gosh I’ve been out for a long time. 
 
And I asked for my husband and they said, “Oh he’s gone home. We’ll ring him, and we’ll get him to come back.” What he must have thought having a phone call at half five or something in the morning. He must have, I think when we spoke about it afterwards, I think he, he’d really thought something had happened, something that I had taken for the worse or something when they got the phone call. He got the phone call at that time. But they’d sent him home to get some rest. And so, yes, I’d ask to see him.
 
But when, the first thing I said to him, when he, he ran in across the intensive care. I didn’t know I was intensive care at the time, but he ran in across the room to me, and even before that, I’d kind of known something was really wrong. My first words to him, were, “Phaw, I’m not doing that again.” [Laughs]. And he said, “You can’t.” Or something along those lines. And as much as that, hearing him say that, was just a complete, just was, it was you know, it was just devastating, to hear that I kind of knew that that had happened. And I don’t know how I knew, but just, it wasn’t a surprise when he said it. Which, and I’ve no idea, because the nurses and the midwives hadn’t told me what had happened. Nobody had mentioned it before they put me to sleep. So I had no idea that that had definitely happened, but for some reason, it wasn’t a shock.
 
 

Lisa was shocked when she woke up. Her partner looked “bedraggled” and she was surrounded by...

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 35
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And I woke up. I woke up in ITU with [partner] on one side in scrubs, which was frightening. I thought where on earth am I? Looking around be bed, beeping going, and no sign of [daughter], my baby. I thought what’s happened here? Looking round and I remember seeing some people sobbing round the bed, and I thought I’m not in a maternity ward, what’s going on?  And he was leaning over me, and when I woke up he burst into tears and said, “Hello.” And grabbed my hand. I was like, “What on earth’s the matter with you? You’re still in this state. This is… you’re not my rock all of a sudden. What’s happening?” And he said, “You nearly died, and they had to do a hysterectomy.” 
 
Well initially it was just a massive shock. You know, you go in for something as simple as having a baby, and you know, all the way through with my hip problem, I thought there was something wrong and kept saying to people, “Could you just have a look at me, you know, I think there’s something going on here?” And everybody would flippantly say, “Oh you’re just having a baby, just having a baby.” And I was like, “Well okay.” You trust these people. 
 
And because you’ve never had a baby before, you don’t know what to expect or what it’s like or anything. You don’t, you’re just completely ignorant.  It doesn’t matter what you read or what you know, or who you speak to even, it makes no difference. Everybody’s experience is so unique, because you know it’s, no two are the same, and so I woke up not knowing about that one [small laugh]. I just remember thinking, hang on, this is nothing that I’ve read about. This is, this is an anomaly to me.  
 
And the lady said to me, she was wiping my brow and lovely woman, the people in ITU are faultless angels and I suppose they have to be, but she said, “Oh, you’re awake. Wonderful.” She said, “Oh you gave us a terrible fright.” And I just remember looking at her, “Why?” [Laugh]. And she said, “Do you know what, you were nearly a goner?” And I said, “What do you mean?” And I looked at [partner] and he was like, I’ve never seen, I don’t ever want to see that face again. Just looked bedraggled. And I could see he’d been crying a lot, and he was smiling really inanely at me [small laugh].
 
Like others, Rachel and Anna talked about the very vivid dreams and nightmares they had when they were waking up in intensive care. Rebecca said, “It’s a very scary place. Because you’re having so many drugs you start to feel like… I started hallucinating.”
 
Understanding why they are there
For many women, it took a while to understand both where they were, and what had happened. Paula described how she and her partner “just sat and tried to piece things together a bit for a while.” Alison T had amniotic fluid embolism (AFE), a very rare complication of pregnancy in which amniotic fluid, fetal skin or other cells enter the woman’s blood stream and trigger an allergic reaction, and was in intensive care for several days. When she woke up she had no idea where she was. “One of the consultants came in and sat on the end of the bed and said, “I told your husband to pray for a miracle, and I think we’ve had one.” Yes, and just said, “You’ve been very, very poorly. Did I know where I was?” And you know that sort of thing, which I didn’t.’
 
Anna had septicaemia after the birth of her second son. She was admitted to ITU for over a week while doctors tried to treat her infection.
 

When Anna woke up in intensive care, her partner was delighted. She was concerned to know if...

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 21
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So after my hysterectomy, they did leave my ovaries in. But I was kept in this sleep because I had septicaemia as well. So by this stage, I was put on life support, because my body needed to fight off this infection. And breathing and stuff like that was kind of needing to take a back seat. So I was put on all sorts of bits and pieces. I had tubes coming out of everywhere. So I was in the coma from the 24th and then on the 31st, every day they were checking my infection markers, if things had gone up or down or whatever they do, and on the 31st the infection, every day they were the same, I wasn’t getting any better, I wasn’t getting worse, and my family were sort of told. “How is she?” “Well we can’t tell you. She’s not getting any better. But she’s not getting any worse. She’s just stable.”  
 
So anyway, so luckily they managed to go in the same scar. And then they on the 1st, the 1st of January I was woken up. I didn’t really know what was going on. I remember just, [partner] my partner was there, and he was just like, the look in his eye, I’ve never seen it before. I’ve never seen somebody so, just grateful. He was running around me, telling me the kids are okay. Do I need anything? And like when I say need anything, I’d, because I’d been in a sleep for so long I had so much fluid on my lung, I had to like cough it up. And he was just helping me, just being… And I was just sort of thinking what? What? Because I thought, when I woke up, the first question I asked was, did they take my ovaries? So I knew what had happened. But then I kind of thought I’d had MRSA and it was, I didn’t really understand what had happened. Like I couldn’t even tell the time, it was really strange.  
 
 

Paula was sent to intensive care after she had amniotic fluid embolism. When she woke up she felt...

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 46
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Describe to me waking up Intensive Care.
 
Well you initially wake up and just feel like you’re coming out of a very, very heavy dream. Very heavy sleep. So it kind of seems like maybe, you’re still dreaming because the whole thing is very strange obviously. So I felt like my, my immediate feeling that I was kind of in a bit of a tunnel. It seemed really dark. I think it is, I think the lighting is you know, very subdued and everything. But that kind of obviously going to sleep in a very bright theatre with lots of hubbub and not a huge amount of noise, but a lot of activity and light and then waking up and clearly not being in the same place. Because obviously when you initially wake you just assume you’ve only just gone out and you’ve come round.
 
But of course I woke up just thinking really, like thick head, and thinking, you know, this is really dark and then, you know, immediately just said, “How’s the baby?” Because as far as I was concerned it was like minutes ago, you know, so… It took a good few minutes. I mean somebody was there immediately, somebody was there. You know, right away. But… and that, and that person… I think I had the same person actually through, through the time I was there,  who was a chap who I still to this day don’t remember his name which is awful but he was wonderful and he  was immediately very calmly telling me “You’re okay, you’ve had to have a bit of an operation. You’re… the baby’s fine, but you are in Intensive Care and you know…” He was just kind of going through the motions of very calmly telling me. And then started asking me certain things about did I feel, you know, presumably checking me over. You know, and I remember saying, “Oh can I have a drink of water.” And things like that, you know, just… so but just gradually computing as to what, what’s happening and I think I probably asked again, “Are you sure the baby’s okay.” Because I suppose what was immediately dawning on me was that something serious must have happened to me.
 
Cara had a haemorrhage and hysterectomy and was in ITU when she woke up. She didn’t really appreciate how ill she had been until her mother brought in a photo of her newborn and stuck it on the end of the bed. “I remember looking at this picture and going, it’s the sort of thing people do to help you pull through. My funny mother. And I sort of went, this isn’t good, is it? I’m genuinely really sick? And that sort of brought it home.”
 
Being in ITU
Many of the women described how important the kindness and support of ITU staff was in making the situation more bearable. Lisa said they were “faultless angels”. Hana was very distressed at not being able to wash herself, “that is when you hit rock bottom. Actually they had to give me a bed bath that day, because I just felt really just not very nice. She was a wonderful nurse that day though, she was really kind”.
 
In spite of the attentive and kind care they received, women often found their time in ITU very distressing. They were disturbed by the physical state they found themselves in, found it difficult to communicate and were afraid to go back to sleep. Women described feeling humbled and humiliated. Karen said, “Because of the haemorrhage I was still seeping a lot of liquids, and they were having to be changed and almost feeling like I was a baby myself having my nappy changed. You know it was very, quite humbling in a way. You felt very out of control, I’ve never felt like that before. That was quite hard”.
 
Rachel described a terrible thirst. Alison and others, were horrified by how swollen their arms and hands were.
 

After her haemorrhage and hysterectomy, Alison woke up in intensive care. She was bloated and...

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
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And when you finally got to see him, were you able to hold him at that point?
 
Yes, yes.
 
That was good.
 
Yes, it was. Yes. Yes, very emotional [laughs]. But yes, that was… but it was, that was hard as well, because I was still so, I was incredibly bloated. I was, I looked like, I don’t know what I looked… [laughs]. Somebody else who’s been through it described it as looking like a marshmallow man, and I think that… My, my fingers were so swollen, so blown up with all, just all the fluids I think, and the trauma and everything else. I couldn’t even bend my fingers. So trying to hold a baby with massive arms and fingers and everything else and being really, really sore and weak, was actually really hard and so I wasn’t able. I wasn’t, didn’t feel I was able to hold him for very long, and then I felt guilty that I couldn’t hold him for very long. And, that was quite, that was quite hard, because you want to hold them, and I think you see, before you have a baby, you see all these sort of idealistic, you have this idealistic picture in your head, and what it’s like when you’ve got a baby, that you’ll spend all the time cuddling them, and I didn’t feel like I could do that, because just holding him to start with, was just exhausting. So that was really, that was really difficult sort of emotional battle really. You want to be doing something, but you know, physically you’re not able to do it so… that was quite hard.
 
 

Karen was shocked by how swollen she was when she was in Intensive care. Nurses had to cut off...

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Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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Yes. I remember being very swollen. I remember looking down at my arm and I couldn’t see any wrinkles or anything. Not anything round my knuckles or, no wrinkles at all. My arms and my hands were just bloated and they had to call somebody to cut my wedding ring off, because I was swelling so much that, you know, I was in danger really of amputating my own finger kind of thing, because the ring was really digging in. So they had to bring a guy to cut the ring off. And I remember as he was doing it. He was obviously trying to do it, but he kind of kept looking at me, and the kind of look on his face, must have made me feel like he was looking at somebody as if to say, God you know, you poor thing or you know, what have you been through kind of thing. You know, it’s like a look of horror almost on his face and he couldn’t concentrate on doing the ring properly.  And whether or not that was the case, I don’t know, but that’s kind of how I remember it. Yes, it was just a very frightening place to wake up. Yes, very surreal.

Women were also distressed at not being able to communicate properly, because they had breathing tubes in their mouths. Mandy said, “Because of the tubes that went down my throat, I couldn’t speak. So to me I was speaking normally, but to everyone just mumbling. So communication was really tough.”
 

Karen was frustrated by not being able to talk to her husband.

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Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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The next thing I remember is… I remember being in what was ICU. I remember a lot of doctors around me, [husband] around my head area. And I remember them saying that they were, I think they were bringing me round, but I was still on the life support machine and they were saying that they were going to have, that they wanted to extubate me which is taking the tubes out basically. And so they did that and that was horrible. I remember fighting and you know, sort of clawing, my legs were kicking. I scratched the nurse, you know, dug my nails into the nurse’s hand. And I remember and again, I don’t, when you remember things in your own mind, it’s not necessarily as it actually happened. It’s kind of what you remember. And I remember my husband sort of turn away and walking off to the window, because I think the sight of me fighting and being in such distress probably disturbed him and yes, and then I have to remember the, just looking up and you know, I had a mask, I had drips and you know, tubes coming of me, and you know, just thinking where are hell am I? All these bleeping noises and alarms and my husband trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t hear him because I had an oxygen mask on and the hissing sound from the oxygen mask meant that I couldn’t hear him very well, and I remember feeling very frustrated because I couldn’t hear him and I wanted to talk to him, and I couldn’t communicate and that was horrible. That was really frustrating.  

 

Rachel woke up after losing her baby and a hysterectomy. She couldn’t speak, felt swollen, and...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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It was, yes, it’s very memorable to me. I woke up and I had this huge tube inside my throat. I couldn’t move a finger, my whole body was sedated. And I couldn’t speak, and I was bloated. I was really huge from all the liquids retaining. And there was a young nurse, a trainee nurse and she, she had piercings everywhere, I remember that. Because she was the first face, you know, over me kind of thing, and she wasn’t very, she was very young. She must have been 21, or 22 Canadian and she wasn’t very empathetic to me. And I wanted that thing out, because I just, it was painful in my throat. And she didn’t agree. I mean probably the doctors ordered it would stay there for twelve hours or something just to make sure there was more oxygen coming in and I just did this and nodded my head. You know, I needed to communicate, I need this out. I couldn’t speak. No sound came out. So I was just like making… And they wanted me to write, but I couldn’t write anything, so this is why I have this here, I’ve got a bit of scar under my bottom lip because this from doing left right, left right, no take it out. And she was so awful, I remember starting to cry and choking because she was just not sympathetic to me. Anyway I remember vaguely [husband] and my parents. But what I remember most is when I woke up on that first day, when I needed to go back to sleep at night. I was so worried to go to sleep. My sister was with, who is an angel. My sister’s one of the kindest people you know and, and I was so worried that the baby will come and haunt me and I felt guilty for the death of the baby and  I couldn’t, I begged [name] my sister not to go to sleep, so that she keeps talking to me and I stay awake. I was so afraid of going to sleep. And indeed she went to sleep, she couldn’t, she collapsed and I called the nurse and I asked her to wake my sister up. And the nurse said, “No she needs to sleep.” And then I fell asleep and indeed the baby came back and where I’m from, the country I’m from there’s a, there was when I was much younger a movement of Fascist party and because I’m a designer and painter in training  when I was very young, a teenager, 17, I did a whole project about that electoral campaign of that particular party and so they used black, white and yellow, which was together very  strong powerful quite Fascist combination of colours, and those colours came. That’s how the baby came to me in these colours as if he, with the fist that was their logo, and he was, and I talked to him in my dream that night and I asked him for his forgiveness and I said that I loved him. And then we kind of made peace and then I could sleep and my sister woke up and she was crying and crying because she realised she kind of disappointed me. 

Being a new mother in ITU
But for many women, the hardest aspect of being in ITU was being a new mother and having to be separated from their newborn baby. While some hospitals were able to make arrangements for the baby to visit their mother, in other situations this was not possible. Doctors and midwives may feel it is inappropriate to bring a newborn into an ITU; the patients are too sick and there might be a risk of infection. Alison found it very hard not to be able to be the mother she had imagined she would be.

You have this idealistic picture in your head, what it’s like when you’ve got a baby, that you’ll spend all the time cuddling them, and I didn’t feel I could do that, because just holding him to start with was just exhausting. So that was a really difficult sort of emotional battle really.” (See also Hana clip above.)
 

Paula asked to see her baby, but was told that it wouldn't be any time soon, as they needed to...

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 46
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I remember saying, “Could I see the baby?” And they were like, “Well it’s going to be a while or…” You know, they weren’t saying no, but they were saying, we need to get you sorted out first you know, and me just thinking, okay fair enough. Can I see… Because I was very, very hooked up, I didn’t really know what to, but I had lots of IV and stuff and… I didn’t actually feel that much pain, presumably because I was very, very heavily drugged but I didn’t, you know, clearly didn’t feel like kind of sitting up or going anywhere or anything like that. So I remember just kind of going in and out of consciousness, not consciousness but sleep I think really for quite, quite a period.
 
Okay and when did things start to get a little bit clearer?
 
Well it must have been, I suppose it must have been some time later that day. I’m not entirely certain how long I was actually in the, the ICU bit, because I did get moved kind of out of the most kind of serious bit into the kind of, I suppose the recovery part of ICU. And again I kind of woke up there, so I’m not quite sure, you know,  whether or not I had come round more in the, in the really serious bit of ICU or whether  they just kind of figured that things had stabilised or whatever and then moved me out you know.
 
I remember them coming round and being in more of a say, like I say what seemed to be more like a recovery area. Still had kind of IV stuff and being a bit hooked up, but there being more, you know, it being lighter and there being more people about, me being able to sit up, have a cup of tea I think. And just there being kind of, then at that point there was more kind of fully fledged conversations about what had happened and the consultant came to see me, and explained and so it was kind of dropping into place in my head as to what had actually happened. 
 
And it’s funny because I don’t remember kicking up a huge amount of fuss because I remember just thinking, yes, I can see why, you know, what I mean, I just remember thinking, they’re in an impossible situation. I’m hooked up to all this stuff I can’t go anywhere else. So they only solution for me would have been for me to be able to bring her there and that was just not, not on the cards kind of thing. And I mean there was, I mean obviously being around other people in Intensive Care we were there with like loads of complex serious things, that’s what it’s about. We were also looking around thinking well, yes obviously, you’re not going to you know, bring a baby kind of thing. 
 
In the meantime I don’t know who it was that decided this, but they allowed me to go back to maternity in order the [daughter] could come out of the special baby unit and before in fact [partner] took her home. So we spent a day in the maternity unit. They later on transferred me and it was physically, you know, two buildings away. It was a bit of a palaver you know. It was one of those things isn’t it. 
 
 

Kate was in HDU after she suffered from HELLP syndrome. She felt “just some useless person” lying...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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So yes high dependency [small laugh]. They were ever so good there. And I couldn’t sit up, couldn’t wash myself, didn’t really feel like eating. I was in a lot of pain. I was really swollen and not used to being a big person, it was quite horrible to look down and not recognise oneself. You know, having to lie in bed for four days, I don’t do that [laughs]. I’d love to do it now. But… I was lying on a bed that undulated by itself. I think it’s to stop you getting bedsores. But not being able to push yourself up or reach out for things. Horrible feeling. Just everything is taken away from you. 
 
And obviously I didn’t see my son for four days. Such an odd feeling. I mean [not] expecting to have the baby so early and then I wasn’t a Mother. I was just some useless person lying there. 
 
I did have some physio on the fourth day when they finally got me to sit up and I felt really sick [small laugh]. But I couldn’t walk anywhere because I was so wired up to the machines, so I could go about a metre and then I couldn’t move any further. Just the lack of dignity was tremendous. You know, people having to wash you everywhere and I could feed myself eventually, which is good. But they kept saying, you know, you’ll look forward to seeing your son. And I thought what son? What do you mean? Didn’t really mean a lot to me. 
 
Sometimes it may be possible for the mother to go and visit the baby if her condition is not so critical. This was the case for Farkhanda, who had a major haemorrhage after the birth of her son. He was in neonatal intensive care and she was focused on getting to see him as quickly as she could. The staff were very supportive, giving her morphine so she could travel in a wheelchair to see him. (See Baby in neonatal unit (NICU)).
 

Farkhanda was still in intensive care on lots of drips and painkillers, but was determined to see...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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So I went in to see my baby and saw the baby for the first time. We had a nice one to one skin contact and it was the first time that my baby was picked up, but they said that they deliberately did that, they wanted me to be the first one, my family didn’t pick him up and he was absolutely gorgeous and I remember thinking, all this time it was about him, but really it was about, we didn’t know it was going to be about me, so I said, “When’s my baby’s operation.”
 
And they’re going, your baby’s exomphalos fixed itself. We tied it up into a tube ready for an operation and in a few hours it fell into its belly into the right position. We said, “Then may be for the heart defect. We were told that the baby was born with an open valve.” I said, “When’s my baby being taken to Great Ormond Street for the hospital.” They go, “It’s not needed, the valve’s opened itself. 
 
So this baby that needed major operations was fine.  And you know, as soon as she said that to me, they told me, “The longest you can be downstairs to see the baby was about fifteen minutes, and then you’re going to need your medicine, because the pain relief is….” Because I needed my medicine every ten minutes, my pump. But I couldn’t take the pump with me because I had an epidural. And I had the gas, I couldn’t carry to much with the wheelchair.
 
And I’m thinking, I don’t feel very well, can you take the baby, I need to go back upstairs. 
 
And it was so nice, because they met me for the first time, yet they knew me really well. So I mean I walked into the baby care unit. The SCUBU and I remember them saying, “This is Baby [surname]’s Mum.” And they got up to handshake me. And they said, “Hi Farkhanda.” And I said, “How do you know my name?” And they said, “We all know you. We’ve all heard your story. You’re a fighter and we’ve all heard about you, and I remember going into the baby care unit, and all the specialist staff, the nurses, all coming up just to see who I was.
 
And I remember the lady said to me, “I looked after your baby when he was born.” And I said, “Could you come close to me.” And she said, “Yes.” And I gave her a kiss, and I said, “That’s thank you for being a Mum to my baby, because I said to my husband my baby’s born. He might not have a Mum and in my mind I thought you would be his Mum for his first few hours. And she started crying [laughs].
 
Being in a High Dependency Unit (HDU)
Some hospitals have High Dependency Units (HDUs), also called step-down units. HDUs are wards for people who need more intensive observation, treatment and nursing than it is possible to provide on general wards or maternity units, but less than is given on an ITU. Some women woke up in these units, others were transferred to them out of ITU.
 
For some women, being transferred to HDU was a relief, a step in the right direction. Simon described how he was able to stay overnight with his wife (Hannah – Interview 01) and baby when they were in the HDU. It was a very important time after the trauma of what had gone before.
 

Simon was able to stay overnight with his wife and baby when they were transferred to the HDU.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
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And then you mentioned the HDU was a sort of period. Was it three days did you say?
 
Yes, it was two or three days, yes.
 
And you were staying, were you?
 
I was. Which I was thrilled at, after the experience of not being able to stay around beforehand. It meant we could be a three, you know, it meant the three of us could be together. And they, they brought just mats, they had like little mat things and put them on the floor, and put them on the floor and I slept on the floor next to [Hannah]. And you know, [daughter] was in one of those bedside cots, bedside cots, and  yes, so and for me, it was just that room, apart from, you know, going to the gents like that was just a room for three days. That was just a little concentrated bubble of time. A bubble. Yes, they kept on… I mean I don’t know whether, I was kind of a good thing or bad thing for them. I think the nursing team. You know, because I mean, I helped save labour, because I would do a lot of the stuff. I mean I’d d bits, kind of check catheters or fill up water, or look after the baby and all this kind of stuff. So they had of less ringing on their buzzer than they would have. But at the same time, you know, there was just this bloke hanging around [laughs]. And kind of asking questions, about things, and I don’t know. I don’t they, they seemed at times a bit bemused and it’s like, you could just go home [laughs]. There’s nothing you can do, but just go home and get some sleep and come back in, you know, she’s fine. And it was just the last thing in the world I would have wanted to do. So yes, I was just, thrilled to be able to stay and I wasn’t going to leave unless they made me.  So yes, because at the end it was the three of us together and I wasn’t going to lose that.
 

For more experiences of being in intensive care see the Healthtalk ‘Intensive Care: Patients' experiences’ and ‘Intensive Care: Experiences of family and friends’ websites. 

Last reviewed April 2016.
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