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Gemma Utton: My birth story

Mum’s experience with Group B Strep during pregnancy

Author Gemma Utton
Categories   Birth Stories

The Edit

We had some friends over one Saturday night and after just a couple of drinks I started to get a headache. That combined with remembering my Fitbit telling me my period was due a few days prior (and I was like clockwork) I ran out to the shops on Sunday morning to buy a test while my husband of five and a half weeks was at football.

When he got home, I took the test and it was positive. I think we were both a bit shocked it happened so quickly and typically just around the Christmas period where avoiding alcohol during functions would be hard to hide!

For the most part my pregnancy was easy. I didn't have any morning sickness; I was able to carry on training with my PT and attended bootcamp a few times a week until I was 32+6.

I suffered a bladder prolapse at the start of the second trimester, but it didn't cause any real issues, just some occasional discomfort, especially as baby was getting bigger.

Fast forward to my 32-week appointment with the hospital. Prior to seeing the registrar my routine urine test showed increased levels of protein and that combined with a high BMI meant PCR testing to rule out pre-eclampsia. Almost a week later I received a phone call from the hospital telling me that I'd tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS). Cue panic.

 

For most expectant mothers GBS is not routinely tested for, despite the worst-case scenario being the potential loss of your baby. I must stress this is worse case and according to the NHS website it's rare. Depending on your hospital trust you may be able to request testing, but you can pay for private testing if not.

I waited for my 36-week appointment with my consultant to discuss my birth preferences. My consultant explained that as soon as my waters broke, I should come to hospital and they'd ensure I was monitored. I'd be given an IV drip of antibiotics during labour to prevent passing on the infection. But after speaking to my family, it was clear not everyone knows when their waters break – it's not always like the gushing you see on TV.

If I had chosen natural labour, I was offered an induction so that labour could be somewhat ‘controlled’ – which could have resulted in a long labour and an emergency C-section anyway, putting my body and baby through a hugely stressful ordeal.

I continued to push for a C-section and the consultant talked through the risks of surgery, but this didn’t deter me. I left the appointment with a C-section booked in for 39 weeks. I knew the day we'd be meeting our baby and secretly my husband was relieved as there was no chance of him sharing his birthday which was five days after our due date!

The day before the C-section we went to the cinema and had an early dinner. We arrived at the hospital at 7.30am and had been told there had been a host of emergency C-sections throughout the night which pushed the elective schedule back. We were last on the list and there were only four electives per day, so we just kept hoping it wouldn’t be long.

Eventually our midwife came to see us at about 4.30pm to get us ready. In theatre, the team introduced themselves, laughing and joking as they prepped me. As I laid back, I looked up and I could see my stomach in the surgical light. Convinced I'd be able to see everything I was a little panicky, but the anaesthetist was reassuring me saying it would be fine. Whether it was the drugs or something else, I did not believe her. 

The minute the screen went up I couldn't see anything. The consultant came in and introduced himself and was quite calming. The team were advised that we didn't know what we were having so they knew baby would be a surprise.

The midwife took my husband’s phone to record the procedure and my husband had his camera ready to go. The first incision was at 5.37pm, next came a lot of pulling and pushing - I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. Baby was definitely comfortable and showing no signs of coming out naturally anytime soon. We heard the baby crying before the consultant finally showed us both, asking my husband to tell me what we had.

He finally confirmed we had a gorgeous daughter, born at 5.42pm weighing 7lb 12oz - the same as I weighed when I was born. Matt cut her cord and after initial observations I was given our baby for skin to skin. The next thing I knew I'd been sewn up and was ready to be taken back across the corridor to recovery.

We were in recovery for an hour or so, and made video calls to our immediate families. We then called my nan and my husband's aunts to share the surprise before we messaged some of our closest friends. I carried on with skin to skin and gave our daughter her first feed. We then headed to the ward for our first night.

We carried on with skin to skin and I continued to establish breastfeeding, with support from the midwives. After my mandatory ‘three pees’ we were soon discharged. A little less than 24 hours after major surgery, we were on our way home!

My parents picked us up, my dad itching for cuddles with his newest granddaughter not me! We got home and called Matt's mum to come over so all three grandparents could have their first cuddles and be introduced to our daughter, Willow Margaret Joan. 

Willow was a name we both liked, and we decided to honour family members for her middle names. Lots of Matt's family on both sides have Margaret in their name and Joan is after my grandma who passed away in 2019.

Recovery in the height of summer wasn't easy. Willow lost close to 10% of her birth weight quite quickly and was slow to gain. She didn't like my right boob and we just didn't know how much she was having.

Aside from back pain I felt good. I was soon able to shower without my husband helping me into the bath, but I occasionally suffered with excruciating back pain. I remember crying one day as I was folding clothes - I'd clearly done far too much. Then Willow needed a feed and I just couldn't get comfortable. Matt tried to help me but nothing was working.

Next came the nipple soreness and oh my word, that was a whole different level of pain. I was wincing every time she went anywhere near my nipple, but I persevered, knowing it was temporary.

Within a week we'd gone for a slow walk around the block and started to make this a regular thing. My scar was healing well and there was minimal discomfort getting up from the sofa and bed. I started to feel normal a lot quicker than I expected. I felt confident to drive sooner than planned which helped massively with cabin fever.

I ventured out to our local council-run baby group at five weeks, started a baby massage course at a little over eight weeks and started swimming lessons at 15 weeks. I’ve made the most amazing group of friends through baby group, often going for impromptu walks to the local park, sharing advice and giving support when we all need it.

Most importantly for my mental and physical health I finally made it back to my sanctuary – bootcamp - at just under 11 weeks postpartum. My instructors adapted exercises for me and I tried everything, stopping when I could feel my scar pulling or discomfort. While I can’t prove it, I credit my good, healthy and fast recovery to attending bootcamp until I physically couldn’t anymore.

Our daughter is now seven and a half months. She's developing a brilliant personality, finds herself hilarious and loves her food. We couldn’t imagine life without her and every day I am grateful I was confident to push for what would be our perfect birth story.

All too often, elective C-sections come with the stigma of being ‘too posh to push’. It is major surgery and shouldn’t be chosen lightly, but with the right research, clinical and surgical teams and support system in place, it can be the best decision you could make.

We were lucky that everything turned out perfectly for us, but I know it’s not the case for everyone. If this can help one mother with GBS I hope it will have served a purpose.

Useful links with GBS support:

Author Gemma Utton

Gemma lives with her husband Matt and their daughter Willow. A 38-year-old first time mum who enjoys bootcamp in all weathers and loves country music. She is a medical conference manager and hopes to raise awareness of GBS and how it can be approached positively.

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