A night in the public maternity hospital

My 37 week checkup with the midwife was last Monday. It was a different midwife, B, and she was obviously extremely thorough, as all the appointments were running very late. It was a warmer than average day and I was a bit late arriving, so I was a little wound-up as I waited to be called.

Looking at my file, B advised that I probably should have had a glucose test for gestational diabetes at around 28 weeks and suggested that I go to the hospital the next day to sort it. I was too late to do the test with her, as her clinic was nearly over and you have to wait an hour after drinking some sugary solution before having the bloods taken.

She wasn’t happy with my swollen feet and the fact that my legs were also getting fat and noted that there was protein in my urine. When she took my blood pressure and it was 160 over something, she was even less happy. I explained I sometimes have white-coat syndrome and that if she waited and took it again we’d probably be okay. This doesn’t always work, obviously, as it’s a vicious circle when you get a bad reading and are then anxiously willing it to go down. (I once had to undergo a 24-hour blood pressure analysis after a high reading refused to drop when I tried to join the gym at work; my average results were all fine and everyone was happy in the end but you could see the readings going up at times during the day – my body just seems to react to stress this way.) She took another reading while I thought of cool green trees and, though it was down to 140, she still wasn’t happy. The high blood pressure/swollen feet and legs/protein in the urine combo suggested I might have pre-eclampsia, so she advised me to head to the maternity hospital pronto to get checked out.

Day ward
I kind of knew I was probably okay but headed into the hospital after zipping home to put a last few things in my hospital bag just in case someone needed to bring it in later. I had a shower and even removed my nail varnish, just in case. I landed in the day ward around lunchtime and they couldn’t have been nicer. They took another urine sample, asking me to wipe myself down with some pink fluid first so that the sample was clean, and sure enough the protein reading was much lower than it had been at the midwife’s clinic. They did a 20-minute trace on the baby and he was great – there was nice variation in his heartbeat, which averaged around 130 but ranged from about 119 to 150 from what I could see. They explained that his heart rate goes up when he moves around, as ours would do if we went for a jog, which is kind of cute. My blood pressure was borderline okay and they sent off bloods to make sure everything else was as it should be.

Surprisingly, they also gave me a 3-litre plastic canister to fill with urine over the next 24 hours so that they could take an average of my protein levels. This also involved equipping me with a plastic measuring jug with a spout, such as the one you might have in your kitchen but with a 2-litre capacity, to pee into first. You would be surprised how hard it is to get a 2-litre jug between your legs and to aim correctly under a big bump. I was highly motivated to get it right though, as they told me I’d have to start from scratch if I forgot to fill the canister during any one of my toilet trips.

There was a handful of other girls in there with various complaints. One also had high blood pressure and another had that severe itching in pregnancy thing that indicates the liver condition obstetric cholestasis – the poor thing had to go to the day ward twice a week for monitoring and was worried that this was not going down at all well with her employers.

This being the public hospital, we were all waiting several hours before a harassed doctor came with our blood test results. I had missed lunch and was afraid to go to the canteen for fear of missing the doctor but finally grabbed a sandwich and a juice at around 5pm. My fellow captives had a good-natured laugh when I went to the toilet, as it was impossible to disguise where I was off to with my giant canister and jug in tow.

The doctor arrived at about 6pm and was happy with the bloods, urine sample and baby trace but not so happy with my borderline blood pressure, so he suggested I stay overnight for monitoring, keeping my pee-testing kit with me to do in the ward instead of at home.

The dreaded antenatal ward
So, I had an unexpected night in the antenatal ward. I had missed dinner but one of the very kind midwives got me a turkey salad from the kitchen and I settled in for the night. I had heard about this place from my sister and, to put it diplomatically, it didn’t sound great. Every member of staff I came across was lovely but the ward itself has 14 beds in all, separated only by curtains, and there is very little privacy for the women, some of whom are at their most vulnerable and scared. There are women like me who are being monitored, those being induced and poor souls in pre-labour ie who are having contractions but not yet in established labour and so not ready to go to the single-occupancy delivery rooms (the hospital’s policy being that you’re not in active labour until you’re 1cm dilated). From what I could tell, one or two were actually in active labour but just waiting for a delivery ward to become available.

To summarise a long, long night, it was pretty traumatic listening to women panting away in agony behind the curtains with their stunned, and generally silent, partners. The worst was the woman wailing her head off at around 1am before they carted her off somewhere – she sounded like a banshee being burned at the stake. Girls came and went all night, including one poor couple who were sent home and told to come back in on Wednesday to be induced if nothing had happened. The woman in the cubicle next to me was vomiting with pain every time she had a strong contraction. I think I slept about 20 minutes the whole night, just willing the sun to rise, breakfast to arrive and a bit of normality to creep back in. The sleepless night had the positive effect, though, that my bp was down to 120 in the morning, probably due to tiredness.

One upside was that I had a scan on Tuesday morning. He was a perfect size, measuring at around 6lbs 15 ounces, and moving around nicely. It was nice to see the little man again.

I had to wait until 2pm for the pee test to be completed. They took bloods again, including the glucose test my local midwife had recommended, and shipped off my pee canister for analysis. I settled in for another long wait to get the results back while they kept an eye on my blood pressure, which was back to about 138 but acceptable enough.

Kudos to the smart midwife who kept checking if my results had come in. They arrived at around 3pm and, thank the universe, everything was fine, so I was allowed to escape home. I have rarely been so delighted to sleep in my own, quiet bed and, joy, to pee directly into a toilet like a normal person.

I’m at the GP today for my 38 week checkup and, of course, I will be desperately trying to keep my blood pressure down so as not to have a repeat of this little adventure.

Despite the trauma of the antenatal ward, I got great care at the hospital and everyone I encountered was reassuring and lovely. Having said that, Plan A is still to bypass the antenatal ward if at all possible and do all that pre-labour stuff at home. As is Plan B. And Plan C.

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6 Responses to A night in the public maternity hospital

  1. jebhow515 says:

    The whole puking thru labor things had me completely surprise as I had no idea that was a thing until it happened to me! Hoping you can labor at home! By the time I had my dad drive me to the hospital I had labored at home for 13 hours. ;). You are so close!

    • That’s exactly my plan too, though I can imagine it’s hard to know what’s labour and what’s pre-labour when you haven’t done it before. I don’t envy you with that puking thing, that poor girl was in bits. It was a fine soundtrack to my breakfast the next morning too!!

  2. Sounds like a hellish night. Hope everything goes okay for the next little while.

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