Anna Wharton is mum to Gracie, a thriving two-year old, yet her daughter’s start to life – wired up in intensive care fighting Group B Streptococcus – was far from rosy. Read Anna’s story…
For the first week of my daughter’s life, it wasn’t me who cared for her, it was a team of nurses in blue scrubs.
It wasn’t my breast that she nuzzled into during her first 24 hours, but a feeding tube that went down her nose to deliver the colostrum I’d painstakingly pumped by hand.
Wires all over my newborn made getting her out of her incubator a two-man job. And instead of my voice to soothe her, it was the constant beeping and whirring of heart monitors on the neo-natal intensive care unit.
It was the most awful start to life, and one that was the complete opposite of what I’d hoped for my baby daughter.
And yet, I can’t help thinking that maybe I could have prevented it.
You see, when Gracie was born, a swab picked up that she was suffering from Group B Streptococcus (GBS). You probably haven’t even heard of it, but it is the biggest killer of newborn babies in the UK.
And yet, we do not currently test for it on the NHS.
As a newspaper executive it was my job to read every single newspaper, every single day, so I was aware of it. I read the frightening headlines, and researched all the facts.
It is a bacteria that we all carry day-to-day, it lives between the anus and the vagina and it is perfectly harmless. That is unless you are about to give birth.
Because if you have that infection when your waters break – that protective barrier that prevents babies picking up harmful infections – your baby stands a big risk of contracting it. GBS is in fact the most common cause of severe infection in newborns, particularly in the first week after birth. Sadly, about one in ten of babies affected by it, dies.
There is no point in testing for it throughout pregnancy, because it comes and goes – you could have it one week and not the next. But there is a huge need to test for it in the last few weeks of pregnancy because it is actually very easily treatable. If you are found to be positive, all that is required is to be hooked up to IV antibiotics during labour. That way, your baby will be protected.
It doesn’t sound much of a sacrifice to make, does it? And because I knew about the risks of GBS, I went to the trouble of ordering a £35 test over the internet, to take and send off for results once I reached 37 weeks.
And yet I didn’t take it. Why? Because it would have meant I had to give birth in a hospital, hooked up to a drip, and I had my mind set on a home birth. So I saved myself the dilemma of wondering what to do if it came back positive and put it in the bin.
But as we all know, Mother Nature always has other ideas. I laboured at home for 40 hours, but when things got complicated, I was transferred to hospital. Gracie had a very bumpy ride into this world, and ended up on neo-natal intensive care. When her infection markers shot up the day after she was born, it was discovered that she did indeed have GBS.
Luckily, she was already on antibiotics as a precaution after her traumatic birth, and she got stronger every hour and day afterwards. But I had to ask myself that had I taken that test, would she have instead been snuggled up with me on the maternity ward? I guess we’ll never know.
I did everything right by reading up on GBS, because after all, information is power. But not if you twist and shape it into something that suits your own wants and needs. I thought giving birth at home was more important, and it turned out I was wrong.
So whatever birth you want, just be aware of GBS and act accordingly. Because all of us want a healthy baby safely delivered, and a £35 test might just help make that possible.
For more information about GBS go to www.gbss.org.uk.