At around 28 weeks pregnant – just into the third trimester – I noticed my entire body had become increasingly itchy. As I suffer with eczema, I just put the itch down to hormones playing havoc with my skin. I mentioned the itching to my midwife, and she asked “are your hands and feet particularly itchy?” to which I replied no, as it was just my body. She said it was probably just my skin stretching, and as I suspected, the hormones playing havoc with my eczema. She took my bloods like she said she would at my 28 week appointment, and after crying like a baby because I hate needles, I went back to work.
Over the next week I noticed the itch becoming more and more intense. I sat at my desk literally wanting the writhe the skin from my hands because they were so irritated. Then I remembered what my midwife had asked previously, “are your hands and feet particularly itchy?” WELL THEY BLOODY ARE NOW!!! I excused myself from the office and rang my midwife. She explained that I must have my bloods taken immediately, and made me an appointment with the Pregnancy Assessment Unit (PAU) within the hour. Little did I know that the PAU would be my second home for the rest of my pregnancy.
After four hours of observations, waiting for my blood results to come back from the lab, and excessive itching, I was diagnosed with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), commonly known as Obstetric Cholestasis (OC)… I know what you’re thinking, “what the bloody hell is that?!” In short, OC is a liver condition that occurs only in pregnancy, where the normal flow of bile out of the liver leaks into your blood, instead of your digestive system like its supposed to, and affects approximately 1 in 140 pregnancies in the UK.
So I asked the consultant how can I cure it and how will this affect my baby? Unfortunately I didn’t get the answer I wanted! “The only cure is to give birth”…. YES! GIVE BIRTH.
“You mean I have to put up with this horrendous itching for 10 MORE WEEKS?!” Nope, not quite. Some studies show that Obstetric Cholestasis can increase the risk of stillbirth after 38 weeks, and so I would have to be induced at around 37 weeks to reduce this risk. As you can imagine, this was seriously scary to hear, especially when emotions were already running high. I was booked in for an induction at 37 weeks and 6 days.
Over the next 6-7 weeks I was under close observation, with weekly blood tests and CTGs to monitor the bile acid levels in my blood and baby’s heartbeat and movements. All was as it should be apart from the itch. THE BLOODY ITCH. There are no words to describe the absolute torture that came with the continuous itching. Cold baths, menthol cooling creams, stripping off to nothing but some really unsexy maternity knickers…. NOTHING helped ease it! Sometimes I would itch so hard that I drew blood and left bruises, especially on the tops of my thighs. To make matters even worse, it was the height of summer and we were in the middle of a heatwave. If it wasn’t hard enough to sleep with what felt like a rotating bowling ball attached to my front, I now had to try and sleep with a constant tingling feeling all over my body. I would cry out of sheer frustration most nights. At one point I was convinced I was allergic to my sofa… How insane does that sound?! I think it was probably the insomnia talking, as I was lucky to get five hours sleep a night.
I just kept counting down the weeks until I met my baby, finding comfort in the knowledge that he or she would be so worth every sleepless night.
I was given extra scans to ensure that baby was growing fine, but at 36 weeks I didn’t feel him move as much. I did the recommended laying on my side and having a cold drink, but movements were still few and far between. I went to the PAU and they told me everything was perfectly fine. The next day at 36 weeks and 3 days, I went for a scan. The sonographer checked baby’s measurements, and he was weighing in at a tiny 5lb 10oz. It was lovely because we were her last scan of the day, so she gave us a little extra time. However, she was concerned the amount of fluid around baby, and told us that my induction date may need to be brought forward!
Well I was sh*tting myself!! I had been psyching myself up for weeks, I had a date set and that was that. We waited in the reception of the Women’s Centre for what felt like hours! The consultant finally called us in and immediately agreed that rescheduling my induction for an earlier date would be the safest option for baby. He phoned the labour ward, and then said, “How about tomorrow?”… “TOMORROW?! What? Erm? Like, tomorrow tomorrow? As in the day after today?!” Me and Ciaran looked at each other in total shock. We thought we had at least another week as a twosome.
We agreed that tomorrow was fine with us, and left the hospital to tell our families the news. They had the same reaction as us, “What?! Tomorrow?!” It suddenly became very real.
We got in the car and I could barely drive home, my foot was trembling on the clutch and my sweaty palms kept sliding off the steering wheel. Ciaran asked, “what do you want for our last supper as a two then?” To which I replied, “Get me a double cheeseburger and large fries!” Well… I thought I might as well take full advantage of the ‘eating for two’ excuse.
That night we laid on the couch watching my tummy move. It was such a surreal feeling knowing that the little alien like person inside me would soon be in my arms! I was filled with anxiety and excitement, but was also absolutely terrified! All of a sudden, watching One Born Every Minute felt like the BIGGEST mistake of my life.
Two days later after two pessaries, an extremely long “latent phase” of labour, and 12 hours of active labour, our little boy was born weighing 6lb 5oz. He was perfect from head to toe, although a little sticky! The consultant was definitely right about something… The only way to get rid of the itch was to give birth, because just hours after giving birth the itch had almost disappeared, as if by magic! Other than the fact I had a gaping hole between my legs, I felt like a new woman.
So ladies, if you feel abnormally itchy during your pregnancy – particularly after 30 weeks – tell your midwife! DON’T IGNORE THE ITCH…. Fight the itch, save a life!
This month is ICP Awareness month. Please share, you may just save a baby!