One year ago...
“Did you know you have Group B Strep?” my GP asked.
“No. What’s that?” I was panicking immediately.
“Nothing to worry about really, it's a bacteria.” she explained, “We just need to make the hospital aware of it if you get pregnant again. They’ll need to give you antibiotics when you go into labour”.
And that was that. I didn’t give it anymore thought. Until I became pregnant again.
Group B Strep is a bacteria that colonises in up to 30% of adults in the UK - but most will never know about it. Usually, it is revealed when you are tested for something else. (In my case, via a urine sample for a suspected kidney infection.) Group B Strep comes and goes, you don’t know when you may or may not be an active carrier. It can usually exist within our bodies without causing any harm, the exception to this is that it can be passed to newborn babies in childbirth, and sometimes cause life threatening infections. According to the charity GBSS, 75 babies die as a result of Group B Strep related infections in the UK each year. Pregnant women in the UK are not routinely tested for Group B Strep. In other countries, the US, Australia, Canada and Spain, they are.
May 2012 - Hospital Booking in Appointment.
Apart from the two hour wait, everything seemed to be progressing as I’d expected at my hospital booking in appointment. When finally, I got to the front of the snail like queue to see the midwife, I felt positive. I planned to inform her that I’d like to have my second baby in the birthing centre again and that my hope was to have a similar birth experience to the one I had with Pip.
She flicked open my hospital notes, working through the standard questions and answers at lightening speed. When we got to my GP’s referral letter everything changed.
“You’ve got Group B Strep” she said.
She made it sound like a dirty word. “Well, yes, I believe so, but I understand it shouldn’t be a problem?” I stammered.
Silence. She reached into the drawer by her side and pulled out a sheet of bright yellow stickers. GROUP B STREP ALERT - emblazoned in bold caps type. With no further words, she started to apply the stickers at pace to the front of the folder and various pages inside it.
In the conversation that followed any dreams I had of replicating the positive experiences of Pip’s birth were shattered. A series of ‘No’s’ followed. No birth centre. No water birth. No. No. No. "This is hospital policy for GBS patients." I was informed I would need to have my baby on the labour ward, that I needed to admit myself as soon as my waters broke. That I would need IV antibiotics from that point and throughout the labour, to offer protection to my baby on his journey into the world. I thought back to my conversation with my GP. I'd assumed all I'd need to do was take a couple of pills.
I managed to hold on until I got to the car park, and then I phoned my husband and cried. Not just for me, but for my unborn baby, the reality of being a GBS carrier catapulting towards me like a weighty stone.
July 2012 - Appointment at 21 weeks
At my next appointment I asked the same questions, but of a different midwife. I got the same answers. I left the hospital resigned to my fate, that baby no 2’s birth was going to be a very different experience.
I’m a prowler; in times of stress, tension, waiting, I like to pace. I don’t like to be still. The thought of being restricted by an IV drip fills me with dread. During Pip’s birth, I found water gave me excellent relief from the pain of contractions, but that option is not available to me this time; they want to monitor the baby throughout and the hospital claims that will be more difficult in the water. I used hypnobirthing techniques when I had Pip and I felt they really helped. Yet, as a whole, I believe it was the combination of this and being in the water that got me through it. I feel apprehensive that I won’t have the benefit of the water this time. The fall back position of ‘I’ll have an epidural if it all gets too much’ is not an option for me either. I have a scoliosis of the spine and there is no way I plan to let anyone near my back with a needle unless a dire emergency demands it.
When I think about the birth, I feel tense. I feel scared. Not just for me, but for baby too.
When I wrote the post about Pip’s birth last week, it helped. It helped to recall the positives of the hypnobirthing and how I felt as his birth approached. To remember, in preparing for his birth, that my goal was about getting him into this world safely and not so much about me. I’m trying to remember those feelings and feel the same way. But, this time, it feels so much harder.
At the end of the day, it’s a good thing we know I’ve got Group B Strep. Precautions can be taken, and after the birth, our baby will be monitored every couple of hours for the first 24 hours. If he’s not thriving, he may be given antibiotics too. Even though I know the chances of our baby being infected will be reduced if I take antibiotics during labour, I'm finding it hard not to worry about the 'what if's.'
The one glimmer of hope is that there is an option to pay for a private test at 37 weeks to see if the GBS is active in my body at that point. If it isn’t, then theoretically, it shouldn't return before my due date. If this is the case it will go a huge way towards putting my mind at rest before the birth, and will also mean I can have a more 'active' birth experience. If the test comes back positive, then at least I know that too and will have time to mentally prepare myself.
In all of this, the thing I find most ridiculous, (given all the precautions my hospital are now taking), is that they don’t routinely test pregnant woman for GBS in this country. Especially when one considers that taking precautions to manage potential infections can ultimately save babies lives.
I wish it wasn’t this way, but it is, and I’ll deal with it, because I have to and the health of my unborn baby is the most important thing. It's time to draw on my grit, practice my stiff upper lip and dust down that hypnobirthing CD again.
Have you or your baby been affected by Group B Strep? If so, I'd be very interested to hear your story.