It was a normal second birth for Melissa* and her baby, which should have been followed by a return home to meet the rest of the family and settle in together, all cosy and happy.
But within hours after giving birth Melissa was fighting an infection that could have cost her her life — and her children their mother.
A routine birth
Melissa says her second birth was straightforward, with only a second degree tear to contend with. She had a healthy baby boy and felt excited about what lay ahead. That was until she noticed a strange sensation in her abdomen, that didn’t feel quite right. Trying to put it down to having just had a baby, Mel found it hard to shake off the feeling that something was wrong. “Obviously, I’d just had a baby … but this was a different pain to labour. It didn’t feel like contractions or after birth pain,” she told Babyology.
Pain worse than childbirth
Although the pain was mild at first, Melissa says it really became pronounced a few hours later, and quickly became unbearable. “The real pain started about 12 hours after birth. By 5am the next morning, I was screaming and holding onto the sides of the bed – I sounded like I was in labour again. It was really intense abdominal pain that was constant, and got worse and worse.”
It was around then that other symptoms began appearing: shivering, fever and profuse sweating told Melissa and her husband that something was seriously wrong. The next step was getting the hospital staff to figure out what was going on.
No one knew what it was
At first, hospital staff were putting Melissa’s symptoms down to recovering from birth. “Eventually, because I was screaming and carrying on so much, they brought the doctor in and thought maybe I had some retained products. I had a bedside ultrasound and then a CT scan that revealed nothing. By this point I was getting morphine injections in the leg (to deal with the pain),” she says.
Still none the wiser as to what was going on for her, Melissa says that by 4pm that afternoon, a nurse entered her room and was shocked by how unwell she looked. “She said I looked seriously ill, and did her routine set of obs. My heart rate was through the roof and my blood pressure had dropped to a dangerous level.”
In a very bad way by this point, Melissa was taken to ICU for stabilisation, but not before a set of blood cultures were taken and sent off for urgent investigation. Sepsis had become a concern.
Rare and extremely serious
Everything became a little fuzzy at this point she says. “I don’t remember a lot of it. I was spoken to the next day and they said ‘your cultures have grown Strep A in the blood,’ which was extremely rare.” Streptococcal A is normally associated with strep throat, and is typically mild and easy to treat. However, if Group A strep bacteria enters the body, it can have devastating consequences.
Going through childbirth made Melissa’s body vulnerable to infection, despite how rare the condition is in women who give birth – around 6 in every 100,000 women who give birth will contract this serious infection. If that doesn’t sound scary enough, Melissa then discovered that the Strep A infection had caused sepsis, a potentially life threatening complication of an infection, which can cause organs to fail.
“I could have died”
Fortunately Melissa was in the right place and received the necessary antibiotics to fight off the infection. Eight days later, she was finally able to go home and be reunited with her family — including her new baby, who couldn’t be with her during her time in intensive care. Melissa says she is still reeling from her close call. “If I wasn’t in the hospital when it happened, they told me ‘you probably wouldn’t have survived it’,” she says. “It’s time sensitive, the symptoms can just look like a viral infection, or just being a bit unwell after birth. I read about other women who didn’t realise those symptoms could be something serious and it was too late by the time they got to hospital.”
Mums need to look out for this
Melissa hopes her story will help other mums look out for symptoms like the ones she had after birth. “I don’t want anyone to go through that,” she says. “People have lost their lives, there’s children that didn’t get to meet their mums. Mine happened really quickly, but it could happen anytime in those first four weeks postpartum.”
Melissa says that having a husband who is a nurse meant that he knew what to look out for as she became unwell. But it worries her to think about couples who don’t have medical knowledge. What if they don’t recognise the signs of this serious infection? “I want people to be aware that fever, shaking and sweating means an infection. Don’t leave it and hope it goes away on its own,” she urges.
What if mums feel like they’re symptoms aren’t being taken seriously? Melissa wants women to speak up and be heard. “You know your body — advocate for yourself, keep pushing if something isn’t right. You think you won’t be the rare person. I would never have thought something that serious could happen to me after giving birth — but it could be you.”