19-year-old left with heart condition and trauma after horror pregnancy
- Credit: Anna Attoe
A 19-year-old left needing heart surgery and counselling after a traumatic pregnancy is urging women not to blame themselves if their baby's arrival isn't "perfect".
Anna Attoe from Norwich fell pregnant at 16. She was told as an arthritis sufferer her baby's growth might be stunted, but soon realised that was not the half of it.
At 16 weeks, she was getting ready to go out when she began having heart palpitations.
An ambulance came and paramedics told her mother she was on the verge of cardiac arrest, with her heart pumping at 260 beats per minute.
"After they got my heart rate down in hospital, they told me I had a heart condition," Ms Attoe said. "The strain of pregnancy had triggered it."
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The beta blockers Ms Attoe was prescribed slowed her baby's growth. Doctors told her this was because the drugs slowed the heart rate — and could affect the productivity of the placenta and the ability of nutrients to pass to the baby.
At the 26-week mark, the then 17-year-old was rushed to hospital with "horrible pains" on her stomach and back.
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"Turns out", she said, "I had food poisoning. I was being sick so much that the contractions in my stomach sent me into labour."
She was given drugs to stop the labour, but was so dehydrated she had to spend six days in hospital on an IV drip.
At 35 weeks, her waters broke — but this did not show up on scans at the hospital. Instead, she was told she had wet herself and should return home.
A further scan at the hospital a week later proved she was right, however, so she was booked in to be induced the next day at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
Ms Attoe explained: "I got to the N&N for my appointment at 10am — but that there were no beds left in the neonatal intensive care unit because of an influx of women going into labour.
"At 11pm that night they found a bed for me in Southend in Essex and said my mum needed to drive me there ASAP.
"They put me straight on steroids and a drip, and began inducing me at 4am the next day.
"After 18 hours of a contraction every minute my baby just wasn't moving, so I ended up having an emergency C-section."
Ms Attoe dropped in and out of consciousness during the operation. When Marcy was born, she was whisked away into intensive care. Around six hours later, she turned "bright orange" due to a delayed onset of jaundice and spent a week in an incubator.
N&N midwifery director Stephanie Pease said the hospital was sorry for the distress Ms Attoe experienced.
"We are part of a critical care network offering highly specialised care for very sick babies", Ms Pease said.
"When any one of these specialised units is busy, patients have to travel further afield across the East of England, but this is always a last resort."
Fast forward to 2021, however, and Marcy is "perfectly healthy" — just small for her age. Ms Attoe said she was "worth all the pain" and was practically "angelic".
Ms Attoe, on the other hand, has had multiple heart surgeries since the birth — and may need a pacemaker.
Scars from the C-section have also left her numb on one side of her stomach where doctors cut through nerves and muscle.
Though she has had counselling and a birth debrief to deal with the mental toll of the ordeal, which involved her GP going through her labour and delivery step-by-step, it still took her months to shed the feeling she had "done something wrong".
She said: "What made it so much more difficult was the judgement from a lot of other mums who derided me as "too posh to push" because I'd had a C-section.
"For ages it was hard to recognise that Marcy was my baby — because I hadn't given birth to her in a 'natural' way."
Ahead of Traumatic Birth Awareness Week starting on July 19, Ms Attoe wants women to be frank about the trauma of childbirth.
"There's no such thing as a perfect pregnancy", she said. "It can be absolutely horrible, and people need to acknowledge that."