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A successful second pregnancy

Della Sharpe, a mother with cerebral palsy, from Swindon, UK, writes about making the decision to have a second child after experiencing a head injury.

Due to being born prematurely at 29 weeks (I am a surviving twin) I have cerebral palsy. Although I can walk, you can see it in the gait style of my walking. I also have poor balance which makes me prone to falling over.

Our first child, William, was born in spring 2003. After his birth, obstetric physiotherapists did not want to give me exercises because of the cerebral palsy and general physiotherapists did not want to give me exercises because I had just had a baby!

Naively, I thought my mobility would just return after the birth, but by spring 2004, because I was totally dependent on walking aids or the pushchair, and in pain walking and going upstairs, I finally asked for a referral for physiotherapy.

I had been receiving the physiotherapy for about a month when, at tea time on 10 August 2004, I fell down the stairs at home (previously I had only ever fallen downstairs twice, once when aged six and once when aged 19). Luckily, I was not on my own at the time. My husband Gary and my mother were in the house. I can remember the realisation at the top of the stairs that I was going to fall. The next thing I can remember was lying on my back in the hallway with my legs lying up the stairs being told by Gary not to move and feeling blood trickling out of my left ear.

I had fractured the base of my skull and had two subdural haemorrhages (bleeding between the brain and the skull). I spent nine days in hospital. Because I had been unconscious for less than four minutes I was lucky and, apparently, in terms of damage, subdural haemorrhages are the ones to have! Due to the head injury I have lost hearing in my left ear, have no sense of smell and very little sense of taste. My mobility was also shot to bits again after the fall.

What the fall made me realise was that things could not continue as they were and that I was struggling to cope physically with the demands of a toddler. I needed help and it was not fair to be reliant on family. I phoned social services. I was assessed and the process leading to obtaining direct payments began. While this was going on I also saw the orthopaedic consultant (I had an original appointment cancelled because I was in hospital with the head injury). This led to an appointment with a neuro-physiotherapist in January 2005. Finally, I was getting appropriate support to regain mobility.

By the time William was two, direct payments were in place and my mobility was beginning to improve. Gary and I were very aware that we did not want William to be an only child. I had a younger sister and Gary had three siblings. We knew the benefits of having siblings but also now knew what the consequences and after-effects of pregnancy and childbirth would be for me.

Deciding to have another child

Our first avenue was to look into adoption. We researched it on the internet and took it as far as a meeting with the council adoption services. We established that my disability would not exclude the possibility of adoption or fostering. Adopting a child rather than a baby did not bother us either. Our concern was that we knew the process would take at least two years and the council would not begin the process until William was four years old. This would make me at least 36, probably 37, before we would know if we had been successful. Personally, I felt that if we were unsuccessful, past 35 was too late to be deciding to go through a second pregnancy.

We decided to look into having a second child naturally. I knew that, even before conception, my mobility needed to be back to a pre-childbirth level. From my experiences first time around, if I was not as mobile as possible beforehand, recovery would be too difficult. Through direct payments, I now had my own personal assistant who was supporting me with the physiotherapy and other tasks. My mobility was improving.

The next thing was to look at the implications of the head injury. I spoke with my GP and the head injury support nurse. Other than having to manage with the loss of hearing, taste and smell, plus the effects of pregnancy on my mobility, the head injury itself added no extra risk or complication, as far as they were aware.

We had now established that as long as natural processes worked there was no physical reason why I could not have a successful second pregnancy.

We now needed to look at how we would manage after the birth. After William's birth, Gary had three month's leave from work (the majority unpaid). We had saved enough money to make this possible once more. I also had support from my personal assistant. My physiotherapist was also happy to support me throughout and after the pregnancy. Consistent physiotherapy was something that was lacking during my first pregnancy.

All bases were now covered. By the autumn of 2005 my mobility was back to a pre-childbirth level. We had conceived William very quickly and did not expect to be that quick again. I had my coil removed in mid-November 2005 and the pregnancy was confirmed at the beginning of January 2006.

A new life

I am one of those women who doesn't particularly enjoy being pregnant but the new life and child that comes from it is definitely worth it. It was this thought that I hung on to in the first three months of pregnancy when I was being sick at least twice a day and losing half a stone in weight. I was closely monitored by health professionals and the rest of the pregnancy was OK.

Our first child had been born by normal delivery within three hours of my waters breaking (I was not aware of labour before that) which is quite fast for a first child. I had flagged this up during the pregnancy. Would a second birth be even faster? Elizabeth Florence was born at 19:55 on 9 September 2006, 25 minutes after my waters broke. I am so glad I went to the maternity department with backache! She is now about to start school and Gary and I are the proud parents of two beautiful children.

First published DPPI Journal Issue 74: Autumn 2011

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