By Jo Marshall
Receiving an ICP diagnosis isn’t easy for most women. And Covid added even more challenges for Leanne.
‘I was diagnosed with ICP at the end of July 2020, so towards the beginning of Covid, when there were tons of restrictions. I was transferred to consultant-led care and asked to go to the maternity unit for checks. But because it was during Covid, I had to go on my own.
‘That was really hard, because the consultant told me all sorts of things and did different checks on me. But I felt like I’d not taken everything in properly or thought of sensible questions that my husband or family might have. Just the thought of having to remember everything, to relay back to my family, that felt like a massive pressure.’
Leanne describes sitting in her car afterwards trying to process everything on her own.
‘Once I left the hospital, I just sat in the car park and cried. I was frightened because I felt like I didn’t really have any understanding of the condition, I’d just heard the words “stillbirth”.
‘I also I felt a bit blindsided, because up to that point the pregnancy had been so straightforward. I was massively gutted I was going to have to be induced. We had been doing a hypnobirthing course and I’d hoped for a natural spontaneous water birth on the midwife-led unit, and had been told straight up that would not happen due to the nature of the induction and it having to be performed on the labour ward.
‘I was scared that my body was going to be put through a procedure that it wasn’t ready for and that baby wouldn’t be ready to come out, that the induction could fail and lead to a caesarean, that labour would be harder. All those sorts of thoughts. I felt really out of control.’
That was just the first of many solo trips to the hospital for Leanne, as from then on she was asked to attend her local hospital’s maternity day assessment unit weekly for blood samples to monitor her bile acid levels.
‘I’m grateful I had regular monitoring and that my results always came back the next day, which I know is much faster than for many women. But it was hard not to worry about my levels and what that might mean for the health of my baby, and how long my pregnancy would be allowed to continue for – without really knowing what would influence this.
‘It was hard not to worry about my levels and what that might mean for the health of my baby, and how long my pregnancy would be allowed to continue for.’
‘The hospital team didn’t ever really have a straight answer for me with regard to how they might manage how far I’d go, and what the results each week might mean for us.’
In the end, Leanne was induced at 37+ 4 and her son was born without any complications.
‘After all the stress and worry we’d been through, I can’t really put into words how grateful I am that we got to have the birth we wanted. Despite my reservations about being induced, I’d go as far as to say that I loved my labour and delivery, even though it wasn’t the ideal I’d had in mind at the start of pregnancy. Unfortunately I had to stay put on the bed due to Oliver’s heart rate decelerating during contractions, but we stuck to several other things in our birth plan, like having delayed cord clamping afterwards.’
Reflecting on her ICP experience, Leanne says that it was more of a psychological struggle than a physical one for her.
‘I didn’t suffer too horribly with physical symptoms. For me it was the psychological side of things – not knowing exactly what was happening to my body and baby, the worry of stillbirth, and the fear of having absolutely no control over my bile acid levels.
‘It would have been good to feel more like the hospital understood the condition and that care plans could be more in line with what the latest research is saying.’
‘After all the stress and worry we’d been through, I can’t really put into words how grateful I am that we got to have the birth we wanted.’
‘Even though things went off track for us, though – the bottom line is that we got through it, with a beautiful, healthy baby. ICP Support’s Facebook group was a really big help in just not feeling so alone with it all. And although Covid made it harder in lots of ways, at least my husband was at home with me and we could spend that time together.
‘If I could share a message to anyone that’s going through this now, it would be this: keep going, get support and remember that it is still possible to have a positive birth experience, even with this condition. You’ve got this, and you’re going to be amazing!’
If this story resonates with you because you have experienced a stillbirth, you are very welcome to join our Facebook Precious Memories Group or our general ICP Support Facebook Group. You might also like to call the ICP Support helpline to talk things through.