Giving birth during the pandemic can be stressful for many women. That was especially true for Perpetual Uke, a rheumatology consultant at Birmingham City Hospital in the U.K. Like many, Uke fell ill with flu-like symptoms back in March when the coronavirus was just starting to spread.
She soon wound up at a local hospital on a ventilator as she battled what now appears to have been COVID-19. She eventually fell into an induced coma, but at the time she was 24 to 25 weeks pregnant. It wasn’t until a month later she came out of the coma only to discover that she had given birth while unconscious via an emergency c-section.
She’s now recovering from her illness with her husband Matthew and their two newborn children. It’s a story that would keep any pregnant woman up at night, but thankfully this one comes with a happy ending.
Giving Birth While in an Induced Coma
So, how does a pregnant woman give birth while unconscious?
Dr. Deborah Feldman, director for maternal fetal medicine at Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, treated a woman nearly 20 years ago who had a stroke in the middle of her second trimester. That woman was considered brain-dead at the time, but delivered a healthy baby.
Dr. Feldman says, “It is very rare [for a pregnant woman to give birth while unconscious],” adding that she’s only heard of two or three cases in the past decade. However, when it does happen, she says, “Most of the time, those babies are healthy and robust. Nature takes care of itself.”
That was certainly true for Perpetual Uke. Luckily, most of her organs were functioning properly at the time of her coma, which increased the chances of a healthy pregnancy.
Dr. Feldman goes on to explain, “Always, a c-section will be the easiest way to deliver the baby, but obviously that’s riskier for the mom because it is a surgical operation,” Feldman said. “The recovery would be essentially the same as for a normal patient, with probably slightly increased risk of infection.”
One of the main concerns is that if pregnant mothers don’t eat enough during pregnancy, it could lead to poor fetal growth. However, Uke was only in a coma for about a month, giving the babies more time to develop naturally without a significant lack of nutrients.
Waking Up to a New Family
Luckily, Uke’s children were delivered into the world. She gave birth on April 10th to Palmer, a girl, and Pascal, a boy, at just 26 weeks, weighing only 770g and 850g.They were placed in incubators on the neonatal intensive care unit soon after.
As for Uke, she spent another 16 days on the critical care unit before eventually meeting her new family. When she came out of the coma, she remembers thinking, “I was pregnant at 24 to 25 weeks, at that stage, and by the time I woke up, I was so disorientated. I thought I’d lost my pregnancy because I couldn’t see my bump any more. I was really worried.”
However, it would still be some time before Uke could hold her children. “It was a very, very worrying time for my husband and kids and, even after I woke up, I couldn’t see my babies for more than two weeks.”
When she finally got to see them, she recalls, “They were so tiny they didn’t look like my older kids, I couldn’t touch them, I felt so emotional.”
Her husband Matthew was there for the entire ordeal. He remembers, “I had mixed feelings when the twins were brought out. My wife was still in a coma, sick, I couldn’t talk to her. I was happy the twins were delivered but the thing is, is my wife coming home?”
Matthew was relieved when his wife finally came out of her coma. During that time, the newborns didn’t have their mother when they needed her.
As Uke stated, “I had never wanted them to go through this difficult path at the start of their lives. They couldn’t see their mum for two weeks, which obviously made me very sad but, importantly, things had progressed well.”
For now, Uke is just thankful to be home with her new family.
“Coming home was the real healing point for me,” she said. “The family are now all together, and we’re all very, very happy.”