ICP (Obstetric Cholestasis) – My Story
“I’m sorry Mrs Gibb but I have to tell you that there is a high risk that your baby will be still born”
I will never forget hearing those words as I sat in the consultants office at my local hospital. I don’t remember anything else she told me after that as I just kept repeating her words over and over again in my head.
A few days earlier I had gone to see my midwife as I was increasingly losing energy, my feet and hands were itching and my urine had turned orange. I had been telling myself for a week that it was just usual pregnancy symptoms but in the end I decided that I should probably get it checked out. She immediately did a blood test and I had a phone call from the hospital that evening to tell me that I had ICP (Obstetric Cholestasis) and I had to go to the ante natal ward first thing in the morning. At that point I was still very naive to what was going on and had no idea about the devastating news I was about to receive the next day.
It turned out that I had a very severe case of ICP. Usually people affected have their liver function levels raised to around 100, mine were raised to over 1000! My poor unborn baby was fighting all the toxins my liver should have been able to get rid off and at that point no-one thought he would survive. I was only twenty two weeks pregnant and most people are only affected in the last few weeks of pregnancy so I had a long way to go.
I was put on medication which terrified me as I couldn’t stop worrying that it may affect my baby in some way. It was the only chance he had to survive though so we had to do it. My baby and I weren’t going to give up without a fight. I am a big fan of making my own juices so I researched recipes to help cleanse the liver and made myself a pint of this juice religiously every day. (Please note that this was something that helped me personally – there is no medical research to support this) I remember lying down with my hands on my tummy and just willing my baby with all my might to make it through the day.
Every week I would go into the ante natal ward to have my baby monitored and have my bloods taken. Every week my liver levels improved a little more and a little more. We were defying all belief and we were surviving it!
Then, at 35 weeks gestation, I felt like I couldn’t go on anymore. I have always been a great believer in mothers instinct and I just felt that my baby needed to be out. I felt like he wouldn’t survive another day inside me. I am lucky in that I had the most amazing consultant who listened to me and made the tough decision to go with my instincts. She induced me there and then that same day.
It was a tough labour which totalled about 3 days but my little baby boy was born. Against all odds he was alive! My world was temporarily shattered once more as he was whisked away from me to the special care baby unit. He was struggling to breathe and needed some help. But he was in the best place, with the best equipment to pull him through. Three days later I was able to have my baby with me as we were moved to transitional care. I will never forget that day when they told me he was going to be ok. It had been a long, hard battle for the past four months but my little boy had true spirit and determination and together we made it.
Obstetric cholestasis, also known as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), affects less than 1 in 100 pregnant women. Normally, bile salts flow from your liver to your gut to help you digest food. In obstetric cholestasis, the bile salts don’t flow properly and build up in your body instead. The main symptom is severe itching, generally on your hands and feet but this can be all over the body. Other symptoms may include dark urine, pale stools and jaundice.
The most recent research shows that women with severe ICP have three times the risk of stillbirth. The good news is that this is still relatively low at 1.5% although it rises further if the bile acids double. Due to this risk pregnant ladies with ICP will usually be offered an induction at 37 weeks.
Mild itching is very normal in pregnancy so doesn’t always indicate a problem. Having said that, ICP related itching is usually severe but not in all cases, so if you have any itching at all that concerns you please contact your midwife straight away. I had already had three children and I was not aware of this condition when I got it during my fourth pregnancy. I hope that by sharing my experience with others we can raise awareness and help more babies arrive into this world safely, just like the lovely people of MAMA Academy .
My little boy is now a cheeky little one year old full of life and every time I look at him I feel like the luckiest mum in the world to have him here with me. It was the toughest pregnancy I have ever been through but I would do it again in the blink of an eye.
(For more information on ICP, please visit the fabulous support group www.icpsupport.org)
(Disclaimer – any views expressed here are relevant to my own personal experience. If you want medical advice please refer to a medical expert)