‘COLE never took his first breath. He opened his eyes, but he never cried – that’s the hardest thing, not knowing what he sounded like.”
Sitting on her sofa, tightly holding her husband Rob’s hand, Gemma Asling-Carthy is talking about her baby son Cole, who died in October, just 15 hours old, after contracting an infection during birth.
The grief-stricken couple couldn’t even hold their son until his life support machine had been turned off. With a treasured picture of Cole taking pride of place on the table beside them, Gemma and Rob have found the strength to talk about their precious son to raise awareness of the Group B Streptococcus infection (known as GBS and Strep B) ...
Strep B is the most common cause of life threatening infections in newborn babies ... Around one third of adults will carry the infection without any problems but it can cause infection in newborn babies before, during or shortly after birth: Cole contracted the infection from Gemma’s birth canal during labour.
... "... it had been the perfect pregnancy,” says Gemma, 26. “I’d wanted a home birth from when I had Hayden – this time I’d planned it ...”
... When the midwife arrived at the couple’s home ... for the planned home birth, Gemma wasn’t aware of anything being wrong, and with her contractions just two minutes apart, the arrival of her third son wasn’t far away.
... Gemma had a high temperature but felt very cold and couldn’t stop shivering.
“Apparently feeling cold is the only indicator of the infection,” she says. “With Strep B there are no symptoms until you go into labour and your temperature goes up.”
As well as Gemma’s high temperature, Cole’s heart rate was dangerously high so, after explaining the situation by phone to the second midwife who was on her way to the house, an ambulance was called to take Gemma to ... Hospital.
... “When I managed to sit up to get into the ambulance, my waters broke.”
Cole was born in the ambulance on the way to hospital ... After arriving [the] ... special care baby unit, Cole was put on a life support machine. “Even at the hospital they didn’t know it was Strep B straight away,” says Gemma.
“They’d never had it there before,” adds Rob, 29. “They said it was asphyxia to begin with ...”
... Gemma says: “He had septicaemia, hyproxic brain injury, which is starvation of blood and oxygen to the brain, and his kidneys and liver were collapsing.
... As Cole’s organs collapsed one by one, Gemma and Rob were faced with the devastating decision of when to turn off their newborn baby’s life support machine.
“They said we could leave him on it for 24-48 hours and see how he does, but his organs were failing,” says Gemma ... "... We didn’t want him to suffer anymore.”
... “He was alive for an hour and 20 minutes after he was taken off the machine,” explains Gemma. “The only organ that wasn’t damaged by the Strep B was his heart.”
After leaving hospital, Gemma and Rob had to explain to Hayden and Preston that their little brother had died ...
The family had to wait four weeks for the post mortem to reveal that Cole had died from Strep B before they could hold his funeral.
... Gemma and Rob are desperate to warn women of the danger of Strep B during pregnancy, and want pregnant women to ask their midwife to be tested for the infection.
... “We just want women to be aware,” says Gemma, smiling. “I’ve got a seven-year-old and a three-year-old and I’d never heard of it before.
“You can be tested for it at between 35 and 37 weeks in your pregnancy ... The test is just a swab, it’s not invasive, it’s not a blood test, there are no needles ..."
... “if I do fall pregnant again I would be tested at the beginning of the pregnancy and at the end, and my labour would have to be in hospital. I’d have antibiotics during the labour even if I didn’t have it.
“The antibiotics hopefully stop the baby catching the infection as he or she passes through the birth canal.”
■ For Group B Streptococcus information and support, visit www.gbss.org.uk.