By Erica Kain
March 06, 2013

After having my first baby naturally—no epidural anesthetic or Pitocin to assist labor—I was fully converted to the idea of natural childbirth. It was a powerful feeling, letting nature take its course through my body. All my memories of the pain and effort faded the moment I held my daughter in my arms.

When I went into labor with our second daughter last February, I felt prepared for what was ahead. Starting at home, with our doula and a birthing ball, it soon became clear that something was wrong. Instead of a steady progression of intense contractions, I felt increasingly weak. I was pale, my lips were gray, and my labor slowed down to a constant, horrible pain in my uterus—nothing like the energized excitement of our first baby's birth.

We rushed to the hospital, and the admitting nurses confirmed that things were not going as planned. I had a rising fever, and my white blood cell count was 16.5 (normal is between 5.9 and 14.7). My labor was one long, useless contraction … and I opted for an epidural as soon as I could.

But things got worse. My fever rose to 101 degrees, and my fetus's heart rate increased to a worrisome 200 beats per minute. I was moved me to an operating room, the epidural was cranked up, and my OB-GYN performed an emergency C-section.

The bad kind of strep
I learned later that I was suffering from a very unusual womb infection brought on by Group B streptococcus (GBS)—strep throat's evil stepsister. Though I had tested positive for Group B, like I had in my first pregnancy, the infection came out of nowhere. In retrospect, I had no chance of delivering the baby naturally or vaginally. The placenta that linked my baby and me was so infected with GBS that I was close to septic shock that morning.

As soon as the doctor removed the infected placenta, though, my fever began to fall. To my relief, my daughter was born with no sign of GBS, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and even death in newborns. As a precaution, she was put on antibiotics immediately following her birth, and spent several days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with her vital signs under close watch before she was considered to be out of danger.

Next Page: An unusual infection [ pagebreak ]An unusual infection

Luckily, this type of womb infection is very unusual.

Although 15 to 40 percent of pregnant women will test positive for Group B streptococcus (GBS) prior to their own labors, the vast majority have no need for great concern. When they go into labor, they are given antibiotics that greatly reduce the chance of passing GBS on to their babies through exposure in the birth canal. Only 1 in 4,000 babies whose mothers received antibiotics during labor will develop signs of GBS after delivery, according to the American Pregnancy Association. And no more than 2 percent of women with GBS develop an invasive infection like mine, according to the Farlex Medical Dictionary.

As my doctor explained later, the process of labor "agitates your uterus like a washing machine." And once in a great while this exacerbates a GBS infection that may have already begun, creating a potentially deadly situation.

Waiting for my baby to be cleared by the NICU doctors gave me a chance to recover from the infection, the surgery, and the shock of our close call. My OB-GYN came to check on me several times during my stay. And when it was time for me to be discharged from the hospital, he squeezed my foot and said, "You scared me," as he left.

I was baffled. After all the dramas—the miscarriages, the bleeding during pregnancy, and the final, dramatic C-section—I looked down at that little baby, healthy and calm in my arms, and said, "I wasn't worried for a minute."

To get more information, read Dr. Kenneth Trofatter's excellent blog, Fruit of the Womb, for a detailed explanation of GBS.