A mother-of-three who nearly died after her unborn baby attached itself to an old C-section scar in the womb has issued a stark warning to other mums.
Former shop assistant Haley Malton, 34, wants other women to avoid unnecessary Caesarean sections because they increase the chances of life-threatening scar ectopic pregnancies.
Haley and her decorator husband Axl, 30, from Harrogate in North Yorkshire, went through two miscarriages as they tried for a third child after the births of their daughters Annie, 13, and Lola, six.
So when Haley found out she was pregnant in December 2016 the couple were thrilled and headed to the doctor for a scan.
Haley Malton, 34, wants other women to avoid unnecessary cesarean sections. Pictured with her husband Axl, 30, and their daughters Annie, 13, Lola, six, and Lilly Dot, two
They were left devastated, however, when Haley was told the fertilised egg had implanted itself onto one of her c-section scars.
She said: ‘We were taken into the same scan room where I found out I’d lost my other babies, so it was quite a difficult room to be in.
‘They took the scanner off me, passed me a box of tissues, said they were sorry and left us in the room thinking we had lost another one.’
Five hours later a specialist told her she was six weeks pregnant but needed to have it terminated to prevent another, potentially dangerous, miscarriage.
Haley went through a six-hour operation after her daughter’s birth to remove placenta from around her organs (pictured afterwards)
After hearing the devastating news Haley ‘didn’t know what was going on’.
She added: ‘It was so shocking. I just happened to glance at the notes on her desk, where it said there was a heartbeat present, so I asked if it was possible to continue with the pregnancy. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing another baby.
‘The doctor said they couldn’t force me to terminate, but if it haemorrhaged, I would be in serious trouble.
Six weeks into her third pregnancy Haley and Axl were told the fertilised egg had implanted itself onto one of her c-section scars. Haley’s scar from surgery is pictured
Her miracle child, Lilly Dot (pictured with Haley, left, and Axl, right), two, was born at just 27 weeks. The size of a Mars bar, she had mild cerebral palsy as well as chronic lung disease
When she was 11 weeks pregnant, Haley and Axl saw a senior specialist, who advised terminating the pregnancy. Haley refused and Lilly Dot (pictured) was born
‘We decided to go home and wait for another specialist appointment. I Googled like crazy, but there’s just no information out there. And in every case I did find, they had either terminated or lost the pregnancy.’
What is a cesarean scar ectopic pregnancy?
A cesarean scar ectopic pregnancy is when the pregnancy is implanted in the scar left in the uterus following a cesarean section.
If the pregnancy is allowed to continue the placenta could become deeply implanted into the scar and often through the scar into the space between the uterus and bladder.
If the pregnancy survives, the placenta then fails to come away at delivery and there is a very high risk of severe bleeding, needing a hysterectomy to control bleeding or worse.
Early in the pregnancy these scar pregnancies may also bleed heavily.
In view of these serious problems, if a scar pregnancy is diagnosed a patient will usually be advised that the pregnancy should not continue (though often it will fail in any event and may consist of only placental tissue).
Is there treatment?
If diagnosed very early, then similar surgery to treating a miscarriage is safe.
This involves introducing a small suction catheter into the womb and removing the pregnancy (which is usually only placental tissue that is growing).
This is usually carried out under ultrasound guidance under an anasethetic in the operating theatre.
When she was 11 weeks pregnant, Haley and Axl saw a more senior specialist, who again advised that terminating the pregnancy was the best option.
‘I don’t know if it would have been the same if I hadn’t had my miscarriages, but I just couldn’t bring myself to terminate a life that I wanted so much,’ she said.
‘My husband wanted this baby too, so we decided to carry on and wait and see.’
Haley had weekly scans and MRIs, which showed the baby was growing down towards her cervix, making it more dangerous than if it was growing upwards, as it put her at risk of a haemorrhage.
Doctors also told her that the womb scar from the previous c-section now had a 2cm rip in it – caused by the placenta pushing through and the growing baby pushing down, meaning she was slowly rupturing.
‘The placenta is like a parasite,’ Haley explained. ‘It needs to keep the baby alive and so will grab at any organ for blood.
‘I was lucky it was a slow rupture and that it didn’t rip suddenly.
‘It wasn’t really painful, it was just uncomfortable. It felt like I was desperate for the toilet all the time.’
But Haley dreaded her hospital appointments, as at every one doctors begged her to terminate.
‘They said I was crazy and told me if their wives or children had this pregnancy, they would make them terminate,’ she said.
In the end, she felt so isolated by her weekly trips to the hospital that she booked a private scan, so she could have at least one experience of having a ‘happy’ pregnancy.
‘Those radiographers didn’t know what was happening, they just showed me 3D images of my baby and congratulated us,’ she said.
At 18 weeks her placenta had pushed through the scar and was growing around other organs. Lilly Dot is pictured soon after she was born
‘It was nice to be normal for a minute. And we also learned we were having a girl.’
Waiting for enough weeks to pass for the baby to be viable, Haley endured some very dark days.
‘I spent some days in bed just crying and Googling, but on other days I felt normal,’ she said.
‘The pregnancy didn’t feel wrong, but I don’t think I fully took in what was happening. It was just too unbelievable.
It was decided surgery would take place once the pregnancy reached 27 weeks, to give the baby the best chance of survival. Pictured, Lilly Dot in hospital
‘I couldn’t enjoy the pregnancy, as it was too different to my others. I couldn’t buy anything or watch TV shows about babies.’
At 18 weeks, Haley was sent to see the foetal medicine specialist at a hospital in Leeds, by which point her placenta had pushed through the scar and was growing around other organs.
‘The specialist sat me down and said, “This is it, you need to terminate. The placenta has engulfed your bowel and your bladder and is now surrounding your kidneys. We don’t think you can survive this”,’ she recalled.
‘We’ll book you in for surgery in a week’s time. There’s nothing else we can do, so I will give you five minutes with your husband to decide.’
Haley was told surgeons didn’t know if they would be able to save her if the pregnancy continued. Pictured, with Lilly Dot
Haley admits Axl was now sick with terror at the thought of losing her.
‘He said he thought maybe we should not continue with the pregnancy, but I went against his wishes,’ she continued. ‘We talked on the way home and he finally agreed we should go ahead.
‘The surgery at that point would have been just as life threatening as if I had got to the end of the pregnancy, so I thought, “I’m risking my life already now, why not see if we can get a bit further?”‘
Once home, Haley put herself on strict bed rest to stop the risk of a blood vessel bursting in the placenta.
Haley, pictured with Lilly Dot, says the c-sections she had with her daughters weren’t necessary and could have been prevented
‘The placenta, when it escapes, becomes really vascular,’ she explained. ‘It splits and spreads out and has massive veins, so if you burst one of those you will haemorrhage and be in real trouble.’
Weeks later, now 22 weeks pregnant, Haley and Axl were on the sofa watching television when she suddenly haemorrhaged.
‘I was bleeding out,’ she recalled.
Haley was rushed first to hospital in Harrogate and then on to Leeds, where the doctors had the specialist equipment needed to save her from bleeding to death.
At 22 weeks pregnant, Haley and Axl were on the sofa watching television when she suddenly haemorrhaged. Lilly Dot is pictured soon after birth
‘I thought, “This is it. I’ve got as far as I can go”,’ she said. ‘I was scared. I thought this might be it for me and for the baby.’
By the time Haley reached the hospital in Leeds, the haemorrhaging had stopped.
She spent the rest of that night passing golf ball-sized clots and the doctors told her she would now have to stay in hospital until the baby was delivered.
She had one more haemorrhage between 23 and 24 weeks, which prompted a late-night visit from the neonatal team, asking how much intervention she wanted if the baby was born there and then.
Haley travelled to and from Leeds hospital every day for the entire 89 days her baby was there to see and cuddle her ‘miracle’ daughter
‘I told them, “If she comes out with a bit of fight in her, help her, but if you think there’s no hope, don’t make her suffer”,’ Haley recalled.
Then, a few days later, another doctor came to talk to her at the end of his shift.
‘It was quite late at night,’ she said. ‘He sat on the armchair in my room, put his head in his hands and told me the surgeons were scared they might not be able to save me.’
It was decided surgery would take place once the pregnancy reached 27 weeks, to give the baby the best chance of survival.
When Haley (pictured with Lilly Dot) was wheeled away for her operation Axl had no idea if he would ever see her again or meet their baby
But the day before the planned operation, Haley experienced a blinding pain in her ribs and collapsed.
Unable to breathe, she was given morphine for the pain.
And when she woke up in the early hours of the day the surgery had been planned, she said she was in excruciating agony.
‘I can’t describe the pain,’ she said. ‘It was like I was being torn apart from the inside.’
Meanwhile, poor Axl, who had spent that night with his wife, had no idea as she was rushed away if he would ever see her again or meet their baby.
Haley had a hysterectomy and her cervix was removed. Her bladder and bowel were damaged but left intact. Lilly Dot is pictured as a newborn
‘We are such a close and totally in love couple, he must have felt so lost and broken,’ she said. ‘He told me he was devastated and frightened to death, as they rushed me out of the room.’
Haley was in surgery for six hours, during which time baby Lilly Dot was born and whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit.
She was the size of a Mars bar and had mild cerebral palsy as well as chronic lung disease.
After that, surgeons set to work to remove the sprawling placenta and repairing the damage to Haley’s organs.
She also had a hysterectomy and her cervix was removed. Her bladder and bowel were damaged but left intact.
It wasn’t until four days after her surgery that Haley was well enough to see her remarkable daughter (pictured) for herself
‘I remember waking up feeling really groggy when it was all over and apparently all I did was ask if the baby was alive,’ she said. ‘When they told me she was, I went back to sleep.’
Haley’s unbearable pain had been caused by some of her placenta shearing away.
On top of that, her womb had filled with blood, which Lilly Dot had swallowed, triggering a stroke.
‘The doctors told me we were both lucky to be alive,’ she said. ‘Lilly Dot is definitely a miracle, because they told me when she came out, she actually squeaked, so they knew to fight for her.’
Lilly Dot (pictured in hospital) had swallowed blood when Haley’s womb filled with blood. It triggered a stroke
It was four days before Haley was well enough to see her remarkable daughter for herself.
‘It was scary,’ she said. ‘She was so small she was the size of a Mars bar. Her skin was sticky because she was so premature and her eyes were sealed shut.
‘But we were so bonded. I was crying and thinking, “We’ve done it”.’
Haley discharged herself after the doctors came to talk to her about Lilly Dot’s stroke and the consequences.
Haley (pictured) discharged herself after the doctors came to talk to her about Lilly Dot’s stroke and the consequences
‘They told me she would have no quality of life. It was devastating and I just thought, “What have I done?”‘ she said.
‘I went against everyone’s wishes and now I could have ruined her life.’
Lilly Dot stayed in hospital for 89 days and Haley, despite the pain of her own recovery, travelled over 30 miles from Harrogate to Leeds and back to spend every day with her.
Once she came home, the baby could not leave the house for the first year of her life in case she became sick.
Haley was ‘devastated’ when the doctor told her her daughter would have no quality of life and would be mute
After being told she would be mute, the family also began to learn sign language.
But on her second birthday in May 2019, Lilly Dot shocked Haley, who is now her full-time carer, by saying, ‘Hi Mummy.’
‘She’s doing amazingly now and hasn’t shut up since then,’ laughed Haley. ‘She has braces on her legs and walks with a little walker, but mentally she’s all there and ahead of the game.
‘She’s full of life and before the lockdown was going to nursery two mornings a week, which she loved.
Lilly Dot (pictured during an outing) wasn’t allowed outside until she was a year old to ensure she didn’t become unwell
‘The family is complete now and I am so happy. I would do it all a hundred times over because it was just so worth it. I can’t imagine not having Lilly Dot in my life, she’s just so special.’
After her own harrowing experience, Haley is now keen to make other expectant mums aware of the risk of having unnecessary C-sections, which leave scar tissue in the womb, increasing the risk of a scar ectopic pregnancy.
She had a C-section with both older daughters, but believes the surgery could have been avoided.
After her own harrowing experience, Haley is now keen to make other expectant mums aware of the risk of having unnecessary C-sections (Haley’s scars after the operation are pictured)
‘They were both totally unnecessary,’ she said. ‘The reason for the first one was failure to progress.
‘They said I was too tired, but I was already 10 cm dilated and if someone had just kept me going I wouldn’t have needed one.
‘The second one, I was planning a natural birth, but I got sciatica, so was told that, having had one C-section, I may as well have another.
‘I couldn’t be more grateful to have Lilly Dot, but I honestly believe that if I hadn’t had those C-sections, there wouldn’t have been a scar for the embryo to implant itself on.’