Remembering Meah

November 2020

In her role as MRF’s Support and Membership Manager, Cat Shehu provides comprehensive support to anyone impacted by meningitis. In this blog, she reveals her personal experience of the disease, and how this guides her in leading the MRF support team.
Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a common bug which is carried in the body of an estimated 20% of women around the world. GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease and people generally will not know they are GBS positive. Carrying GBS is not normally harmful to you but it can affect babies around the time of birth and can in some cases cause premature labour, still birth and sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis in young babies. 
GBS accounts for around 150,000 preventable stillbirths and infant deaths every year globally. It is the UK’s leading cause of bacterial meningitis in newborn babies yet, in the UK, women are not routinely tested for GBS in pregnancy. 
I was one of those 20% that carried the bug and was incredibly lucky to have found out by accident when I was 37 weeks pregnant with my second child in 2000. I had swabs taken after becoming poorly with a urine infection, and a full set of tests were ordered. I went for my 37 week consultant appointment a week later, and a very nonchalant doctor told me I was GBS positive. I asked what this was, and I remember his response: “Oh nothing, but you will need antibiotics in labour so come in to hospital without delay when you go in to labour.”

"A completely normal ultrasound scan at 23 weeks confirmed I was having a baby girl and, as before, I began to prepare for the new addition."

I didn’t question it and, as a twist of fate, I ended up returning the next day, in labour, early enough to receive intravenous antibiotics with enough time for them to cross the placenta. My son was born a very healthy 12lb, however I noticed he was given much more attention following his birth on the post-natal ward than my first son had been given. We returned home without issue.
This was the case with my third child, a son, and my fourth child, a daughter. I had no reason to think that my fifth pregnancy would be any different. A completely normal ultrasound scan at 23 weeks confirmed I was having a baby girl and, as before, I began to prepare for the new addition.
However, in my 24th week of pregnancy, I began to leak amniotic fluid. I instinctively knew something was wrong and Googled endlessly. After ringing my midwife, maternity unit, and anyone that would listen, I was given tests and was told it wasn’t an amniotic fluid leak. I returned home and put it down to me being overly anxious, and reading too many google horror stories.

The next day, I remember feeling uncomfortable and was sent home from work as I felt strange. After feeling painful tightening I again went to the maternity unit. After an anxious wait, I still remember the look on the doctors face after examining me and tracing the baby.  She had the unenviable job of telling me that my body was now in labour. I would have my baby that night, and she would not survive.
Living with bereavement

Living with bereavement

When someone you love dies suddenly, it is devastating. Meningitis Research Foundation’s support team are here to listen to you.
I was looked after with such care and compassion by the doctors and midwives. My daughter Meah was born early the next morning, and passed away an hour after birth on 4th February 2009. The following days and weeks went by in a blur for everyone concerned. After registering her birth and death in the morning, I met with my consultant in the afternoon, who had ordered a post mortem as is standard with any loss of a baby over 24 weeks.
The results showed that Meah and my waters were infected with GBS and this had caused my premature labour and her premature death. I now fully understood how impacting GBS could be. 
Finding out I was expecting again the following year was both a wonderful and an incredibly scary time. The same consultant took wonderful care of me, and I had weekly infection blood tests and swabs taken, twice weekly scans to measure my amniotic fluid, open access to the maternity unit and, thankfully, after the most anxiety provoking 9 months of my life, my fifth and final baby was born, healthy and completely spoilt. 

In my case testing would not have saved Meah, but a vaccine that could have prevented GBS in the first place might have. The experience opened my eyes to the tragic consequences of being GBS positive in pregnancy. 
Testing for GBS is recommended in the last 5 weeks of pregnancy as your carriage rate can fluctuate, and most women labour after 37 weeks. However if you are prone to premature labour, or simply worried about GBS, you should discuss this with your midwifery team. They can advise you about NHS options, or private tests you can pay for. 
Providing support for people with experience of meningitis, whether caused by GBS or otherwise, is something I am passionate about. If you have any questions, or if my story has affected you, please contact the support team that I lead.

UK: 080 8800 3344
IRE: 1800 41 33 44

Group B Strep Support (GBSS) also work to raise awareness of GBS and campaign for greater testing availability in the UK. Stillbirth and neonatal death society (SANDS) can also support after the loss of a little one. 
Ensure our support services are there for people affected by meningitis
Ensure our support services are there for people affected by meningitis
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This is the main cause of meningitis and septicaemia in newborn babies.

It can be transmitted from mother to baby before or during birth, or through contact with adults who handle the baby.

Type - Bacterial (Group B streptococcal - GBS)
Age group - Baby
Outcome - Bereavement

"We are devastated and totally horrified that no-one mentioned this killer disease to us. All mothers and fathers should be aware of Group B Strep"
Type - (Group B streptococcal - GBS)
Age group - Baby (0 - 1)
Outcome - Full recovery

"They also told us that if we had waited any longer to bring her in we would have lost her."
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