Did my toxic breasts kill one twin and leave the other fighting for life?
As I sat by his crib, looked at his frail body, I knew things didn’t look good. He was unresponsive, his blood sugar was desperately low and he had jaundice.
‘It’s touch and go,’ the doctors agreed.
One day passed, then another and another. Rowan was being tube fed but was struggling to put on weight and had severe breathing difficulties. I sat by his incubator willing him to fight and, finally, he seemed to turn a corner.
But still doctors didn’t know why he was so poorly. Tests drew a blank.
As I sat by his bedside, racking my brains, I just couldn’t shake a nagging fear that I might have something to do with it…
My boobs had always been lopsided. It was like the right hand side just forgot to develop and then somehow, just never caught up. While my left was a nicely-rounded C cup, my right never grew larger than an A.
It meant I had to wear a pad inside my bra to even things out. But even then I was self-conscious, hid my body away inside baggy tops in case anyone should notice. And as for swimming? Forget it.
At 22 I’d finally decided enough was enough. I was young, should have been out there, enjoying life.
‘You’re an ideal candidate,’ the surgeon agreed.
It might have cost £3,500 that I didn’t really have, but to me, it was worth every penny.
Taking my boobs to an even F cup, for the first time in my life, I felt happy about my body.
Only then, some four years later, I started to worry. Suddenly, my chest felt lumpy and uneven. My right breast felt like it had gone hard, too. When I was naked, it was visibly higher than my left. All my old anxieties started to return.
This time though, I knew I had to do something about it straight away.
The PIP scandal had just broken. Implants made by a French company Poly Implant Prothèse were found to contain industrial-grade silicone only approved for use in mattresses and cushions – not breast implants – and had a chance of rupturing.
The company, which has now folded, exported to approximately 60 countries around the world, with 42,000 women in Britain estimated to have received the implants. I worried I might be one of them.
I went back to the company (The Hospital Group) who had carried out my enlargement. But they were unhelpful, just talked about how they could replace my implants for another £4,000.
So I went to see my GP.
‘I’m really concerned,’ I said. ‘Something’s not right.’
He referred me for an ultrasound at my local hospital.
I discovered to my horror that whilst my implants hadn’t ruptured, they did contain mattress stuffing.
Terrified, I wanted them out and replaced as soon as possible. I had a daughter, Jennifer, then seven. I needed to be well for her.
Worried about my health, my Nan gave me the £1,500 I needed.
‘I just that stuff out of my body,’ I said as I was wheeled down to theatre.
Only when I came around, grim-faced surgeons warned me that when they’d come to remove them they’d found that my implants had actually ruptured. They’d had to scrape toxic mattress filling from my chest wall and ribs.
At first, I couldn’t believe it. Then I was angry and upset. I’d chosen a reputable company, not some dodgy surgeon abroad for a fraction of the price. I’d trusted them. How could this have happened?
Still, I told myself, they’re gone now. You need to move on, put all this behind you.
Only it wasn’t that easy. I found a Facebook group of other women whose lives had also been affected by PIP implants. The health issues they’d suffered as a result made uncomfortable reading.
They’re gone now, out of your body, I had to keep reminding myself.
But it wasn’t until later that year, when I found out I was pregnant, that I really felt I could put it all behind me.
Especially when; ‘It’s twins!’ the sonographer said at eight weeks. I’d had an early scan after suffering a miscarriage in the past.
It felt like the best gift ever after all the worry of the previous months.
My partner Ben Johnson, 34, a Quality Manager, was over the moon, too.
We started imagining our family expanding from a neat three to a noisy brood of five.
Only the following month, at my 12-week scan; bad news.
‘I’m afraid I can only see one baby,’ the sonographer said as the nurse squeezed my hand comfortingly.
‘But…how?’ I stuttered.
Nobody knew why. It was ‘just one of those things’. I was so upset.
We tried to stay upbeat, focus on our remaining baby, which we later found out to be a boy, but still I grieved for his little brother or sister. It seemed so unfair.
Doctors kept a close eye on our remaining twin but were concerned about our baby’s health. I was back and forth to my local hospital, Jessops Hospital in Sheffield, as first my movements seemed to slow down and then stop.
‘I haven’t felt him move for a while,’ I said. ‘I’m so worried.’
I was admitted for monitoring as medics decided what to do.
By 26 weeks, scans showed he’d stopped growing altogether and I started to worry we would lose him too.
‘We may have to deliver at any time,’ the consultant told me. ‘I’m afraid his chances of survival aren’t great. He’s so small for his age.’
I was distraught. The worst thing was nobody could tell me why my pregnancy had gone so wrong – one of my babies had died and now the other had stopped growing and his life hung in the balance.
My previous pregnancy ha
d been a breeze, Jennifer arrived weighing a healthy 9lb 8oz so why had everything gone so wrong this time?
Somehow, he managed to hold on until 36 weeks. Rowan was delivered by C-section weighing a tiny 3lb 14oz and struggling to breath. He was rushed to NICU and stabilised.
But still doctors didn’t know why he was so poorly. Tests drew a blank.
Which is why now, as I looked at his tiny body, I couldn’t shake a nagging fear that I might have something to do with it; had the toxic filling from my implants that had leaked into my body somehow affected my baby?
‘You have to stop blaming yourself,’ Ben said. ‘There’s no evidence that it’s anything to do with that.’
At 10 days old, medics finally confirmed that Rowan had a growth disorder called Panhypopituitarism – a failure in one or more hormones from the pituitary glands. As he explained how it mean that Rowan would struggle to grow and would need medication for the rest of his life, I remembered an article I’d read linking implant ruptures with similar issues.
It had explained how a chemical in the silicone filling has been identified as an endocrine-disruptor – a substance that could potentially have an effect on the development of a foetus in the womb…
It seemed too much of a coincidence. I felt awful, wracked with guilt that something I did out of vanity really, might have seriously harmed my child.
And then another thought – could it also have killed his twin?
Of course, no one could confirm it, nothing had ever been proved, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. It ate me up inside.
‘You need to focus on Rowan now,’ everyone told me. ‘He needs his Mum.’
He was two weeks old when he came home, a mere 3lb 10oz. Everyone advised against it saying he was still too tiny but I needed him with me. I needed to show him how sorry I was, how I’d always be there for him.
As the weeks passed I did everything I could. But it wasn’t easy. Rowan had breathing issues and we were in and out of hospital. His medication means his immune system is lowered and his body can’t cope with infections the way most people can. He seemed to battle cold after cold.
By six months old he weighed just 5lb – less than most newborns.
He missed every milestone, too. He didn’t crawl until 15 months or walk until 19 months. It was hard after having Jennifer meet all of hers. I couldn’t help blaming myself.
Now two, he’s a gorgeous, happy little boy but he still wears clothes for nine to 12-month- old babies. He’s still not talking and our latest assessment with health visitor revealed big concerns with his speech, understanding and motor skills.
Jennifer is brilliant with him but I still feel like I’ve let him down.
Now after reading more reports into the links between implants and birth defects, I’m more sure than ever that my babies were victims. I’m not a doctor but as far as I can see, a link cannot be ruled out. I was a well woman, had a perfectly healthy pregnancy before, then after my implants one of my twins died and the other is seriously ill. Surely, it’s not a coincidence?
I believe the chemicals from my ruptured implants that remained in my body led to my babies not being able to develop and grow properly. The manufacturers of PIP implants put my health at risk and in doing so, took the life of my son.
When I decided to have implants, I thought I knew all the risks. I never thought losing one baby and saddling the other with ill-health would be one of them.
Some doctors are now calling for an investigation into ruptures and foetus development saying a possible link cannot be ignored. But it’s too late for my babies. All I can do now is help make other women aware by sharing my story.