‘Smells and their association’ from The Memoirs of a Midwife
I was in my final year of training and was working on the antenatal admissions unit when I was asked to look after a woman who was being admitted for ? a small per vaginam bleed. She was informed to put a sanitary pad on before coming into clinic for us to inspect any loss.
On admission *Sabina appeared well. I took a synopsis of her pregnancy so far, had a look through her notes, palpated her abdomen, listened to the fetal heart, alongside other aspects of an antenatal check, such as urine testing etc.
*Lauren (L), Alice and I (R), as final year students going to our last clinical training in the School of Midwifery.
I then asked her if I could see the sanitary pad. There was no evidence of blood, just a fair amount of what looked like vaginal discharge, which is to be expected as it’s increased in pregnancy. This is normal, and helps prevent any infections travelling up from the vagina to the womb. I told *Sabina that I was then going to smell it. This is common practice and what we are taught to do, as I’m sure you’re aware that women are more prone to stress incontinence when they are heavily pregnant. Therefore, as midwives we often smell the pads, as it is easy to tell the difference in smell between a pad that has amniotic fluid on, compared with one that might have leaked urine on it. Also you can detect potential signs of infection from smell too, so it’s best practice to do this as a diagnostic tool.
I took the pad into the dirty utility room, whilst *Sabina was on the bed undergoing continuous cardio-tocography (CTG) monitoring, which is a type of fetal heart rate monitoring which prints a trace, so you are able to identify patterns in the fetal heart rate. This was all part of her antenatal admission checks.
When I smelt the pad I thought to myself, ‘I recognise this smell, however I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.’ So I then proceeded to take the pad into the midwives' office and said to the other midwives, “I really recognise this smell but I just can’t make out what it is.” I put it under their noses to see if they were able to help identify. Still bewildered and with no such luck in successfully identifying this particular aroma, I went back into the bay where *Sabina was and said to her, “there is no evidence of a bleed and everything today looks normal, could you explain to me what the blood was like that you saw in your pants at home and did you do anything that could have provoked this?”
Sabina* then told me that her and her husband had had sex jut before they came into hospital when she noticed the ‘bleed’. It then dawned on me that the smell I recognised but couldn’t quite put my finger on- WAS HER HUSBAND’S SEMEN! And I had been smelling this and wafting it under the noses of all my colleagues. I died a little bit inside at that moment.
I had to recover from this embarrassment quite quickly though as her and her husband were in front of me. I went on explain that is quite common to notice a small amount/ light streak of blood in your discharge following intercourse when pregnant, particularly later on in pregnancy. This is due to the increased vasculature of the cervix and because pregnancy can cause changes to the cervix, and this may sometimes cause minor bleeding after sex.
I reassured the couple that everything was fine with baby from the monitoring I had performed and all the checks I had done on Sabina* were normal. I reaffirmed that it was the right thing for them to have called, as any vaginal bleeding in pregnancy must be reported to a midwife straight away.
I however, will perhaps never recover from the shame of how many times I smelt that pad, trying to decipher what the strange, peculiar and somewhat familiar smell was!
*Myself and Alice (L) as student midwives and our friend Milly (R) as a student nurse, volunteering for the Student's Union on their safe sex & alcohol awareness campaign.
If you would like to learn more about me and my journey of how midwifery led me to develop a luxury, unique and award-winning range of nursing wear, please have a read of ‘The Journey So Far’ and while you’re at it check out the beautiful nursing tops too!