It was the worst phone call Jodie Rimmer has ever received. “I have your test results,” her midwife told the actress, then 30 weeks pregnant. “I’m sorry, it’s not good news.”
A moment later, Jodie learned she had tested positive for toxoplasmosis – a parasite which can cause birth defects in unborn babies if pregnant women are infected with it.
“I just remember my stomach fell to the ground and I felt physically sick,” says Jodie, reliving the call that came earlier this year. “All I could think was that my baby could be blind. I was a complete mess.”
Now, as she rocks baby Theo in her arms, the normally bubbly TV star’s eyes fill with tears at the memory of being given such awful news and the trauma her family has been through since. “One of the hardest things was knowing that my body – which was supposed to be nurturing my baby – could be making him sick.”
Jodie (38) doesn’t know how she contracted toxoplasmosis, which can be picked up from cat faeces or undercooked meat. She and husband Tim Riley (46) did have a cat when she was pregnant (it has since died), but it was unlikely to have had the parasite as it was old and didn’t catch rats or mice, which carry the disease.
One thing the Shortland Street star did know was there’s a test available to pregnant women to look for toxoplasmosis and she asked to have it when she went for other checks. “It’s not standard – you have to ask your GP or midwife for it. I’m so, so glad I did.”
After the midwife broke the news, a distraught Jodie rang Tim, a lawyer, at work to tell him. “I could hardly talk, I was crying so much. It was just so shocking,” she says.
Unfortunately, there was worse to come. Jodie and Tim, already parents to son Xavier (2), were told she needed further tests to find out the extent of the infection. “Somebody told me that in 80% of cases toxoplasmosis doesn’t actually get through to the placenta and we were praying that I was in that 80%.
“I had an amniocentesis and, again, it was the worst possible outcome – it had gone throught o the amniotic waters.”
The couple were devastated, but things weren’t as bad as they could have been. It appeared Jodie was infected late in her pregnancy, so the chances of serious damage to her baby were reduced. Because the toxoplasmosis was identified, she was able to take antibiotics to counter any further effects of the parasite.
Knowing the antibiotics were at work in her body was a relief, but the last nine weeks of her pregnancy were still unbelievably stressful. “I kind of withdrew into myself,” recalls Jodie. “I just wanted to conserve my energy for the baby and try to be as positive as I could.”
Theo arrived by elective Caesarean in April and was immediately whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit for a barrage of tests. Jodie says it was a huge relief to be told he was born with no active infection or signs of any damage.
However, the infection can lie dormant in his body for many years and resurface later on, so Theo has to have constant blood tests and other checks for the foreseeable future. He is also on medication in case he suffers an attack.
“The poor wee thing, having to have all these tests and needles and medicine all the time,” says Jodie, tenderly kissing her son’s head. “It’s a waiting game really.”
Despite his tumultuous start to life, Theo (7 months) is a happy baby who is eating and sleeping well. He appears fascinated with his big brother Xavier and delights his parents with his big, gummy smiles.
“My mum calls him a miracle baby and it is amazing that he is doing so well. The whole experience has been so very emotional, but we are not out of the woods yet,” Jodie says.
“I can’t dwell on why this has happened or how I got toxoplasmosis, but what I can do is tell other women about it. “I want all pregnant women to use gloves when they’re gardening and stay away from cat poo. And they need to make sure their meat is well-cooked.
“There is a test they can have and they should do it, even if they think there is no risk. As we know, it can make a world of difference.”