CONTENT WARNING: Birth trauma, birth injury
This was first posted on Emma's website https://mindfulmummadiaries.wordpress.com/2019/10/18/my-first-birth-experience-2016/
I kept fit throughout my first pregnancy with prenatal yoga and ate healthily. I practised hypnobirthing every day and attended countless antenatal courses. So when labour pains hit me like knifing spasms so strong that they caused me to break the tap on my bath tub, I was immediately concerned that none of my preparations were going to be enough to see me through. At 4cm dilated I arrived at hospital and made what I thought was a pragmatic decision to ditch my planned water birth and head straight to delivery suite for an epidural. The pain was unbearable and I was panicking. My husband stood back, an inexperienced labour partner who had no real idea how to help me regain a sense of control.
The epidural calmed me down for a few hours until intense and relentless back pain started up. Being numb from the waist down meant I couldn’t realign my position, which felt the most natural thing to do. Later I learned the back pain was caused by my son turning back to back and that is how he continued to lie for many hours as my back pain grew to unbearable levels. There were limited other pain relief options and I cried out for a caesarean section, realising that his awkward position and my stalling contractions could be indicative of the need for an instrumental delivery. The doctor tried to talk me out of a c section and asked me what I was scared of. ‘Perineal trauma’ I cried. ‘There is no indication you are at risk of that’ was her reply – her shortsightedness has haunted me ever since.
I was then left for hours whilst they waited for the operating theatre to become available. In the meantime, meconium was found in my waters and my son showed increasing signs of distress. I was exhausted and feared that harm would come to him before a c section was performed, so I very reluctantly opted to receive synthetic oxytocin via a drip to speed up my contractions. By this point I had been in labour for 24 hours and was into my second night without sleep. I vomited whenever I nibbled on dry crackers and my poor husband looked frazzled. I just wanted it to be over.
As we came to the pushing stage I was told to bear down hard through my anus. The strength of the epidural meant I couldn’t feel much but I pushed with all my might, joking that I had strong butt muscles! The midwife reassured me that she could see his head crowning but quick as a flash the atmosphere changed and about 6 people rushed into the room. A junior doctor inserted his entire hand inside me, trying to feel for the baby’s position as the head had become stuck. They realised he hadn’t rotated to the right angle and a wider part of his head was trying to come through first. Abruptly he told me they would perform a ventouse delivery and at that point all I could do was breathe and pray my son would be ok. The midwives warned me there was so much meconium that he would likely need to be resuscitated after birth, a warning I was thankful to receive as that is exactly what was required.
After my son was born, briefly laid on me and then taken outside for a 13 minute resuscitation, the doctor discovered that I had suffered a third degree tear during the delivery. The perineal damage I had feared all along had become a tortuous reality.
Having torn into my sphincter muscles, I needed a surgical repair in theatre under spinal anaesthetic. It took nearly 2 hours to sew me up; all the while I was separated from my son who luckily was rebounding well and being held by my bewildered husband back in the delivery room.
After my repair operation was complete, I felt terrible. Out of the woods, I was forgotten by staff who considered it a successful birth. No doctors came to debrief me on what had happened or about the implications of a third degree tear. I couldn’t stand up without feeling dizzy and my heart was racing. Only 48 hours later, during the discharge process, was my blood finally drawn and it was discovered that I had suffered a severe postpartum haemorrhage. My haemoglobin level was one of the lowest they had ever seen in a non comatose patient. I was immediately rushed back to delivery for a 4 unit blood transfusion that took two days to administer. No one apologised for the delay in diagnosing such a serious condition; rather I had midwives and family members wedging my son onto my bare chest to breastfeed whilst my left arm was outstretched to receive the transfused blood products. I felt like cattle. My lower body had been through an assault of the most violent kind and now others, unsympathetic to their core, were taking ownership of my chest so that I could fulfil what they saw as my function as a feeding machine.
I finally left hospital after 5 days and was deeply shellshocked. I cared for my son dutifully but with emotional numbness. I recall thinking to myself a few days after we returned home that if he died in his sleep at least my life might return to normal, as it had been pre-pregnancy. Luckily those kind of dark thoughts dissipated quickly and I soon felt a strong protective love towards my fractious newborn. My physical pain, however, clung relentlessly. For 8 weeks I had no let up in the severity of perineal pain, which would prevent me sitting for long or walking far.
After 12 weeks (and having being treated for an infection), I cried to my mum down the phone that I never thought I would feel healed. I saw a women’s health physio who struggled to examine me when I burst out crying as she inserted fingers to massage my scar tissue. She seemed angry, stopped the examination and snapped that she ‘had feelings too’ as I lay on the table weeping about the trauma of my birthing experience. Luckily she was more understanding on my return visits and worked with me to strengthen my pelvic floor and prevent prolapse; treatment for which I am very grateful. I also attended the sphincter clinic at 7 months postpartum to have probes inserted into my anus to check for muscular healing. It was discovered that my rings of muscle had healed though were thin in one particular area. That explained why I struggled to control the passing of wind, something that remains a problem for me to this day.
Alongside these physical checks, I made a formal complaint to my hospital trust about the poor care I felt I had received and I also sought 6 sessions of private psychotherapy, where EMDR was hugely beneficial in helping me process the trauma. All the while I hid these treatments and indeed the true horror of my son’s birth from friends. I was so ashamed and saw my third degree tear as an injury that somehow made me less of a woman. It took a while to be confidently sexually active again. I was spurred on by my physio who reassured me I was healing well and should have no pain and after a few goes she was proved right.
It took me about 14-15 months to feel physically strong and confident that my pelvic floor had improved.
Helped by regular yoga practice and healthy eating, I tentatively began to consider trying for another child. (Part One of Two)