The long term impact of birth


I had a wonderful pregnancy; very little morning sickness and I didn’t put much extra weight on. The only thing I struggled with was pelvic pains towards the end as my bump was so huge and swollen feet and ankles (or cankles!). People commented on how I was glowing and I did feel on top of the world for most of it. It really is a miracle to feel your baby growing inside you.

I knew labour would be difficult and painful but I had no idea how bad mine was going to be, how it would deeply affect me and change me for a long time afterwards. I entered Motherhood in a very stressful way and it set the tone for how I would feel for years after the birth.

Maybe it’s because I follow so many parenting blogs now, but I think it’s great how openly postnatal depression and anxiety is spoken about. I didn’t know at the time I was probably suffering from postnatal anxiety, maybe with some depression thrown in and very likely post-traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t receive any support from the midwives, medical teams, authorities, doctors. I do think a lot of that was down to me, I’ve always been a very proud person and I would never admit if I was struggling or had any mental health issues. I wear my heart on my sleeve and have big emotions but my motto has always been deal with it and work through it by yourself.

I woke up at 7am, three days after my due date, with a wet feeling. I stood up and went to use the toilet and felt something trickle down my leg, ‘my waters must have broken!’ I thought, feeling very ready to birth this baby. I looked down and to my horror saw a stream of thick, red blood trickling down my leg. I felt shock. This is not something I’d planned for. I’d written a birth plan, had listened to natal hypnotherapy CD’s on loop, had read many pregnancy and labour articles and a few books. I knew blood was bad news. Especially this late on into my pregnancy.

“I’m bleeding,” I cried to my Husband and ran into our en-suite bathroom. He dived out of bed and followed me in a panic. He’s usually the calm, rational one. At this point, heavy blood was pouring out of me, all over my nightdress and all over the floor. I didn’t know what to do so sat on the toilet but then worried in case the baby was coming out. My husband called 999 and the operator took him through a series of questions whilst she dispatched an ambulance, at the highest priority. She asked him some brutal questions, like could we see any part of the baby, thankfully we couldn’t. It all feels a little hazy now but I remember how devastated and helpless I felt, I was convinced at this point that I’d lost my baby. He lay towels on our bed and asked me to lie down. It was the last thing I wanted to do but the operator had advised him that if I lost too much blood both mine and my baby’s life would be in danger.The Paramedics arrived at lightning speed, it was around a seven minute wait which is pretty amazing. They were so calm and professional, which was really what I needed, I was distraught. They carried me out of the house and into the ambulance on a stretcher. I was blue-lighted straight to hospital.

I remember how numb I felt strapped to that stretcher in the back of the ambulance, covered in blood. My husband and the paramedic were making small talk to lighten the mood but I just turned my head to the side. I couldn’t make small talk right now; I needed to know if my baby was ok. I called my Mum from the ambulance and it’s so upsetting to think of it now but it was a bit of a goodbye call to her, I didn’t know mine or my baby’s fate at this point.

We arrived at the Hospital and I was rushed straight through to the emergency labour ward. The midwives quickly hooked monitors up my stomach and within seconds they said “your baby is fine”. My eyes still well up with tears writing this, it was the best news I’d received in my life. I can’t put into words the relief that washed over me.

“This baby is coming out today though,” the Midwife told me, much to my relief. I was hooked up to an induction drip to speed up the labour and my contractions started coming thick and fast; I was not prepared for them. The pain was excruciating; worse than I’d imagined they could be. They swept over my body every few minutes and were so intense. I’d been pretty against having an epidural. I’d read a lot of statistics about how they increase the chance of a forcep or ventouse delivery and the need for an episiotomy. I really wanted a natural (ideally water) birth, but I was advised an epidural was the best option in my circumstances. The doctor told me because I’d lost so much blood already, it was highly likely I’d need to go to theatre at some point. If I opted for an epidural, it would be quick to convert it to a spinal drip.

I took the doctor’s advice, my birthing plan had well and truly gone out of the window at this point, I just wanted my baby to arrive safely and be healthy enough to raise him. The epidural look a while to kick in but when I eventually did it was amazing, it took away most of the pain. I did have some gas and air but I was feeling light-headed already from the blood loss so I didn’t have much of it.

The bleeding had stopped at some point I think it was in the ambulance, it started again at one point through labour again. I remember it vaguely, the doctor assessed me and was borderline whether to take me to theatre to deliver. They had to estimate how much blood I’d lost based on what we told them and I was on the threshold. They decided I could still give birth vaginally at this point and they broke the rest of my amniotic sac. I remember it being an uphill struggle trying to push my son out. The difficult thing about an epidural is that you can’t feel anything below your waist so you don’t even know if you’re pushing or how hard you are pushing. I had a support squad of my husband, the Midwife and a lovely young Irish student Midwife, all sat around me whilst I was squatted into a chair! They were watching my contractions on the monitor and telling me when to push. It was surreal and I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, I couldn’t tell if I was making any progress.

I was so exhausted. I hadn’t eaten for nearly 24 hours and I’d lost over two litres of blood; I barely had an energy left to push as hard as I needed too. After what felt like hours (but was around 45 minutes apparently), a Consultant Doctor was called in to ‘help things along’. He gave me and episiotomy (cut me between my anal and vaginal passage) and used forceps to pull my baby out. My husband said it was by far the most brutal thing he has witnessed. I think he was rather traumatised, luckily I didn’t feel a thing as I was totally numb.

Finally with a huge yank and a final push, my baby was fully out of my body and placed into my arms. I was delirious but that moment was pretty special, I’d been waiting so long to see him. My first thoughts was that he seemed so big! But he was perfect. I’ll never forget that feeling, even though I was in a pretty bad way, it was all worth it.

He was taken away and cleaned up. I passed the placenta quickly after (which the midwives said was one of the biggest they had ever seen, it was ginormous!) They couldn’t explain why I bled the way I did but did find a tear in my placenta so think it could have been down to that.

The next thing I knew I was being sick. It must have been the physical trauma of it all as I’m generally not a very sicky person. As I was already so weak it was hard being sick, the midwives offered me an anti-sickness injection which I accepted. Big mistake. I had a terrible reaction to it, my heart starting pounding and I felt awful, really panicky. The midwife looked at my monitor stats and ran for the doctor when she saw my heart rate (which of course worried me more). The doctor came to see my and checked me over and told me not to panic and it was quite a common reaction to that medication. I think I would have preferred the vomiting! I had a team of midwives who kept swapping shifts and taking charge of my care (all were absolutely incredible). One of the midwives who took over after my reaction told me the same happened to her after labour and she had a note on her records not to be given it in any subsequent labours.

Thankfully, my baby was perfectly healthy, I would have taken all that pain or trauma over him having problems in a heartbeat.

I stayed in hospital for four days after my son was born. Much of it was a blur, I was tired and ill. I remember the feelings of joy, pride and disbelief mixed in with the fear and pain. I couldn’t believe my beautiful baby was finally here, he was all mine and I was responsible for looking after him. People talk about the intense you feel for your baby instantly, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of love I felt surge through my body. I barely slept those nights in hospital, I felt like I was in a dream. I couldn’t stop staring at my little boy or touching, holding and cuddling him. I was addicted.

It was rough, I remember I could barely walk in those days after; or lie or sit. I’d lost so much blood that the doctors recommended I needed a blood transfusion before I was allowed home. I really wasn’t keen on the idea, I’m not a big fan of medication or anything wildly unnatural being put into our bodies. The idea of taking foreign blood into my veins and around my whole body just didn’t sit well with me. I insisted that the iron tablets I was taking would be enough the raise my blood count to a healthy level. Stubbornly I struggled on a couple more days like that, feeling dizzy when I stood, my heart racing and there wasn’t enough oxygen in my blood.

I also struggled to try and breastfeed my baby, which was something I was very determined to do. After all, I’d been bombarded with messages that ‘breast is best’. I was weak and wasn’t producing enough milk to feed my hungry baby. I felt like he was constantly on my breast feeding and was always hungry; it was exhausting.

The midwives and health-care staff weren’t really a great support in my quest to breastfeed. The midwives showed me a couple of positions to try and help baby latch on but it didn’t always seem to work. They were simply too short-staffed to dedicate time to me. I had a wonderful health care assistant who helped cup feed formula milk to my son, to top up his milk supplies and make sure he wasn’t going hungry. I did however have another Healthcare Assistant who was very rude to me and upset me. In hindsight, I wish I’d made a complaint about her. She shouldn’t have been allowed to treat new mothers the way she did, ones that already felt very vunerable and some in poor health. She scolded me for wanting to cup-feed/ top up my milk and was very reluctant to help, she also made it clear that I had to provide my own and by no means would the hospital supply me with any top-up milk.

Two days after I’d given birth, I decided to accept the blood transfusion. My Husband, Mum, Brother, In-Laws and a few close friends pursuaded me to go ahead with it. I still wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea and was worried that my body may reject the transfusion (and I wasn’t sure how much more my body could take). Ultimately I knew I stood my best chance of recovering quicker, being strong enough to care for my baby and being able to go home ans start life as a family of three. One of the hardest things about being in hospital was being away from my Husband. He was only allowed to visit during set hours and we found the long nights difficult and lonely without him. I know it broke his heart to leave us too. The blood transfusion was a success, I was actually given two as my blood count was so low. The next day I was finally discharged from hospital and we could go home and start life as a family of three.

After arriving home on a high and being greeted by family and friends, I took a turn for the worse two days later on the Saturday. I was struggling to breast feed and incredibly sore down below. I received a visit from the Community Midwife who referred me to the local Primary Care Centre to be assessed by a doctor, she suspected that my episiotomy wound had become severely infected.

The Doctor at Primary Care referred me straight back to the Maternity Hospital confirming that my wound was indeed infected and I had a suspected Hematoma which may need to be drained in theatre. I was advised to pack my overnight bag as it was likely they would keep me in.

I was traumatised and broke down at this point. I couldn’t bear the throught of being parted with my five day old baby and potentially going into theatre. Luckily we had trusted family who stepped in to take care of my baby whilst my Husband accompanied me to the hospital. It was good news this time, I could be released with antibiotics and wouldn’t need to go to theatre, the Hematoma would go down itself (Hematoma is a localised collection of blood outside the blood vessels, due to either disease or trauma). The consultant ran through a birth debrief with me as she knew it had been a traumatic experience for me.

The episiotomy wound tore open from the infection soon after my release from hospital. It was awful, I remember lying in the bath feeling a gaping hole between my vagina and back passage; it made me feel queasy.

I decided to go back to the Doctor the week after, I wasn’t happy with having a huge open wound. Although the infection was under control it didn’t feel right or natural. The Doctor called a female Nurse to examine me and they were both utterly horrified. They remarked on the size of the wound and couldn’t believe I’d been left like this and had been discharged from Midwifery care.

My Doctor referred me to a Community Nursing team to pack my wound three times a week. It was difficult making that trip to another surgery (three miles away) that often with a newborn but I had to find a way to make it work.

The Nurses there were also horrified and two of them advised that I make a complaint. They said they had never seen an injury like mine as a result of child birth, it looked more like an ulcer wound.At this stage I just wanted to move on and put the whole experience behind me, it certainly wasn’t the start to Motherhood I had daydreamed about.

Knowing what I know now, I believe that my difficult birth experience and post natal problems affected how I went into Motherhood. I think that I did suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (every time I heard an ambulance sirens flashing I would cry, that went on for over a year after my son was born). I also probably suffered from some form of Post Natal Anxiety. A community paediatric nurse who visited us at a few months commented that I showed signs of Postnatal Anxiety, I was extremely anxious about my baby's health. She didn’t signpost me in any direction to get help.

I’m a proud person and the people close to me are mostly about tough love, a “suck it up and get on with it” attitude. I felt weak to admit I was struggling. I also didn’t know anybody else at the time who had been through a similar experience to mine so it was difficult to open up about it.

I have since discovered many Charities, Not-for-Profits, individuals and professionals who support the cause for Birth Trauma Awareness and Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. Through the wonderful community of Instagram I have discovered that I am certainly not alone.

I have read many other birth trauma stories written by brave ladies and I have felt inspired to share my story in the hope that it can also help others to feel less alone in these experiences. I believe it certainly makes us stronger and more compassionate people. Thoughts on what could have made my birth better..

I think because of the emergency situation of my sons birth I don't see how it could have gone better. I think the midwives and consultants advised me on the best course of action medically given the volume of blood i'd lost.

I would say it would have really helped me pre birth to have been made aware that heavy bleeding was a possibility and that it wasn't always with dire consequences. I felt like the only message I'd ever been given was blood is very serious in pregnancy. It wasn't ideal but it wasn't the case. If I'd have known I could have bled heavily pre labour and the baby could still be fine I may not have despaired and panicked quite so much. I'd convinced myself I'd lost my baby which was very distressing.

Re aftercare: I wish I'd been informed about potential side affects of anti sickness drug. Given more advice about the blood transfusion Better breast feeding support I shouldn't have been discharged from community midwife care until my wound had shown more signs of healing I wish I'd been offered emotional support from the midwife/health visitor/gp/community nurses. I wish I'd had more information about post traumatic stress disorder and postnatal anxiety and depression. Just wanted to add that the emergency services and midwife/hospital care I received during the emergency situation was fantastic. I was blown away with how they dealt with the situation and delivered my baby safely in a difficult situation.

The let down was the aftercare and I think that was largely due to a lack of staff and the maternity hospital being extremely busy.

Afterwards I felt that I was treated more as a number and a target to get through the door and to discharge. This was the case for the maternity hospital and the community midwife and health visitor.

We only saw our health visitor two or three times, as soon as she saw we were a low risk family in social care terms she pretty much discharged my son from her care.

I think with the budget cuts etc to the NHS they are failing to provide adequate aftercare to women who suffered traumatic/complicated births.

© Make Birth Better CIC 2019

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