Guest post: “I had 45 stitches inside and 35 outside by the time they were finished.”
As part of our Campaign for Better Postnatal Care, highlighting the impact of birth injuries, Karen Reekie describes the lasting physical and mental trauma she sustained during a traumatic labour.
The Mad House of Cats & Babies
Posted on: Tue 10-Apr-18 10:40:44
(47 comments )
My daughter is 11 and motherhood has been an amazing learning curve with many highs and many lows. I wouldn’t change that for a thing. I would change how she was born though, because even this many years later, I am left with mental and physical scars.
When my waters broke at 38 weeks I was being monitored for pre-eclampsia due to high blood pressure. I was admitted to a ward and told “it will be a while before you deliver this baby, we will keep an eye on you” and my husband was sent home.
In fact, it wasn’t long before I was having painful contractions every ten minutes or so. I called my husband to come back, despite the midwives insisting that I wasn’t really in labour. I was eventually moved into a labour room and examined - and yes, I was in labour and my blood pressure was rising.
I had an epidural and this, combined with medication for my blood pressure and to keep me hydrated, helped to calm things down. I could see I was having contractions on the monitor, but I could feel nothing. I slept and dozed for about seven hours.
When the contractions on the monitor became much more frequent, the doctor decided that it may be time for me to start pushing. I couldn’t feel to push, so the midwife would watch the machine, and then tell me what to do when a contraction came. I had no pain, but I also had no control.
An hour or so later, I started to make a huge effort to push, but something didn’t feel right. They told me to keep pushing so I did. Then I was told to stop. I tried, but at this point, all I felt was this massive desire to push and with what felt like a wave, the baby started to come out. She was face up and her arm was up by her face. As she came out, she basically ripped me open because of her arm position and the speed at which she came out.
Eleven years on, I still have physical scars and some lingering issues. I also have flashbacks and I remember the pain, still.
She was fine.
However, a blood vessel inside my vagina had been lacerated as she was delivered and I had what was an almost 4th degree tear from front to back. There was a lot of blood and the placenta was not delivered. The epidural seemed to have stopped working.
My baby was taken from me and handed to my husband as I was whisked down the corridor and into theatre. One of the doctors explained that I was losing a lot of blood from the damaged blood vessel and despite medication, my placenta wasn’t coming out. I was given a full nerve block, so I was numb to the neck, and a very kind surgeon appeared and started to work on my ravaged nether regions and stubborn placenta. They extracted that manually. I could feel someone rummaging around, and it was unpleasant and horribly intrusive. They finally dealt with the placenta and then the bleeding vessel, then they repaired my perineal tear. I had 45 stitches inside and 35 outside by the time they were finished. It took three hours.
I was wheeled into recovery to an ashen faced husband, who had literally been left holding the baby.
I spent two days and nights heavily medicated, on morphine, unable to walk, a catheter placed because I couldn’t go to the toilet, and had a blood transfusion to replace the blood I had lost. I struggled to feed the baby, and had to call for help a lot, to feed and change and hold her.
I was sent home three days later, virtually unable to walk with pain, and unable to sit or lie comfortably. I was also utterly traumatised, emotionally, and the beginnings of the anxiety and post partum depression with which I would later be diagnosed were starting to surface.
It took 18 months for my physical wounds to heal. My mental health was in pieces. It hurt to sit, it hurt to pee, it hurt to try and poo. I spent six months taking laxatives so that I could at least go to the toilet without agony. I struggled with urinary continence and my self confidence was shattered. I had to see a specialist gynaecological physiotherapist to help to heal and retrain my body after the damage.
In all of this, not one person asked me how I felt emotionally.
What I went through tore me apart, physically and emotionally, and I don’t feel that anyone acknowledged that what happened had damaged me mentally.
Eleven years on, I still have physical scars and some lingering issues. I also have flashbacks and I remember the pain, still. What should be filled with happy memories and moments of joy, is instead a space filled with pain, and lingering fear and memories of people digging inside me and being sewn up whilst music from a Queen album played in the background.
I can’t change what happened, but I would change the way a traumatic birth is handled afterwards and I don’t think anyone should be allowed to tell a women that she “has a healthy baby and didn’t die” and expect them to just soldier on. There is an attitude that women should just put up with the damage and trauma that happens to them during birth, and to me that’s wrong. Yes, I am grateful I am alive, yes I am grateful I have my beautiful daughter, but birth trauma is real, and it happens and it’s not just about a few stitches and some pain relief and then getting on with life. It’s more than that. It damages women and I am convinced it contributes to why many of us struggle with our mental health and relationships after the physical wounds have healed. I was offered no support, no counselling, no comfort, and no recognition that giving birth almost broke me. No woman should have to deal with that.
By Karen Reekie
Karen, what a terrible experience. The things you said about emotional trauma really resonated with me. I felt the same after the delivery of my daughter, 26 years ago; painful, rough internal examinations, a hard faced cow of a midwife, no effective pain relief, forceps, and clumsy and ineptly stitched episiotomy. I remember feeling that I'd been butcherd, not given birth. Sorry to hijack your story! Just wanted to say that I'm appalled that things don't seem to have changed at all in 26 years, and send you hugs and solidarity. It's great that you shared your story, these things need to be "normalised."
I had similar happen to me, not so many stitches though. I couldn't pee for 4 months after the birth and had to endure learning to self catheterize at least 6 times a day for 4 months, all whilst having a dh working shifts and a 2 year old to deal with alone and my baby to breastfeed.
it was hell and I had PND without even knowing it.
The emotional side of giving birth and the after effects are never known or discussed. Dh was there, but truth be told, pretty useless. Not his fault, he was dealing with an upset 2 year old, a scared and angry wife and a new baby and full time job. But I was dealing with so much more, embarrassment at everyone having a go at catheterizing me, everyone in my local chemist knowing I had to order catheters, my gp telling me in 25 years of general practise he'd never heard of anything like it...the list goes on..
In all of this, not one person asked me how I felt emotionally
this this and this^^
and the helpful advice..."why don't you sit on the loo for an hour and see if anything happens"...when I couldn't sit on the loo for 20 seconds without my 2 year old wanting in and wondering what mummy was doing...
An absolutely horrendous story and unfortunately not the only similar one I’ve heard.
We have to get away from the idea of a successful birth being ‘live baby’ and into one where a successful outcome is live baby with minimal damage short and long term to mother and baby, whether that’s mental or physical or both.
We need to have much better postnatal care, and a more holistic focus on postnatal care. We also need data recording to show us long term costs/outcomes for births like these so that women, and those who set health policy, can see the true downstream cost to poor care.
This made me cry. Because I relate:
I had a severe fourth degree tear after not being able to stop the pushing. ( it’s like when you are throwing up.. you can’t not do it.. )
The haemorrhaging, the rushing to theatre, partner left holding he baby, the catheter, the being numb while a room full of men poked and prodded and rummaged around my vagina.. for over two hours. It’s all fresh In my mind. And I can sympathise greatly.
Even down the music playing in the background.. someone in the theatre kept asking me which tunes I wanted on.. I just wanted them all to stop looking at me and to disappear.
I am only 5 months down. It still hurts to go to the toilet. Nothing feels normal. I have weekly nightmares and flashbacks.
And writing this I’m realising that this is not ok.
When you said “no support ,no counselling and no recognition” you are so right.
It’s just expected that we will soldier on.
They tried to get me home after day one.
I was sent home after day 2. In agony, having had passed Tomato sized clots. I couldn’t wee or poo . Or sit. Or sleep.
They discharged me with paracetamol.
My birth story is very similar but I had a wonderful midwife assisting, a very kind obstetrician who came to visit me in the ward on day 2 to go over what had happened, and I was referred to an obstetric consultant and a birth reflections midwife for debriefs (one medical, one psychologic). It didn't speed up my physical recovery but the difference it made to my emotional state cannot be overstated.
(I will credit Princess Alexandra Harlow as their care was almost unsurpassable)
I could have written this! I had my child 13 years ago and was left traumatised. I also had the indignity of being asked if a group of students could come into theatre to watch my repair as they hadn’t seen a tear that bad before. They stood in the corner of the room gossiping.
I also remember the music- scissor sisters - I don’t feel like dancing. Such a trigger song.
Postnatal care is so important I had hoped that things had changed for the better- so sad to hear they have not.
I still can't believe nobody asked me how I felt after my birth as well. I had an emergency forceps delivery with an episiotomy and tear- very rushed and scary, huge team of people, theatre ect. The whole thing was absolutely terrifying, excruciatingly painful and absolutely humiliating.
It doesn't take a genius to look at the events of these kind of deliveries and see that what happens is inevitably going to be mentally traumatic to a lot of women. Yet nobody asked. It wasn't even mentioned that I'd had a scary experience, it was as though I'd gone in for a routine appointment. Upon discharge somebody came to sign me off and discuss contraception and so on but never asked how I was considering what I'd been through the previous day.
The health visitor, the GP and everyone else didn't ask either. When I brought up (with a lot of courage) that the birth experience had effected me, their response was a shrug and 'Ah yes first time mums are sometimes a bit surprised at the reality, it's not all lovely candles and water births a lot of the time' then went down the PND route instead of actually addressing the PTSD I was really struggling with.
Sorry to hear you too had an awful experience.
Can I ask how you eventually got diagnosed with ptsd?
I feel I have the symptoms but have done nothing about it after reading so many people being wrongly diagnosed with pnd
Karen so sorry to hear your story.
Mine sadly was very similar. My dd is now 13 but I remain physically and mentally scarred. Failure to further dilate meant I was given medication to speed things up. The contractions were back to back and the level of pain unbearable. So I had an epidural and dd became distressed and literally had to be pulled out of my by forceps after an episiotomy. The force of her "extraction" caused a fourth degree tear. My husband was left holding the baby while I was rushed into theatre. I was there for over 2 hours. I remember the bright lights of the operating theatre and sensation of people rummaging about....
Like you I could barely walk when I left hospital 4 days later. I was in constant pain and on massive antibiotics which gave dd colic for months, I was utterly utterly devastated. I ended up seeing a specialist physio to help retrain my anal sphincter muscles. Was anxious and depressed for months.
Given my dds delivery and previous infertility I was at obvious risk of pnd. What did my health visitor say to me at the first visit? "happy mum, happy baby". I still feel guilty I wasn't a happy mum.
My dc2 was delivered by emergency cesarean. The comparison was indescribably massive. It was like cutting your finger compared to having your arm torn off both in physical and mental terms.
I really hope this campaign has some impact, though I'm very concerned that midwife and nurse shortages will mean improving care is simply impossible.
There just needs to be more understanding from midwives that things are unpredictable and as a result that they need to listen and then from all staff that a woman is so very vulnerable when giving birth that when it is traumatic, they are given enough support afterwards.
It seems now that resources are so stretched that all women are encouraged to have a drug free vaginal delivery as the default - honestly, more monitoring during all stages of labour would only benefit the outcomes but not the budget
@Tattybogle89 , I have no advice but am so angry and upset for you after reading your story. I'm furious on behalf of everyone who's shared their stories but yours was so recent. I hope you get the help you need to find peace and begin the journey to mental and physical recovery
* 'Ah yes first time mums are sometimes a bit surprised at the reality, it's not all lovely candles and water births a lot of the time'*
How offensive is that?!
Yes, I knew that my first labour (any labour!) would not necessarily follow any expectations. That was not what traumatised me. What traumatised me was not the events of the labour
Sorry, hit post by accident instead of delete!
While my labour was damaging and distressing, it was nothing compared to the experiences of the PPs. What really traumatised me, what gave me overwhelming flashbacks 8 years and 2 further babies later, was being treated like an unconscious slab of meat by the doctor sewing me up. The disrespect, the lack of care, the harshness.
So sorry to hear about your distressing experiences and their lasting consequences. It is never too late to address the emotional trauma, and to forgive yourselves for feeling however you felt, and for however dealt with it.
Reading your stories makes me realise how not ok I am after the birth of my daughter 3 years ago. I've had another baby since and had a much better experience (at home) but I can't bear to think about that first delivery and subsequent after care. for you all
I appreciate that, thank you x
I was in the hospital over night in labour but was only a few cm dilated. I was left all alone and when I asked for pain relief the midwives kept telling me it was too early. I then had a seizure and came round to a male doctor giving me an internal and totally freaked out as I have epilepsy and after a seizure I do have a memory lapse for a few minutes. I had repeatedly told the midwives and doctors this before as I was terrified of this happening. It was in my notes and birth plan to wait till I had come round unless it’s an emergency which it was not as all my vital signs and the babies heartbeat were fine
I had a failed epidural, pushed for three hours and finally ended up with forceps and I felt everything. The midwife was horrible kept telling me to shut up as I was just imagining the pain and she even turned to my husband at one point and said he should be bullying me into pushing the baby out. I lost over two litres of blood and the doctor put his hand up inside me, I was still feeling everything but by this time my husband said I wasn’t screaming just wimpering as if all my energy had gone.
After it had all ended the cow of a midwife looked at my back and said the epidural had in fact fallen out so I was feeling pain
I was dignosed with PTSD and a felt I didn’t bond with my son until he was 18 months. I even looked a adoption sites and dreamed of him being taken away.
He is four now and gradually my love had grown and I now adore him. I still have nightmares and flashbacks.
I didn’t go for a debrief as I lost all trust in the midwives and I knew I would never have another one after what happened. I still feel robbed, violated, butchered and abused
Sorry didn’t finish, my health visitor was ok but the women who stood in for her threatened me with social services due to me have PTSD and epilepsy. So after that I muddled through and even feel suicidal at one point but I did not dare tell anyone and the next time I saw my Gp I said I was getting better when I felt worse
I dont have DC but just wanted to say how shocked and disgusted i am to hear of what you have all been through
This thread, and the other one about birth trauma should be read by all student midwives and doctors.
Could MN send a link to the relevant professional organisations?
It is so depressing and horrific reading the appalling trauma that some women have gone through.
If this happened to men there would be a public outcry.
I'm so sad and angry reading these posts about what you OP, and others have gone through. Thegreatestshowwomen
I agree this thread must be passed on to medical schools, the Royal Colleges (midwifery, obstetrics, anaesthesia, GPs) etc.
The policy of prioritising vaginal delivery apparently over almost every other consideration is barbaric in my opinion. Yes in ideal circumstances vaginal is best, but there are many reasons why it isn't necessarily the right choice. I am in hospital recovering from my second c section. 1st was emergency, this one was supposed to be a planned section (as agreed and in my notes from early on with consultant). I went into premature labour at 33 weeks and the consultant on duty tried to persuade me to have a natural delivery. For many reasons this was not the right choice for me and I was glad I was able to stick up for myself under considerable pressure, and I feel sad to think that other women may not be able to do so due to feeling intimidated or maybe due to language barrier.
So sorry you went through this, no human being in this modern day should have to endure trauma like that without an immediate support network doing all they can to heal you!
I am petrified of having another baby as with my DD I had stitches and grazes, unable to walk without it taking my breath away and unable to urinate without labour type pain and the agony of what I image pouring lemon on to my mangled labia, I ended up angling a Pyrex jug to catch the urine before it could reach the surrounding area. I stopped drinking hoping to not have to urinate but that’s what have me chronic constipation aswel as breastfeeding . I was constipated for nearly 18 months and can still no longer “go” properly, 2.6 yr later.
My stitches came out 3 days later unexpectedly and became infected, midwife who came to check said “keep air on it for a couple of days” expecting me to lay there with my legs open all day “whilst daddy looks after baby”. I was given antibiotics which gave me thrush this escalating the issue. Aftercare was NONEXISTENT and my memories are flawed with the recovery being so horrifically painful.
Thank you for sharing Karen
I had similar experiences too. Midwife didn't believe I was going into labour, very condescending. Fast labour resulting in 3rd degree tear, hemorrhage, surgery, DP left holding the baby. I was actually glad to get to a proper surgery room as the midwife almost tried to stitch me up herself by lamp light!
Whenever I reached out for help and told my story to professionals after all they kept saying was that I'd had a really great birth and wasn't I happy that it'd gone so well? It took a long time to find a doctor that took me seriously and I was diagnosed with PTSD.
It's not the birth that traumatised me either, it was the lack of care. It was being patronised. It was being laughed at and jollied along when I was sitting in a pool of blood and had just felt my body being ripped open. It was being looked at like a time waster when I asked them to pass me the baby or change a nappy when I was still paralysed from the waist down. It was having to beg a midwife to stay with me and guide me through only to have her roll her eyes and walk out on me over and over again. It was being anaemic, refused a blood transfusion and no one explaining why. So many nurses came and told me I needed a transfusion and my bloods were getting worse but they weren't going to give me one. I had this same conversation for 5 days but no fecker thought to explain why or tell me I would be ok. Had complete strangers popping to tell me a was severely I'll and some body should do something about it and I was thinking, 'yes somebody should do something and that somebody is you!'
Honestly, after every thing I've been through I think NHS staff look in horror at women like us as one big expense of time and money.