Guest post: "Women are expected to go home with life-changing injuries after giving birth and just get on with it"

(189 Posts)
JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 21-Jul-21 15:01:44

For Birth Trauma Awareness Week, Jen Hall from the MASIC foundation, which supports women who have suffered serious injuries during childbirth, writes about her experience of childbirth and the MASIC's Foundation latest findings:

"When I gave birth back in 2013 I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I’m not talking about the sleepless nights, breastfeeding battles, or any of the other aspects of new motherhood that are widely talked about. What I had to cope with alongside new motherhood is something that is rarely spoken about - yet is a major trauma for the thousands of women affected each year.

Severe birth injuries, or third- and fourth-degree tears, are injuries that extend from the vagina into the anal sphincter and are a leading cause of bowel incontinence in women - alongside pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse, nerve damage and impaired sexual function.

My birth injury was caused by being left to push for three hours, causing a traction injury to the pudendal nerve, followed by two failed attempts with the ventouse and a brutal forceps delivery where my baby’s head and body were delivered in one contraction. Long term it has left me with many of the symptoms listed above. I’m a shell of the person I was, my confidence has been deeply affected, and I no longer feel like a woman who has control of her body.

My experience of motherhood was deeply affected by the injuries I sustained. I didn’t walk into hospital at 33 years of age to have my baby and expect to come out unable to run for the rest of my life or to carry out the most basic of bodily functions.

At The MASIC Foundation we carried out a survey at the beginning of the year to try and assess exactly what impact sustaining a severe birth injury can have on your experience of motherhood. We knew women would find this difficult to talk about, so the survey was completely anonymous. The survey ran for a month across our social media channels, and we received responses from 325 women who self-identified as having suffered severe perineal trauma when giving birth.

- 85% of women who sustained severe maternal perineal trauma said it impacted on their relationship with their child.
- 49% of women said they doubted their ability to mother because of the injury.
- 46% said the injury affected their relationship with their partner and wider family.
- 34% felt their relationship with their child was affected because they associated their child as the cause of their injury.
- 31% said they wondered whether their child would be better off without them.
- 24% of women affected regretted having a child because of the injuries they are left with.

The results we have gathered are shocking and heart-breaking, and show in stark reality the impact these injuries are having on mums and babies each year. These injuries can lead to feelings that no woman expects to feel or wants her experience of motherhood to be. The results are hard to comprehend. But if you have suffered a severe birth injury, I’d wager you can relate to some of these feelings.

I felt that I was a failure after my birth, that there was something wrong with my birthing body that had led to this. I spiralled into a deep depression, unable to comprehend that a) having a baby could leave you like this, and nobody tells you and b) women are expected to go home with life-changing injuries and just get on with it because they are mothers now.

And these feelings led to a complete rejection of motherhood in the early days. If my body could be treated so casually as collateral damage, then why did either of us matter anymore? What good would I be to my son if I couldn’t ever lift him, play or run around with him? I fixated on the time before my pregnancy and birth, before everything ‘went wrong’. I’d unwittingly given permission for an assault on my body that had profound implications for my future.

If I tried to speak out about how I was feeling to the health visitor or to my GP I felt like I was being judged on my ability to parent. I was told my injury was ‘all in my head’ on numerous occasions and another health professional suggested that maybe it was because ‘deep down I didn’t want my baby.’ The ignorance and judgement I faced only worked to compound my isolation and distress and I feared I was a bad mother because of the things I was being told every single day.

The feminist inside me was raging.

My feelings are echoed in accounts we have heard as a charity, from other women who experienced severe injury during childbirth:

“My confidence, my me-ness, the essence of who I am, has been destroyed, my relationships with my child and my partner have suffered.”

“With my son, I love him dearly, he is the best thing in my life, but his birth caused the injury and it is difficult to square the two,”

“Every year I dread his birthday and the reminders of my traumatic experience. It is not fair on him or on me – his birthdays are not a happy occasion, but every year I have to pretend it is.”

“I am ashamed to say that at times I wished I had never become a mother and I grieved for the life I had before, I paid such a high price to have a baby.”

I know these feelings are controversial to express. But I feel they are important if we are ever going to get the NHS and policy makers to sit up and take notice of women whose bodies and lives have been deeply affected by childbirth injury and trauma. As long as women are expected to endure poor treatment while giving birth, these injuries will continue. Motherhood should not become an identity that disregards womanhood, and women should not feel afraid to speak out about the physical, emotional and psychological effects of birth injury."

Read our full survey findings here.

Follow MASIC on Instagram: @masicfoundation
Facebook: @MASICFOUNDATION
Twitter: @masic_uk

Jen will be coming back onto the thread on Tuesday (time tbc) to answer your questions.

OP’s posts: |
FortunesFave Wed 21-Jul-21 15:18:38

I have had two elective sections and would advise my daughters to do the same. I know that there are risks attached with sections but just look at what happens to MOST women having babies naturally.

I'd rather take the risk of organised, calm surgery than the bloodbath that is natural birth.

I've always said that if men had babies, c sections would be the default.

Slayduggee Wed 21-Jul-21 16:22:42

What I found most shocking was the both from HCP and my husband after I was discharged from hospital. My mothers generation stayed in hospital for 7-10 days to rest and recover from the birth.

A day after giving birth I was told by a HCP normally I would have been discharged by now (1 day post birth) and the only reason I was here was because newborn required some medical treatment for three days. I could barely shuffle a few yards. I had a forceps delivery where I tore and had an episiotomy and a haemorrhage. After I was discharged I was taking the maximum dose of paracetamol and ibuprofen at least 6 weeks afterwards. When I told the midwife how much pain I was in she just shrugged her shoulders. As long as baby was fine I was irrelevant

MrsKrystalStubbs Wed 21-Jul-21 16:22:43

@FortunesFave what an insensitive response to this thread. Most women who suffer birth injuries (me included) have no idea about what can happen to them. And aren’t offered a CS on the NHS which is why these problems occur.

SewingWarriorQueen76 Wed 21-Jul-21 16:29:41

Absolutely my story. I used to be a runner, but I no longer can. I had planned a home birth but 2 hours at 10cms at home with no urge to push I was transported, fully dilated with no pain relief to the hospital.
Cue, lovely midwives trying their best but I had no viable contractions & the female consultant waved forceps at me. Purple pushing for god knows how long, without any contractions.
I remember lying there thinking afterwards"Thank god I'm not dead", rather than "is my baby OK?"

Even when I was being wheeled to surgery after birth the hospital staff kept saying, 'you' ll be back in 2 years".

I am positive it gave me PND and both me & husband PTSD. I complained to everyone and was promised that I could speak to Registrars who were training so it didn't happen to anyone else.

I never heard from them again.

The consultant midwife, who went through my notes said I had a near death in birth experience.
No one except my husband gave any weight to how bad it was & it took years to get my head straight.

Heatherjayne1972 Wed 21-Jul-21 16:29:50

I think the attitude of the professionals needs to change
After my first I had significant ongoing issues and the over riding attitude was that i didn’t matter because I’d had a healthy baby

She’s 19 now and the physical trauma is still an issue - no One is/was interested

ScaryHairyMcClary Wed 21-Jul-21 16:47:08

I couldn't believe it when I heard that women with prolapse are advised not to run ever again. If this is genuinely the right advice, women should be warned of this possibility antenatally and offered a c-section.

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LemonPeonies Wed 21-Jul-21 16:57:01

I pushed for 5 hours before they realised DS was back to back, ended up emergency forceps delivery and haemorrhage after. Couldn't walk properly or sit for months.

ATrifleofFun Wed 21-Jul-21 17:03:16

I had a textbook home birth with a significant tear and retained placenta. I lost over a litre of blood which was not great because I'm only 5 foot and 8.5 stone. I was blue lighted into hospital to deal with the placenta then spent 36 hours having hourly OBS because my heart rate wouldn't settle. Just what you need after labour. They didn't give me iv fluids for hours or realise that I hadn't been to the toilet yet! I almost fainted when trying to have a shower and they never brought me the equipment when I asked for a bed bath. I honestly think I was traumatised by it all. I genuinely don't understand how anyone has 2 children. Oh and I had a prolapse which has thankfully improved after a few months but with that and anaemia I didn't feel human for weeks. Noone talks about this! They say do pelvic floor exercises but I probably did them once a day and I didn't really understand the importance of it.
Oh and my husband was concerned so asked for a consultant to have a chat with us. We were told all my issues were common so no worries. If that's the case then why do I feel like it was handled really badly. Sorry that all came out as a bit of a rant.

MiniTheMinx Wed 21-Jul-21 17:03:58

MrsKrystalStubbs insensitive maybe.

I had two sections. Second was elective.

As a profession Midwifery has a lot to answer. I believe that the profession itself is based on the premise that childbirth is women's business. And yep, I guess it is and yet it hasn't done us any favours. I found midwives to be very antagonistic towards ob-gyn and very keen to push natural birth, and I always got the impression that there is some sort of antipathy towards what is generally seen as 'male dominated science' ie medicine and medically assisted birth is based upon science which is male dominated.

I was sold ideas on birthing pools, bouncy balls, choice, music, no music, pain relief, no pain relief, dualas, hypno birthing, different positions,......after 36 hrs of back to back labour pains, laying on my back unable to move because no midwifes and needing to be constantly monitored, told not to push for an hour when I was having contractions so painful every two minutes I demanded they find a obstetrician. Midwife tried to persuade me to have an epidural. Obstetrician said no and took me to theatre. I'm very grateful too, because I'm certain that had I agreed with the midwife I would have been unable to push, had interventions like forceps and probably been in a far worse state than the small section scar.

If men suffered from poor health care, or had to undergo a natural process that could leave them permanently damaged when medicine could have intervened to prevent this harm then Midwifery as a profession would simply cease to be.

Monoxide Wed 21-Jul-21 17:09:25

Thank you for talking about this. I’m severely injured and disfigured after giving birth. I had major surgery and was expected to be up and about immediately looking after a baby. I was never examined by a doctor again after my surgery - no checkups, nothing. No physiotherapy to help me recover (GP told me to watch YouTube videos and do the exercises). No surgery to fix the damage (just told to get on with it because it’s normal and be glad I have a healthy baby). It’s disgusting.

TheProvincialLady Wed 21-Jul-21 17:13:00

Yes my experience echoes yours in many ways. I was so traumatised by giving birth the first time and all everyone could say was “Well you have a healthy baby, that’s the main thing,” like I wasn’t expected to be bothered about the fact that I kept soiling myself, couldn’t walk properly, lost the feeling in one of my feet, got sepsis, was in constant pain, couldn’t have sex for over a year and even then it was painful for months, had awful nightmares and shook whenever I even drove past the hospital. Literally no one cared, not family and definitely not health care professionals. And that’s before I had baby number two where no one even thought to check what impact a second birth might have on such a damaged body (quite a lot as it happened, not that anyone cared until I was in hospital with urinary retention and infection, and again not once I got home with a catheter..because it was over the Christmas holidays).

Luckily I was able to get over most of this psychologically but the physical scars affect me every day. I’ve also had major surgery at the front end and the back end needs repair too. 16 years on I can’t run or lift heavy things and I still stumble all the time with my dodgy foot and urine retention is always a possibility. Sex is not straightforward.

And of course I am so glad I had my children but I wish that everyone had let me come to that conclusion in my own time rather than treating me as collateral damage. It’s awful how women are expected to put up with pain and mess and shame when there are so many things that could be done to prevent damage.

DaisyKate265 Wed 21-Jul-21 17:24:21

Thank you for this thread. It needs to be talked about. I suffered a 3rd degree tear. I had no idea that tearing could be so bad. I wasn't prepared for the feelings of regret just after giving birth, thinking that I'd damaged myself forever. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed curling my back for a spinal block and thinking what have I done. I knew I'd done the most incredible thing and given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy, yet I felt like my body was so damaged and thought I'd never be the same again.

My surgeon spent ages stitching me up and she was pleased with how it went.
The week after if I had to go to the toilet for a number two I had to go straight away other wise I would poo myself. And that actually happened once. I didn't make it to the loo, and it came out in my pants sad I had to wear incontinence knickers after that. BUT 3 months later, everything is so much better!! I do kegals (when I remember) to strengthen my rectum and I no longer need to run to the loo when nature calls.
My midwives were great and knew how a 3rd degree tear would affect my mental health. I was referred to Perintal health and clinical psychology to talk about the trauma. I also did Birth listening, and all of that really helped. My mom's friend's daughter also had the same and she recovered ok so that helped me to feel better. I still worry about the damage but I'm hoping it's ok now. I have an appointment next week for them to check. So I'm hoping it's healed ok.

goldierocks Wed 21-Jul-21 17:58:47

I hope the MASIC Foundation is able to use their survey results to push for long-overdue and much needed systematic change.

Has anyone else noticed the sheer number of adverts lately for incontinence knickers? Women are being told that it's normal and to just put up with it (at their own expense!)

Women should not have to fight for treatment (both mental and physical) to repair injuries caused by childbirth.

MrsKrystalStubbs Wed 21-Jul-21 18:17:59

@MiniTheMinx I totally agree with you, I had a 52 hour back to back Induced labour followed by a high rotational forceps birth as a CS wasn’t an option for me due to a blood disorder. I absolutely agree that women should be offered elective CS. I just thought the PP was insensitive to come on this thread to post about CS when most women who have had birth injuries are in this position because the terrible midwifery and NHS policy of natural birth at all costs has literally ruined their bodies. I was ‘lucky’ that a very experienced obstetric surgeon repaired me directly after my birth and advised me to never have another child. I had dual incontinence for 6 months post birth and was not offered any help on the NHS. In fact I was told to let those who needed the resources more use them. I paid for a Kegel 8 device myself and persevered by myself. Luckily I had no PND and bonded with my son who also has lifelong injuries as a result of the birth. Ten years on my DH and I have no sex life at all and I suspect I will need to pay for some further repairs as I enter the menopause.

Evianlife Wed 21-Jul-21 18:22:52

Even those of us who have a csections are chucked out after 24 hours after major abdominal surgery and expected to just get on with it.

colouringindoors Wed 21-Jul-21 18:29:42

Thank you. I wish you'd been around/I knew about you after the birth of dd 16 years ago. Her birth was horrendously traumatic and despite an episiotomy I suffered a 4th degree tear as the Doctor yanked her out (forceps). Straight to theatre for a long repair. I can still picture the lights in the ceiling of the operating room. Was never offered a sedative.

Recovery took a year. I was in pain for over 6 months, sitting down was horrible. I felt like my body was utterly broken. All the antiobiotics I had to take after the surgery I'm certain caused colic in my breastfed baby, who screamed every evening for hours, for the first 3 months of her life.

My GP was appalling. At my 6 week check she took one look at my vulva and said something like "Oh it was bad wasn't it". Nothing helpful to say. I should have been screened for PND but wasn't. I definitely had PND. Health visitor literally said "happy mum happy baby" on hrer first visit!!! Fortunately GP did refer me to a specialist at Northwick Park hospital and I had physio with a specialist nurse/physio - for my bum basically. She was amazing and I'll be always be very grateful for her healthcare, but mainly her kindness and sympathy.

I insisted on an elcs when I decided eventually to have a second child. It was an incredibly positive, calm, enjoyable experience! Recovery was a walk in the park compared to my "natural birth".

I believe all women should be provided with a one on one pelvic floor exam after having kids, and it's even more important if you've had a birth injury. Prolapse rates in such cases are sky high.

During labour when things weren't going well I asked for a cesarean but was told it wasn't necessary.

colouringindoors Wed 21-Jul-21 18:35:47

@Goldierocks

Has anyone else noticed the sheer number of adverts lately for incontinence knickers? Women are being told that it's normal and to just put up with it (at their own expense!)

Women should not have to fight for treatment (both mental and physical) to repair injuries caused by childbirth

totally agree! Specialist physio treatment should be provided.

"Oh you have a prolapse that's very common" no action. Imagine a man going in to see his GP saying his penis was falling off.....

SpindleWhorl Wed 21-Jul-21 18:51:55

Thank you for the guest post. It's important.

caringcarer Wed 21-Jul-21 19:06:46

I wonder whether it has anything to do with heavier babies being born today. When I had my babies they ranged from 6 lb, 7 lb 4 Oz and the largest 8 lb 6 Oz. My friends all seemed to have babies of similar weights. My niece had 2 babies who weighed 10lb 4 Oz and then 11 lb 1 Oz. Despite her first son being a big baby she was left to go 10 days overdue with her second baby despite medical staff knowing she was having another big baby. She was torn badly the first time but the second time had epitiostomy and yet still tore from vagina to anus. She was told by consultant she should never have another baby. Her DH had a vasectomy. She did not have sex for over 2 years. I know when she was 3 days overdue she asked the midwife if they could induce her labour. She was told no labour would happen soon. Her second son has mild learning disability. We think it could have been caused by lack of oxygen during long birth. My dd is 5 foot 2 and was 8 stone before pregnancy. After a relatively easy first pregnancy and birth of 7 lb baby. She put on a lot of weight with her second baby. Her DH is over 6 foot and this baby took after his Dad. After a difficult birth with tearing she did not deliver the placenta. It took an operation to get placenta out. Then shortly after they found she was anaemic. She was sent home next morning after delivery. I went to stay for 2 weeks to help her and I don't think she could have managed as she could not lift up her 18 month old and struggled to walk or sit. She said she won't be having another. If a baby is very large the mother should be given option of c section. Women should not be made to go more than a week overdue especially with a large baby. They should be offered induction.

WineAcademy Wed 21-Jul-21 19:53:46

I am so sorry to read about your experience, and I agree that obstetric care is surely lacking, women's experiences need to be heard and then acted upon, in order to substantially improve maternity services.

I would also gently challenge your "inner feminist" on the use of phrases such as "self-identify" and "birthing body"; in modern vernacular, these terms may appear inclusive or even standard, but in actuality reinforce the insidious idea that a woman is something separate from her seed body, that her experiences can be identified into or out of, and that, ultimately, what happens to us is a "choice" based on what body she chooses to have. We all know this is utterly nonsensical, and that in this instance in particular, birthing injuries are real, long-lasting and with deep impact to women. Not birthing bodies. Not how we identify. Simply women and women alone.

JohnnyMcGrathSaysFuckOff Wed 21-Jul-21 19:54:02

Another angle is women who have babies in NICU and how they fall through the cracks.

I had my twins induced at 35w and despite being left to give birth alone on a toilet floor hmm suffered no obvious injuries beyond a 2nd degree tear.

So my babies went to NICU and I obviously needed to stay near to bf them. The hospital had a "transitional care ward" for women in this situation. Good idea, but....

But I wasn't a patient. So I couldn't see a MW or dr in hospital.

But I also wasn't at home. So I had no HV, community MW or GP. Because they don't visit the hospital.

After we were discharged, my babies were under the care of a specialist nurse team who visited the house daily. Great. But.......

They replace the HV. So I didn't see one. And because my babies weren't big enough to leave the house, I couldn't go to the GP.

So after giving birth to two babies in the space of 13 minutes on a toilet floor with no medical assistance or pain relief, I had no postnatal healthcare for two months. Literally nada, zip.

After that time, the babies were okay to leave with my mum so I made a GP appt to ask about the swollen dragging feeling I had. Her verdict? "Postpartum vaginas are messy and I'm not sure what I'm looking at."

Fucking cheers!

I paid for an independent women's health physio in the end. You know what she found? I had another tear. As well as the second degree one. They hadn't stitched it at the hospital so it had healed as a "snarl" of scar tissue. They hadn't even mentioned it. What I thought was a prolapse was a mass of scar tissue.

3 years on, it still feels wrong. I do PFX religiously as it feels all the time like "something is coming out" even though I know it's not. I used to love running but I am too scared to now.

And I am lucky because afaik my injuries are really probably pretty minor. That's what "minor" looks like......fml

WineAcademy Wed 21-Jul-21 19:54:20

Not seed! Sexed.

HorriderHenry Wed 21-Jul-21 20:01:51

I “only” had a prolapse after a straightforward birth and the GP rolled her eyes when I said I wanted to discuss it the post birth check. I am shocked by how much prolapse is just a normal feature of post birth female lives and no need had ever mentioned to me what it even was before hand.

Elys3 Wed 21-Jul-21 20:13:15

ScaryHairyMcClary

I couldn't believe it when I heard that women with prolapse are advised not to run ever again. If this is genuinely the right advice, women should be warned of this possibility antenatally and offered a c-section.

I am a runner and although I got through birth without major trauma, had I known this information in advance I would have done whatever it took to ensure I had an elective section.

flowers to all affected

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