Tuesday, July 14, 2009

birth to now: my post-partum recovery story

Hopefully, you will have already read my birth story. This is part two! Thanks to those who left comments, I felt I could reply via ending the story. Each time I talk about what happened to us, as a family, I get a bit closer to being ok with it. I don't think I'm far off actually! With baby number 2 due in September, that is no bad thing.

I left the story on Christmas eve in the cesarean ward. That night, baby hardly slept. I was glad to be alone, as I paced the ward, babe in arms, softly singing Christmas carols, as I couldn't think of any lullabies! I tried to feed, but needed a midwife's help each time, and they were quite busy. In the morning, they asked how he had been for me, and upon my reply, stated he was a lucky boy to be seeing father Christmas! And in he walked, with a gift for me (something from Boots) and for Boy. Later, a brass band roamed the corridors playing Christmas carols. It was a lovely time to be in hospital.

I wanted to transfer back to the unit where I'd had my labour, for my recovery, the staffing ratios were much better, and I needed help with feeding, so after the cursory 24hrs, we packed up and left. I managed to get two Christmas dinners out of my timing of the transfer! I was one of only two patients in the unit, and I used the midwife buzz button every single time I needed to latch baby on: I did not want to become even more sore due to a poor latch. I was finding the first few moments of sucking a time to bite my lip and curl my toes, but I had very sensitive skin throughout pregnancy. Once, in my four night stay, I could not feed the baby alone, just couldn't get him on, and he was crying that awful newborn cry that breaks a mother's heart. I pressed the button and tried not to panic, I kept trying. No one came....for ten long minutes. Then a midwife ran in, barked that they were delivering a baby, and turned the button off. She disappeared. I started to cry. I tried and tried for another 15 minutes, and eventually calmed myself down enough to latch baby on. I was so pleased with myself, I felt I could cope with anything from now on. And I have.

When I left the unit, I was still taking paracetamol, diclofenac and dihydracodeine, all at the maximum allowed doses each day; I was noting down what I'd had and counting down the hours til my next hit each and every time. I've since read that it is unusual, even for cesarean patients, to need more than paracetamol after the first few days. I had no idea at the time, I didn't dwell on it, thinking, hey, I've just had a baby, I'm bound to be sore! So I continued to need and use the drugs. I remember my mum picking up my repeat persciption for me, and the pharmacist did not let her leave without quizzing her about whether I'd had the baby: she was not prepared to hand out drugs of that potency to a pregnant woman!

We were inundated with visitors in the early days, and I jumped to the challenge, making sure I was dressed, with neat hair and make-up, just as society expects new mums to bounce back. What an idiot I was. I should have been in bed recovering, not showing off to extended family and friends. The visitors dwindled, and I was left still sitting on a doughnut cushion, that is, if I was able to sit at all. Boy fed for and hour or more at a time, so I spent many hours laying on the rug in the living room with him, although he hated feeding lying down, so I had my work cut out. The midwives that came to visit in my post-partum were puzzled at my pain, suggesting endless salt baths which did not work, but the main concern was Boy losing more and more weight. He became skeletal by 4 weeks, and I began to supplement with formula. The health visitor that weighed him before we started on formula, and then one week later, was astounded by his leap in weight, having never seen such a dramatic gain in 10 years on the job. Looking back,and reading many books on breastfeeding in this pregnancy, I think that the pain I was in and perhaps the medication I was taking, affected my milk supply. Supplementing didn't help, and my Boy self-weaned from the breast by 4 months. I was heartbroken. I loved breastfeeding,and wanted to do the best for my child, but at 4m, I was still in pain. I am hoping that to breastfeed according to world health guidelines this time, that's two years and beyond ladies! (My breastfeeding issues are not really part of this story,but you can read more here.)

Just before my 6 week check, a concerned midwife insisted on taking a look at my stitches on the bed upstairs. I was unable to even let her touch me, let alone her suggestion of removing a few of the tighter stitches there and then. She said she thought I needed gas & air to be examined properly, and I gratefully agreed, relief washing over me as she arranged a hospital appointment for me.

At my six week check a few days later, the doctor asked me if I minded a student being present. I was concentrating hard on not letting my emotions get the better of me while I explained my issues to her, so without thinking, I agreed. The doctor then asked me to take a seat. Well, almost comically, I burst into tears, as I was still unable to sit down, and now the new baby glow had worn off, I was feeling well and truly sorry for myself. I can't imagine what was going through that student's head! The doctor sent for some local anesthetic gel to examine me, but again, I was completely unable to let her touch me, practically leaping off the bed in agony. She called the hospital and insisted my appointment be brought forward to that very afternoon, and gave me tubes and tubes of anesthetic to use as well as the gas and air. The gel did make the car journey on my kiddie's rubber ring slightly more bearable.

At the hospital, I slyly put on copious amounts of gel before my appointment. I was lain on the bed and given the gas & air for quite some minutes before they approached me to start the exam, so that it could take effect. When I was suitably "drunk", I gave the signal. However, I found it to be a repeat of the delivery room: breathe in the gas & air, SCREAM out, breathe in, SCREAM out. I endured this only as I knew they needed to examine me. Afterwards, the consultant explained she hadn't been able to touch the actual stitching, but that she had seen enough. It was a botched job. They had stitched me far, far too tightly, and every time I sat down (or even walked), I was stretching the scar tissue and being left in agony. I was booked in for reconstructive surgery. They were starting all over again, I was back to square one.

When my Boy was two months old, I was wheeled into surgery and put under GA, preparing myself to feel as bad as I did the day he was born, but this time without the happy hormones and adrenaline....The doctor explained I would be given a dose of paracetamol before I even awoke to combat the pain. As I woke, there were tears on my cheeks. The pain was near unendurable. I sobbed, asking the bewildered nurse for the paracetamol that had already been administered. She gradually upped the pain meds until I was on morphine, muttering to herself that she couldn't send me to the ward in this state. I was wheeled onto the ward when I had stopped crying. It was full of young women much less lucky than me: they had just had what was left of their babies removed from the womb after late miscarriages. I felt ashamed that I was even feeling sorry for myself, and as the pain returned and I could no longer hold in the tears, a kind young mum-no-more offered to shut my curtains so I could cry in peace, I was unable to move myself. I would put money on her thinking that I was there for the same reason she was. The other ladies around me recovered quickly and went home that day. I made the mistake of telling the nurses that I felt dizzy, and I was kept in. I missed my baby.

Back at home, it was like I'd just given birth all over again. Friends lifted my spirits by joking I'd had a designer vagina on the NHS! I had lots of saltwater baths to aid the healing, and kept ice-pops in my knickers for comfort. I saw a consultant gynecologist every few weeks at first, who's pity was apparent. He always started the visit with a rendition of "if it had been me that stitched you in the first place, none of this would have happened"....I hope he does my cesarean! He gave me "physio" to do: a selection on dildos increasing in size that I was to "practice" with every day to stretch me out. At first, I could not bear the tip of the smallest one, but gradually, things improved. Sex....well, sex was a test of endurance, not just physically, but an emotional fear of the pain, and for HID, the patience, love and understanding of a much better man than I could ever be. Romance was not an option. "Initiating" sex involved local anesthetic. Nice. Luckily, I was still able to orgasm :-). I saw it as my reward for having the actual sex :-)

When my baby was four months old, I was well enough to leave the house. By that point I had PND. That's another story.

I sat on a ring until my baby was six months old. At one gyne appointment,the doctor asked to see the wound, and "while I'm here" he said, could I just tense my pelvic floor. Well, before I even became pregnant, I had been practicing 4 sets of 10 repetitions of holding for 10 second each, as recommended, but no one really does. I was proud of how dedicated I was, and surprised I could still feel the muscles, and tense them, less than two days after the birth. So I tensed, with all my might. I felt suitably smug when he stated it was the best pelvic floor he had EVER seen after a 3rd degree tear! An odd thing to be so chuffed about, but circumstances do strange things to you....

Eight months after the birth, the doctor told me the lack of improvement that had been going on for some time indicated I had permanent nerve damage. That's right: the way sex felt right now, well it would always feel that way. And the tender, swollen feeling I get when cleaning myself? Why, get used to that being normal. He then added that all my subsequent births must be via cesarean. Oddly, in my slightly flustered state, I panicked about something I'd read and blurted out: "but you can only have three sections can't you??" (as if at this point in my life, I was considering having more than four children.) Keeping a straight face, the deadly serious consultant told me he had done seven on one lady. Well that sealed it. I definitely wasn't having eight children. The saying "never say never" does not apply!

I left feeling confused. One the one hand, I would never again have to go through what I had been through the past eight months. On the other, the home birth I'd wanted with my second child (albeit when I was pregnant with my first and HID was talking me out of a home birth that time around) would never, ever happen. And I was left damaged forever. It did make one decision for me: I could have more children. I didn't have to be scared anymore, or wait for the memories of childbirth to fade. At Christmas time, after my last appointment at the gyne ward (there was nothing more they could do), we said goodbye to condoms. Three weeks later, I was staring at a positive pregnancy test, overjoyed. We had moved on, we were happy, I may never heal, but for two healthy babies it is a very, very small price to pay.


At 2:33 pm , Blogger Cave Mother said...

Gosh I don't know what to say. You have been through so much, I can't imagine how hard that must have been for you. And having to look after a newborn at the same time... well, I don't know if I could have done it. After all that, looking after two children will be a breeze! This must have been hard for to write, but I enjoyed reading it (if enjoyed is the word), so thank you.

At 4:24 pm , Blogger SandyCalico said...

OMG. You really went through it.
As I always say: just because someone is in a job, it doesn't mean that they can do the job. This applies to every profession, and unfortunately also applies to the NHS. x

At 6:28 pm , Blogger amy said...

that is quite a story hun! I will never whinge about my 2nd degree tear ever again lol! But it does still give me a few problems but nothing like yours!! You are amazing!! xx

At 7:26 pm , Blogger Pink Starfish said...

Poor you, your birth story echoed mine in many ways but even with a forceps delivery I didn't have anywhere near as much truma afterwards. Hope it's all much better now for you x

At 7:52 pm , Blogger Kat said...

What you went though is unimaginable. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

I was devastated at not being able to labour (let alone be at home) with baby #2 but when it came to it, the c-section was like a party. So much joy and laughter I was overwhelmed.

Good luck x

At 8:00 am , Blogger allgrownup said...

Thanks again for commenting guys, I do like your take on things,and the empathy in your similar stories.
Cave Mother: Thank you:my mother is the most amazing woman, and she and Him In Doors gave me so much love an support, and practical help,my son never missed out. Although things could have been marginally easier had he not been High-need! Lol. And high-fun. It will be a breeze this time, cannot wait :-)
Amy: any tear is HORRIBLE, wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. When did they stop giving out epesiotomies?! Would have been much easier to repair!
Pink Starfish: unfortunately the physical damage is permanent, but like anything else, you learn to live with it. It's so much better than it was, I can hardly complain!

At 9:57 pm , Blogger clareybabble said...

Your story has had me gripped from start to finish. I can't imagine how that must have been for you. Thanks for sharing your story and I wish you lots of luck with baby number 2. I bet you will cope brilliantly xx

At 1:06 pm , Blogger Coding Mamma (Tasha) said...

Bloody hell! Would like to say something a lot stronger, really. What an awful thing to go through. Obviously, Birth Number 2 will be better. I'm amazed that you have managed to come through it, to be honest. Well done (meant in awe, not to sound patronising).

At 10:28 am , Blogger platespinner said...

Good grief. Like others I really don't know what to say other than you have done incredibly well to come through such a difficult birth and traumatic recovery.

I wondered reading your story whether you have put in a complaint to the hospital who did the original surgery on you?


At 7:58 am , Blogger Laura C said...

After reading part one, I had to read on to part 2. What a horrific experience you've had! I thought my first birth was bad but it's nothing compared to what you've been put through. Good luck with baby no 2, I'll bet you do great!

At 8:45 pm , Blogger allgrownup said...

Thanks everyone for all your comments, it really means a lot x


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