It was my son’s birthday the other day. I watched him play, unable to believe that six years had passed in seemingly the amount of time it took to write this sentence.
But I’m grateful I’m still here to be writing this right now because six years ago, I almost didn’t make it.
At 37 weeks pregnant, what happened to me during my first birth was traumatic enough to have given me a new appreciation of life, but also cause me huge levels of panic and anxiety at the prospect of giving birth for the second time.
I’m not going to sugarcoat things here – what happened wasn’t pretty and wasn’t easy to get through physically or emotionally. But, as parents, society can sometimes make it feel awkward to really talk about those kinds of experiences, especially when it comes to the mental and emotional baggage that comes from having a traumatic experience.
People say well-meaning things like ‘don’t worry, what happened was rare and likely won’t happen again’, but the reality is, it was a rare occurrence that still did happen to me, and , therefore, with mere weeks left, the memories have swung back into my mind with the force of a wrecking ball.
I’m talking about my experience with Placenta accreta.
This is a serious condition where rather than the plancenta coming out naturally after child birth, it has instead grown into and become stuck to the lining of the womb. It can cause severe hemorrhaging.
According to Tommy’s Placenta accreta is rare, affecting 1.7 pregnancies per 10,000, and the risk is higher if you’ve had a previous caesarean section, if you have placenta praevia (low lying placenta), have had a number of other pregnancies, or are of a higher maternal age.
I was 28 when I gave birth to my son, and while I had been previously diagnosed with placenta previa, by the time labour rolled around, it had moved into a much safer position.
I clearly remember starting labour at bang on 11pm, 24 hours after my waters broke, because I was watching a game of football and the country I was rooting for had just lost (I can’t remember who that was). I have a low pain tolerance, which may be exacerbated by my Fibromyalgia, and it wasn’t long before I was begging to go to the hospital for my epidural because it felt like my insides were being torn asunder.
When my mother in law decided it was finally time to take me, all I could say to the hospital staff was my name and “Please, I need my epidural! I need it now!”
Anyway, I had all of that along with some gas and air, and ended up falling asleep. I could still feel my legs, just not my back or my nether regions, so it was the most pain-free I had ever felt.
They woke me up in the morning telling I was fully dilated and it was time for the pushing stage.
As the nurse put it at the time, all of that stuff happened ‘text book’. It was bang on his due date, labour went on for the expected average time for a first birth, and he came out of me with the biggest, bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Everyone commented on his eyes (they still do). I remember that I started crying because even covered in blood and other bodily fluids, I thought he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And that’s when things turned into a big crazy blur.
The doctors and nurses noted that my placenta wasn’t coming out so gave me a few shots of whatever it was that was supposed to make my womb contract down to release it. All this time I was in a sort of stupour with my mum and fiance, watching on as my son was weighed.
The next thing I knew, the staff around my bed were looking at each other and saying “the womb’s all floppy and not contracting’, and starting to act very fast. They told me they had to get me to the operating theatre because I was starting to lose blood.
I was rushed to the theatre and, the rest of that period is in fragments because I woke up several times on the operating table with them fishing around inside me like a Tesco carrier bag, and vomiting up some vile bitter substance which I later learned were the medicines being pumped into me. The doctor stroked my head, then I passed back out. This happened several times for brief moments in which I felt incredibly cold.
When whatever they had been doing to me was over, I woke up and was told that it had been about six hours as the placenta was so accrued to my womb, it had to be removed in pieces, all the time I was bleeding out severely. Later, in the intensive care unit, a nurse said to me “I don’t think you realise how lucky you were there. Just so you know what happened, you lost nearly all your blood, so you’ll be on transfusions for a while’.
I felt like an android hooked up to several bags of blood and other fluids via canulas, ,oxygen hooked into my nose, and a catheter attached to me to collect urine. The bag had to be changed often because it was full of blood clots. Inside, I was packed with gauze while I healed, which had also had to be changed regularly. And I was in a lot of pain. To say I felt sore was an understatement, and that’s with the oramorph and tramadol they were giving me on a regular basis.
Later still, my fiance (now my husband) told me that while I had been in the theatre he had been left for hours not having any idea what was happening, worrying he was going to lose me, and adapting to suddenly having to feed and change this helpless new life. At one point he had been in an anxious limbo when he learnt that they couldn’t access the blood in the fridge and were having to wait on more blood being delivered.
It seemed that everyone was quite shook up, not to mention, exhausted, by what had happened.
In intensive care I felt incredibly useless as the nurses looked after my baby for the most part and would take him out onto the ward to watch over him so I could get some rest. They’d come back glowing, gushing over his eyes and how unbelievably alert he was for a newborn (when he was first placed on me after birth, he tried to lift his head).
The trouble was, I didn’t rest because I panicked the whole time. I worried when I couldn’t see him and imagined all sorts of scenarios like him getting badly hurt or going missing. But I was no more relaxed when he was in the room with me because I constantly feared he was going to stop breathing, that I couldn’t cope, and that he might not bond with me because it was so painful to have him on me to feed him. Yet I felt the most overwhelming love for him.
I had never planned to breastfeed because of my CFS and Fibromyalgia symptoms, so he was bottle fed, but because of what happened, my breasts didn’t even start making milk until a over a week later. I was in hospital for most of that first week, with several days spent in intensive care, and the rest being spent in a separate ward when I came out of it. After reading so many articles during pregnancy about ‘breast is best’ and seeing posters everywhere promoting it, I also started to feel a lot of guilt about not breastfeeding.
Would he turn out OK? Was I making a mistake? Had I lost out on a vital experience I’d never get back? Would he die from SIDS? Would people think I was a terrible mum as I felt I was?
On top of those feelings, when I left intensive care, I was suddenly hit with the full realisation that I had nearly died. I was still sore, still hooked up to a cathetar, the nurses didn’t come to me half as much, and I was petrified. I kept breaking down in tears. People said it was the sudden drop in hormones, but I knew it wasn’t. It was the trauma, the pain, and all of these other feelings I was struggling with.
It didn’t help that I’ve never liked being alone. I thrive being around other people and hated having visiting hours. Being told it was mainly just my hormones was incredibly invalidating.
My fiance was exhausted running back and forth from the hospital because of my breakdowns and wasn’t even eating properly. This added severe guilt to my plethora of other mounting emotions.
Another thing which upset me, which others couldn’t understand, was the level of care I received from my mother. Not because she was a terrible carer but because it was the most caring and motherly I had ever experienced her.
I’ve never had a close relationship with my mum, so to have her dote on me so much, listen to me, and go above and beyond caused all kinds of other turbulence and confusion. She was kind, attentive, and made dozens of trips with my dad, doing 30 mile round trips from where they lived, to come and visit me and their new grandson. She worked as a carer at the time and I could see that part of her come out in full force.
During my time out of intensive care, I went on and on calling the nurses and begging them to remove my catheter. They kept refusing and eventually my mum got involved and started arguing my case. It was causing me so much agony and I felt like my bladder was constantly full to bursting because the tube was constantly clogged with blood clots. Eventually, they agreed, but warned me it would take a while to be able to go, and to re-strengthen my bladder. Hours later I rushed to the toilet and by the time I managed to shut the toilet door, it was if the world’s biggest water balloon had exploded all over the floor.
I was ankle-deep in urine and had to call a nurse to help me, but the relief I felt was immense. On the floor was all the urine I had been retaining due to the catheter which hadn’t been able to drain me properly.
One nurse I remember from my time out of the ICU, I will never forget. She was probably in her late fifties or early sixties, and worked the night shifts. Despite being busy with other duties she was incredibly motherly and attentive to me, coming to me when I cried and helping me learn the basics of changing my son’s nappies and sterilising his dummies. Basically, she went beyond her duties to support me and help me adjust to being a new mum. I was always sad when her shift was over, but her extra special care made the experience of finally being allowed home so much easier.
At home, I continued to recover, but still felt quite tearful and shocked with my experience. It was a long time before I could hold or carry my son because I was so terrified and had zero hand-eye coordination. During that time, I was offered support to talk through what had happened to me, but decided I didn’t need it in the end.
You see, I told myself I was being stupid and that I needed to be strong for my family.
The emotions from the truma did calm down, but I never did stop panicking that something terrible was going to happen to my baby or that he might stop breathing in the night.
I still repeatedly check on him in the night even though he’s six.
Now I’m approaching giving birth for the second time, I’ve realised it’s not stupid at all to seek or take any professional support, and I should probably have taken the offer at the time.
Of course, it doesn’t help that things are so uncertain with the Coronavirus situation. I’ve already been told that if the same thing were to happen again, I wouldn’t be able to have visitors – one of the very things which kept me sane before.
I’ve written this post not just out of a sense of catharsis for my 5am baby anxiety, but in the hope it might help some other mother who was in my position to feel less alone.
If you’re a new parent and have already been through it, or are a partner struggling to come to terms with a birth trauma, I’m telling you now, don’t be ashamed to seek help, and don’t be afraid to tell others how you’re feeling.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable and get that support to become stronger.
And if my story has affected you in any way or you would like to ask me more questions, simply drop me an email and I’ll reply within 24-48 hours.