Maura’s birth story has had a strong impact on my life. It has impacted my health, priorities, interests, and work. I’ve shared my story of Maura’s birth on the blog, and added to it as the story seemed to drag on long after I had Maura in my arms. I’m not even sure when that story ended and life got back to (new) normal. (I want to say around 15 months postpartum)
Throughout the last 2+ years, I’ve talked to numerous women about their birth experiences. Although I’ve heard stories similar to mine, and others very traumatic, the majority of stories I hear are relatively smooth sailing, even if they diverged slightly from the plan. Each time I shared my story, I noticed my feelings surrounding it become more powerful. I was jealous of the smooth deliveries and the friends who returned to running or their old hobbies so quickly. I wanted to feel empowered by my birthing experience, but I felt defeated.
I tried to determine what went wrong, and who was to blame… because if there wasn’t something or someone to blame, how could I prevent the same story from happening again? If we couldn’t prevent it, how would I go forward and even consider having another child? If I were to have the same experience again, would I be able to handle it emotionally? I don’t know. I still don’t know.
What felt like as soon as Maura was born, people began asking when we would have another child. The first year or so, I always responded “Ha! Whenever I recover from having the first.” At first people would laugh, but then over time they looked confused, so I stopped making that joke. I got the point – people didn’t understand how I wasn’t recovered yet and not everyone was looking for a long conversation about pelvic floor health and birth trauma. This got me thinking, my daughter is two, I am 34, and I am physically healed. Maura is very busy, but overall a pretty easy kid. I have no reason to postpone having another child, other than the emotions that become stirred up thinking about my birthing experiences. I need to heal emotionally from the events surrounding Maura’s birth, and if it hasn’t naturally happened in two years – I have to do something about it myself. So I requested my medical records. (labor and delivery notes, progress notes, labs, etc.)
I read the notes over several times. Put them down. Read through them several more times. Had Greg read them. They didn’t tell a traumatic story. I’m not sure what I expected to read, but what I got was a step by step emotionless description of a pretty typical sounding birth. Had I made the experience more traumatic than it had actually been? Am I exaggerating the negatives in my story? No, I don’t think do.
I picked apart those notes and googled the heck out of every number and detail. It verified that several incidents that I remember very clearly did in fact happen (I pushed for a long time, I tore extensively, and lost a significant amount of blood) – It was not an easy delivery, but when described medically (without any emotion) it didn’t sound as traumatic as ‘it should‘ based on my feelings now. I even went back and read the Birth story that I wrote, it didn’t sound traumatic either. And oddly, thinking back to writing it – I didn’t feel like it was traumatic to me then. So where did this anxiety surrounding the story come from? Postpartum. I had an awful year postpartum.
After Maura was born, I was in rough shape. I had “an uncountable” number of stitches according to my doctor. I hurt. I remember not thinking I could make it from the hospital room to the car without fainting. At Maura’s 2 day appointment, our lactation consultant assumed Maura was born via cesarean because I looked like I had major surgery, I barely could walk into the room. My nipples were also in awful shape. Maura had an awful latch that pretty much tore my boobs apart. I never reported it because it didn’t hurt as much as everything else. The LC had never seen someone nursing with such damage – and Maura ate every 1.5 hours as a newborn…. About a week postpartum my stitches became infected. Around 3 weeks my swelling went down enough to feel those stupid stitches, I hurt even more. At my 6 week check, I was NOT cleared for exercise and told to wait “maybe another month” to have sex. My tears still had not healed completely. I reported feeling a prolapse and started PT at 8 weeks for 2nd-3rd degree cystocele. I continued PT for almost 8 months. I really struggled emotionally with the slow pace of recovery and wondering if I’d ever heal. I saw specialists, tried every option and was pretty much convinced that I’d need surgery. During this same time I had a series of abnormal pap smears that led to a biopsy being taken – it was benign and confirmed as “changes due to chronic inflammation” – which oddly made sense, because around 3-4 months postpartum my joints had also become inflamed. I think I was at a doctors office every week all year. Add in the start of Maura’s hip journey and I can easily see the that the traumatic part of my story was not the birth, it was the entire year after.
I did learn that I was anemic when I got to the hospital. Due to the blood loss (approx 1,000mL), I was critically anemic on discharge. This was why I felt so weak in the weeks to come, as well as contributed to my slow rate of healing. A blood transfusion was mentioned, but in my foggy state I refused (according to the notes, I don’t remember being offered). In the future, I can definitely monitor my iron more closely during pregnancy. And now I know the consequence of not having a transfusion – I might be more open if that were to come up again.
My goal was to use the notes to determine what went wrong, and what I can do to prevent a similar story in the future. Other than the anemia, they didn’t point out anything crazy that I didn’t know. No one is to blame, and nothing specific went wrong. They did however, give me the opportunity to review, think clearly, and begin to determine what I can do differently next time around. I’ve got a list, but I’ll save that for another post. Should you request your Labor and Delivery notes? Maybe, maybe not, but I’m glad I did. I learned that my focus was on the birth experience itself, and maybe I should be looking to my preparation for labor and creating a postpartum care plan next time rather than just a birth plan.
I also feel the need to say – I’m NOT pregnant. I need to know that I am completely healed physically and emotionally before wrapping my head around the idea.