Trigger warning with this post
Childbirth is painted as a painful yet magical experience.
We’re talking waters breaking, quick dash to the hospital followed by a serene, pain medication-free water birth surrounded by twinkly lights and chilled-out music.
Sure, there’s pain and probably a lot of screaming, but all that dissolves once your little bundle of joy is placed in your arms.
While I didn’t entirely buy into this unrealistic expectation of birth, I rather hoped that amid the chaos would be a moment immediately post-birth that would eclipse all the pain that had gone before.
In reality, I delivered my first born in theatre, surrounded by at least 10 other doctors, nurses and consultants.
Jack was placed onto my chest and I was overwhelmed with relief that he had arrived safely, stroking his head as his little red face looked up at mine.
Before I could even give him a kiss and count his little fingers and toes, I started to feel far-away. The room juddered as I battled to not black-out. I asked my husband to hold Jack as I didn’t think I was going to be conscious for much longer.
I remember asking the doctors at the foot of the bed to stop shaking the room. They didn’t reply, they didn’t even look up. I was going into shock and they were saving my life.
I can’t really remember much after that, except a nurse looking down at me saying that my mum wanted to know if I was alright and if they had permission to fill her in on the details. At that point I didn’t even know if I was alright. I woke up in the high dependency unit, on a number of drips.
My husband was cradling Jack and then a midwife came in to help him take his first breastfeed. She placed him on my chest, helped me pull down my top so he could suckle. I was too weak to hold him at that point and I was pretty detached from the whole experience – I wasn’t even aware of Jack latching on.
Hours later, I slowly started to come around. And I was hungry. So, so hungry.
All I had eaten in the last 36 hours was some chocolate chip shortbread and a banana. The midwife delivered platter after platter of sandwiches, biscuits and sugary tea. As soon as I’d demolish one platter, I’d demand another.
It wasn’t until the next day, when a doctor came to take my bloods that I found out that I’d had a postpartum haemorrhage and lost 1.5 litres of blood.
I couldn’t believe what my body had been through and a little amazed and impressed that I was still standing.
My body had been subjected to a 36 hour labour, an epiostomy, a failed epidural followed by a spinal that left me feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Delivery was via rotational forceps (brutal) and then a major postpartum haemorrhage.
While sat in my cubical, unable to move, all I could focus on was this gorgeous little bundle in my arms. The trauma of birth was eclipsed by the relief that my baby had got through it okay and was healthy.
As I hobbled out of hospital – weary from no sleep, lightheaded from no blood – I had no idea just how long that road to recovery and regaining my strength would be. The hospital packed me off with some iron tablets and a ‘good luck’ without me really understanding the impact a major postpartum haemorrhage has on your general recovery.
The consultant nearly gave me a transfusion, but as my blood level had crept up to 7 (point something) they decided against it. I really wish I’d pushed for one as I believe my recovery would have been a lot quicker.
Over the next couple of days, Jack didn’t feed well at all. He lost a lot of weight and nearly had to go back into hospital.
I gave him a bottle in a bid to avoid a hospital trip and luckily this helped him regain his weight.
I don’t know if this is the same with every woman who has had a PPH, but it delayed my milk coming in. Many people said the reason for my breastfeeding failure wasn’t my PPH and that I was probably doing something wrong. But I know my body and I knew that something wasn’t right.
After breaking down in tears at a weigh-in, the midwife finally informed me that my milk had been delayed due to having no blood. My body was too busy trying to make platelets that the milk my son needed wasn’t there. I had not been warned about this at all and was so angry that no one at the hospital told me that this could have been a possibility.
After the birth of my second son, I had a minor haemorrhage of around 900ml and my milk came in straight away and was plentiful so I knew that the first PPH did have an impact.
I was prescribed iron tablets and even after 6 months, my iron levels were at a poor level. The tablets I’d been prescribed weren’t kind to my stomach so now I use Spatone, a liquid iron that is much gentler and can be mixed in with your morning orange juice.
Talk About It
The trauma of the birth hit me about a week after I got home. I sobbed uncontrollably at the health centre while getting Jack weighed, saying that I was confused about what had gone wrong and what I could have done to stop it.
I was referred to the Birth Matters clinic where I could ask questions about what caused my PPH and how it could have been prevented. Years later, I’m still not convinced I know why everything went so wrong.
There was talk of an undiagnosed partial placenta previa then another midwife suggested it was simply because my uterus was fatigued from such a long labour.
Truth is, PPH can happen to anyone and for a number of reasons. The only way you can prepare beforehand is making sure you take your iron tablets throughout pregnancy if prescribed so that if it should happen, you will hopefully make a quicker recovery.
If it does happen to you, then don’t panic. Midwives see it all the time and know how to respond quickly.
The most important thing is to talk it through, ask for help when needed and allow yourself time to make a full recovery.