Category Archives: Uterine Inversion

in pain thou shalt bring forth children

Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and I were pregnant at the same time. My daughter arrived first, and despite my extended hospital stay, I was at home to see the footage of her leaving hospital rosy cheeks glowing, Princess Charlotte bundled in arms, another dress more lovely than anything I own. The plaudits soon rolled in; Kate had achieved the highest prize in motherhood – another natural birth. Oh, and a healthy baby.

Sitting on my couch at home I watched the cameras surrounding her. Glad I was spared the scrutiny of their lenses. That I could keep my dressing gown at midday, my grey-tinged skin, and slow painful walk to myself. I told myself the dress, the make-up, all hid the unglamorous reality of birth. Pain-killers and maternity pads can hide a multitude of sins.

After her first was born Kate was praised for her willingness to expose the truth about post-partum bodies, for her expanded uterus puffing out the custom-made Jenny Packer dress. ‘Hooray for Kate’ the magazine columns and opinion pieces cheered. This time people felt the need to criticize her for looking too good. Nonetheless, Kate had given birth only hours earlier. She did look that good. Those facts are true. But was it The Truth?

It seems hardly a week goes by without another facebook post exposing The Truth About Post-partum Bodies going viral. Many are beautiful stories. Many of the women sharing them are facing down daemons of their own, proudly and rightfully. Who am I to say they should not be celebrated. Mothers are judged this way and that way, no matter what choices they make. Ceasarean births are the easy way out. Women who have vaginal birth don’t understand what caesarean mothers go through -at least vaginal birth is what your body is made for. Get the damn epidural. Epidurals are cheating. Don’t cut the cord too quickly. Don’t cut the cord. Your baby needs you – it’s the fourth trimester! You need to rest to recover. Baby blues are normal. Are you at risk of PND? Your body is amazing. Get back to your pre-baby body quickly. Love your tiger stripes!

The proliferation of messages can be exhausting; made all the more over-whelming by sleep deprivation and hormonal swings. So we love the women who cut through all these headlines to show us something raw and real. The bathroom mirror selfie, newborn in a sling. The caesarean scar, a harsh line across the skin punctuating the rage in the writing. The hilarity of adult-nappies snapped in a maternity ward photo.

But are they the truth?

Perhaps they are only part of it.

Because it is easy to share a photo one day post-partum of yourself in nappies, but much harder to admit that you are still wearing them months down the track. It is easy to get shares of your scar photo, but no-one wants to see the infection you picked up, no-one wants to hear about the smell of your flesh in the doctors rooms. It’s easy to talk about how strong you are for growing and birthing a baby, but much harder to talk about how you have been left too weak to hold the baby, let alone take a selfie. It is easy to talk about how you love your body now, how proud of it you are. But how to talk about a body that has let you down? The one that couldn’t conceive, or couldn’t go unmedicated, that couldn’t labour, that couldn’t stop bleeding, that couldn’t breastfeed, that couldn’t heal. That hasn’t healed and here you are months later still wondering why you have been left like this. Or to talk about your body at all when it was not your body that was broken but your mind.

I’m reminded of Sarah Wilson/Writehanded’s piece – Is your feminism ableist? We place so much emphasis on independence, on self-reliance. We judge before we have any understanding of what individual barriers someone faced. We create ideas of what women should be able to do. We are supposed to feel empowered. And so in the rush to celebrate what many women can and do achieve we sometimes leave out those who need the help the most.

We talk about the old days, when it was our great-great-grandmothers who died. We wring our hands in sorrow, or not, over the 800 women who die daily in faraway countries in childbirth. We are told to feel lucky. Reminded the ideal birthplan is the one where ‘both mother and baby survive’. And that is all. As though, that is all.

We didn’t die. Is that enough? Is that enough for you? Is it enough for me?

Jane Seymour, third wife to Henry VIII; the ideal wife. She produced an heir, and then had the grace to die afterwards. She did not live to incur the wrath of Henry as so many of his wives did. Her purpose in life as a medieval women was fulfilled. But what did Jane want? Not death, surely. Her labour was long, two days, three nights – reportedly because of a malpositioned baby. Centuries later, I feel for Jane. Both of my children were malpositioned too. But she had to labour without the medical support I eventually received. I developed a post-partum infection caused by an excessively long labour, this was the probable cause of her death. The loss of her life was a tragedy for her. Just as it is a tragedy for those 800 women dying every day. So many avoidable deaths. Dead not because they experienced severe complications – dead because, like Jane, they lack access to the basics of sanitation, medication and nutrition. They are individual tragedies, not just statistics to be thrown in the face of any woman who has the temerity to complain about her own lot. We cannot dismiss women’s experiences as first world problems. As anyone who does not have it can tell you, health is not a first world problem. It is a problem.

The line between survival and death in a difficult birth can be paper thin. Walk this line and your view of the world changes. You only have to go back decades to get to a time where no women who experienced complications akin to mine survived. I am a historical anomaly. Childbirth has been made safe. So we want to believe it has been made safe for all women. We want to believe we are now in control. But our bodies and minds are no different from what they have always been. The only change is technology.

Have we forgotten so quickly that it wasn’t just a life and death matter? That even back then women survived with injuries that could not be healed. That women were pushed to the margins of history because the burden of procreation kept us there. What space was there in the public sphere for those left crippled, incontinent? Smelly old ladies. Women unable to conceive more children. Women of ‘delicate constitution’ who nonetheless had produced a number of children already. What would history be like if Jane hadn’t died? The truth is a labour that long without medical support could have left her with many significant health problems. How would the raging tyrant Henry we know from history books have treated an incontinent wife? We’ll never know. Jane will never know. This has been women’s shame for millennia. This is the truth. This is a truth.

We are no longer forced into confinement after birth. Women live their lives in the public sphere. We are expected back at work, back at the school run, back at playgroups. If we are expected to do these things we need to acknowledge the physical barriers some women still face. Without being accused of oversharing, or even being ungrateful for our children’s lives. We only get one body, and we have to live in it for all our life.

Everyone has a horror story we are told. We do all endure, however we birth our child, but to claim we all endure equally is false. What happens to you matters deeply to you. Why do we feel a need to lay a claim to the greatest suffering? Why do people then blithely announce that it ends when you hold your baby. That our bodies heal. Effectively shutting the women who have not healed out of the conversation.

We can’t all walk out of the hospital like Kate. The dress, the hair and make-up are the least of it. For many women childbirth is the beginning of a long journey back to health. We need to talk about that. Not least because poor physical health impacts on poor mental health. So while it is wonderful to praise the women who feel strong, and who feel brave, we also need to embrace the women whose bodies and minds are weak and shattered. The women for whom giving life took everything they had and who now begin a journey back to health. The women whose bodies are still suffering. The women who no longer know their bodies any more. The women who feel shame and keep silent.

This is the truth. This is a truth.

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Into my arms, oh Lord/ Into my arms

There are a lot of blanks the day my daughter was born.

A lot of moments that I don’t remember that I’m glad I wasn’t conscious for.

A lot of moments that I don’t remember that I wish I did.

I remember seeing her, the midwife lifting her into the world, purple and covered in vernix. A beautiful sight. I remember her being laid on my stomach. And I remember her being taken away again. And then they are running, running. And my mind has already gone.

There is an accepted narrative, and I felt guilty for a long time that I don’t fit it. I can’t force my story to follow its simple arcs no matter how many times I rewrite it in my mind.

Months after I told a midwife that I felt like my brain went through its final moments, that the last time I blacked out would have been my last thoughts if I hadn’t been in an OR lifted onto a table when they occurred. She didn’t disagree.

I felt guilty that I hadn’t worried about the baby, worried about who would look after her now. That I didn’t worry about my son. Or my husband. Or my father. What kind of person does that make me? That I didn’t think of everyone I love? Isn’t that what people are supposed to do?

Ridiculous, right? I was essentially criticising myself for dying wrong. As though that’s a thing. As though if I had been capable, or had had the time to worry I wouldn’t have done exactly that. But I didn’t. It was all too fast for that.

So I’ve stopped feeling guilty. Really. But I do feel sad. I think I’ll always feel sad, and that’s ok.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to ‘meet’ her. I didn’t get to lift her to my chest, and gaze at her eyes, count her fingers and toes, touch the tip of her tiny nose. I didn’t say hello, or tell her she was beautiful. I didn’t get to smile at my husband while we marvelled at our baby.

I’m sad when I see photos of women beaming with their newborns, and not because I begrudge them, just because I have one photo of me on the day my daughter was born. I do love that photo, because that moment was the best part of that day. But it is nothing like what new baby photos are meant to be like.

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I’m sad because my daughter is wearing a hat in this photo. I knew she had hair. I wanted to see it, or at least feel it against my skin. But someone had put a hat on her while I was in OR, and I was too weak to talk, and nobody knew how I felt. So I didn’t get to feel her hair.

I’m sad that the first time my husband held his daughter it wasn’t a quiet precious moment for the three of us to enjoy. It was when a nurse told him to get the baby out of the way.

I’m sad because once again, my husband had to ring his parents and my father to say they had a grandchild, but…

I’m sad when I’m with a group of women and they laugh about how tired they were after labour, or how hungry they were. How they finally ate the sushi they’d been craving. And I remember how when my daughter was twelve hours or so old, my husband fed me some ice-cream, because I was too weak to feed myself.

I’m sad that my son didn’t meet his sister until she was 48 hours old. And when he walked into the room he was obviously overwhelmed. I desperately wanted to see him, and I’m sad that when I reached out my hand to touch him he was frightened by the IVs, and drew back from me.

I’m sad when people say you forget the pain the moment you hold your baby in your arms. It did feel wonderful to hold my daughter. But nothing will take away the horrors of beginning to wake up again in the OR, strapped to a table with no understanding of what was happening. We all think we know the story; trauma patient is sick, doctors make them better, then they wake up surrounded by kindly nurses who explain what happened and hand them a baby and congratulate them. But the truth is I was not anesthetised – I was unconscious. Conscious and unconscious are a sliding scale and I veered back and forth. Sometimes able to open my eyes, sometimes able to think, sometimes able to talk. The memories of that first day are disorienting, all fog and blurred edges, even now.

I’m sad because people say missing out on those first few moments doesn’t really matter, in the long run. And I know they are right, because I missed out with my son too. I know it didn’t really matter. But the defining memory of my son’s birth for me is hearing my blood splattering on the floor. Of being alone and confused and only holding him later. And I hoped, I hoped, this time would be better. To hold my new baby. And it wasn’t and I didn’t.

I’m sad when I see statements about childbirth not being a fairy tale, and all that matters is the two of you walk out of hospital alive. I’m well aware of how lucky we are. But that doesn’t mean that what happened in that in-between doesn’t matter.

Wanting to hold my baby was not just a desire, it was a biological function – a hormone rush that in my case was left unanswered, confused, overwhelmed with drugs. It’s the moment that gets women through the last difficult weeks of pregnancy, the days and hours of labour. So it’s hard when that moment is lost. We’ve lost the end to the story of our child’s arrival; we’ve missed the start of their life journey. Yes, there are many firsts over our children’s lifetimes. But to miss out on the first first, to have that day so filled with blanks, it feels a little bit sad.

It’s true what they say, that grief is the price we pay for love. Because this sadness is a type of grief. It sneaks in when I see baby photos, when she snuggles against me in the dark, when I run my fingers through her hair. I have to air it, or it will suffocate me. My heart grew with love for my daughter; there is room in my heart for this grief too.

The way your face could light/ the bitter dark

I listened to Joyce Carol Oates on the radio recently, discussing her widowhood. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said ‘I never knew how weak I was’. Those words really struck a chord with me. On its own parenthood, motherhood, can be hard and exhausting. Combined with my mother’s death, and an extremely traumatic birth. It’s fair to say it has been too much.

I’m not entirely comfortable with using the phrase ‘triggering’. It sounds a bit zeitgeisty, a bit pretentious, a bit precious. Yet, it is a good word for what it can feel like sometimes. Facebook is determined to advertise for blood donations to me. When I see that ad, I see the mess of bruises on my hands and arms from four IV lines, numerous other injections and blood tests. The hospital undershot on my transfusions, and I received more two days after my daughter was born. I feel the chill of the stored blood hitting my veins. When I hear a siren I cringe, thinking no paramedic could have saved me that day; the 200m sprint to OR was far enough.

My son can be anxious sometimes. I’m not sure how it started but sometimes he finds it reassuring to spend time listing our worries; it’s a way for him to get things off his chest. The other day he told me he’s worried he’ll be left at børnehaven. It broke my heart to hear it. That he has been so worried about something that has never, and may never happen. That he is old enough both to imagine it, and articulate it.

And it troubled me because it is so close to my own fear. The fear of leaving my children motherless. I’ve spent the last year reassuring him that although we all die, we expect to live a long time. In the months since his sister’s birth those words have felt like ash and lies in my mouth.

I don’t want to pass on my fears and anxiety to my children. I know I will never forget those moments of my life, but I have to let go of the fear, the guilt.

Because I am here.

I did live.

Sometimes the fear can be crushing. Some days I am so drained I’m not as patient with my children as I would like to be. Some days I’m overwhelmed by the washing, the cleaning, the cooking, the sheer amount of needing.

Some days are glorious.

Some days we read, and bake. We go to the market and count the apples as we put them in a bag. We wrap ourselves in coats and mittens, and throw snowballs, or go for frosty walks, M zooming ahead on his bike. He runs, and bounces, and laughs.

And my daughter?

She watches. She watches the world from the safety of her parents. She watches and smiles. When she turns her bright eyes to mine I feel the aptness of her middle name; the name we chose because it belonged to my mother, and grandmother before her. Joy.

And those restless thoughts that/ cling to yesterday

*warning* this post contains medical information & imagery related to childbirth

Maybe I’m falling. I’m no longer sure which way is up.

I’ve never liked glass lifts. As the lift moves, and my floor and the floor outside separate my brain lurches. If I’m not holding on to a wall I’ve been known to stagger. Unsure which way I’m moving. Unsure which way is up.

There is a moment in the story of my daughter’s birth that dissects it into two stories. The first story in which she is born, and it was a bit complicated, and everything you expect birth to be, or maybe not, but ultimately I was fine. She was fine. And the second story, after her birth. The afterbirth. In which I was found, in the Darwinian sense, to be ‘unfit’. The story in which my uterus fell out of my vagina.

Reach your hand into your pocket, and pinch the bottom of your pocket with your fingers. Now without letting go pull your hand out. There, like that.

It’s called a uterine inversion. Don’t be surprised if you’ve not heard of it. They are extremely rare. They are also, as you might gather, extremely serious.

I remember realising that I was bleeding. I’d haemorrhaged when I had my son as well, but not nearly as much, only 900mL; although I lost that fast, in just a few minutes or so. It is hard to describe that feeling. It’s like a head rush when you stand too fast, but it doesn’t stop. It keeps rushing, and rushing. And as the blood rushes my mind is falling. I no longer know which way is up.

I remember my husband backing away from the bed, as a nurse places on oxygen mask over my face.

I remember being jerked awake as I am lifted onto the table in OR. My head flops to the side, I see the blood on the bed.

I remember being told it would feel like I was being kicked in the stomach.

I remember the bright lights. I remember seeing IV lines in both my hands and arms, while the anaesthetist buzzes around me, more injections into my thighs, my shoulders.

I remember being told I was stable, and once they had finished stitches I would be moved. It is only when she tells me this that I notice someone is stitching my perineum.

I have since been told that inversions present somewhat ‘uniquely’ in that they have an immediate effect on the central nervous system. This happened in my case. I had a massive drop in my blood pressure and was no longer stable before blood loss was heavy enough to cause this. Blood loss in inversions is very rapid; they liken it to turning on a tap. I lost 3.7L of blood, but was put back together and in the recovery ward within an hour.

It all sounds terrifying. In a way it was. What I find the hardest part though is the lack of fear. The knowledge of how quickly my mind was gone. I didn’t think of my newborn, my husband, my son. I had no fear that I was going to die. Other than a flicker of recognition as my husband steps away from the bed there is no ‘me’ in these memories. Only the pain. The need to breath. The falling.

We met with the obstetricians recently, in an attempt to fill in the gaps. I now believe I was unconscious for most of the time in OR. That nearly everything I remember is after they had pushed my uterus back, and the ‘kicking’ was the attempts to contract it once it was in place. On a purely factual level it should not be surprising that my brain struggles to place these memories in context. Deprived of blood and oxygen, my body pumped full of a variety of drugs, my mental processes were impaired to say the least.

My husband was allowed in to see me straight away, carrying our daughter. They lie her on my chest and she even attempts to feed. I don’t remember them arriving. Instead I have vivid memories of the shaking from shock, how cold I was, and being unbelievably thirsty, while attempts to sip water resulted in vomiting on my shoulder. But I also remember lying there, her tiny body on my chest, skin to skin. And despite it all, a feeling of peace. A feeling of completeness. I was back to where I needed to be.

We went forward from there. At first I couldn’t sit on my own, couldn’t support her weight, too headachy to think, too nauseous to eat. But slowly I recover. We name her. I make it out of bed. I make it home. I’m strong enough to walk holding my daughter. It is about a month before I have the strength to lift my 2 year old. I laugh. I cry. I get better.

Most of the time, I’m fine. For months I really just felt glad to be here. Grateful for the doctors and nurses and blood donors who saved my life. But then I would go to bed at night, and in the dark all the fear I didn’t feel at the time comes creeping in. I can’t shake the knowledge that for all the complexities of our lives, all the amazing and wondrous things we do, we are dependent on our heart, our lungs, our brain. I can’t shake the memory of what it felt like for them to be slowing, dragging me down into the undertow.

I wake in the night. I feel like I’m trapped in a glass box. I feel like I’m falling.