I don’t imagine there are many women who give birth to a 10lb+ baby and emerge completely unscathed. Despite having the birth experience I had wanted in the birthing pool, the quick progress of my labour and sheer size of Baby Jake at 10lb 2oz meant that I would have a much tougher time of it postnatally. And I have struggled. Jake is already a month old and I still feel as if I’m recovering, both physically and emotionally.
Perineal trauma: the shudder-inducing words that hold horrendous memories for so many women, yet nobody feels very comfortable talking about. Whether caused by a tear or episiotomy, the debilitating pain and discomfort of perineal trauma, with sometimes long-term effects for the worst injuries, can make the postnatal period unbearable for those suffering. I don’t want to not talk about how it has affected me for fear of embarrassment or because it makes people squeamish – I want others to know it’s ok to share their experiences, just as they might any other aspect of their birth story. Just don’t read on if you think it will bother you!
I was always afraid I would suffer a tear during my second labour, as I had with my first, but I don’t remember the physical recovery being quite so hard the last time. Maybe it was because Little Man was roughly half the size of his baby brother – only weighing 5lb 9oz – and although it was classed as a second degree tear, the damage was relatively superficial. This time though, there was very real concern after the delivery that I had suffered a third degree injury.
After I got out of the pool, my midwife examined me closely as I lay in lithotomy covered in surgical drapes, and said that she wanted a second opinion. Another midwife came in and I looked down at them discussing how serious or not the damage might be. They wanted a doctor to take a look. My midwife told me that if the tear had gone ‘all the way through’ then I would need to leave the birthing centre to be transferred upstairs to theatre, where an obstetrician would suture the wound under a spinal anaesthetic. The thought filled me with dread. I lay there with my legs in the air for what felt like an eternity waiting for the doctor. The midwife had already administered a local anaesthetic and used a catheter to empty my bladder for me – we just had to wait to see if she would be able to repair the damage herself or not.
Mercifully, the obstetrician confirmed upon examination that it was a bad second degree tear, not a third degree, and my midwife was finally able to stitch me up. I was given a suppository painkiller which would numb the worst of the pain for a few hours. I was encouraged to try and pass urine to make sure I could, and I did, with no small amount of wincing and mild cursing. I knew then that this would not be easy.
The first couple of weeks were unbearable. I dreaded having a wee as the stinging pain brought tears to my eyes every time. I kept a cup in the bathroom so that I could pour warm water on myself as I went, to try and dilute the urine and reduce the discomfort. In the early days it made little difference. Several times I sat there and sobbed and wondered how long I would have to put up with it. Then of course there was the absolute fear of having a bowel movement. After my first birth, I was so scared of going that I made myself constipated – this time I was careful not to allow this to happen and I managed it with a pad pressed against my stitches I was so afraid would burst. Obviously they don’t, but it certainly feels like it.
Even when I wasn’t making horrendous trips to the bathroom, just getting around was hard work enough. Every movement I made was with careful consideration of my limitations – I took small steps when walking, and had to psyche myself up to sit down or stand up. I had to explain to Little Man that I still couldn’t get down on the floor and play with him. I had to rely on my husband to do so much for me – as he is a teacher I have been so lucky to have him at home for the summer holidays. The disturbed sleep that is part and parcel of having a newborn in the house made the physical recovery feel ten times harder – I was weak, broken and exhausted.
All of this meant that I felt, and still feel to some extent, emotionally fragile. I was close to tears most of the time, and I still have my up and down moments. A month on, I know that the tear is healing well – I can now go to the loo with no issue, and the awful tiring ache of the healing muscle is lessening by the day – but my body feels like it has lost the strength it once had. I don’t feel like ‘myself’ yet, and that bothers me.
I know, though, that I need to be positive and move on from a month which has been one of the toughest of my life, but has also been filled with so much joy. We have spent some wonderful days together as a family of four, and Jake is an absolute star. I made a short-lived attempt at breastfeeding, which was never going to work out in the circumstances, and he has settled beautifully on formula, enabling us to get a bit more sleep at night. My husband has been patient and supportive and Joe has done his bit helping to look after me – “You should be relaxing Mummy!”. I can’t dwell on unpleasant memories when there is so much to be happy about.
So looking ahead, I need to focus on getting ‘me’ back. I have been given the opportunity to review an online postnatal Pilates programme which will help me get some strength back so that I can eventually start running again. I am aiming to be fit to take part in the Great Manchester Run next May, a 10k I have done a couple of times before. I’m going to be setting myself a running challenge for MAMA Academy which I’d love for some blogging friends to get involved in and I’m quite excited about. And I need to lose the baby weight, which before you all say doesn’t matter yet, I know is a longer process, but I am making it one of my goals.
I am incredibly lucky to have supportive family and friends, both local and virtual (you know who you are!), who will help me feel like myself once again. And of course I have my two beautiful boys – and that is enough.
I’m privileged to be part of the Editorial Team for the Maternity Matters website with my good friend Susanne of Ghostwriter Mummy. If you’ve got a pregnancy, birth or postnatal experience you would like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Pop on over to Maternity Matters to find out more.