I feel so honoured to have been given this postpartum story to share. When I first read it, I was struck, once again, by how powerful our postpartum experiences are and how much impact they have on the rest of our lives. Your postpartum journey sets the tone for your early motherhood and it stays with you for all of your subsequent births. Yet it is a part of us that is usually overlooked.
This story is a hard read but, sadly, it is not that unique. Weight bias and obesity discrimination within the healthcare system is something that really needs to be called out and addressed. As a straight-sized, cis-gendered, white woman, I have to acknowledge my privilege. Whilst I have certainly been ignored by healthcare professionals - hello gender bias - I know that I have never been ignored because of my size, sexuality or skin colour and that these intersections make the bias much, much worse.
Birth number one was a pretty traumatic one. It was unusually quick for someone who had never birthed before, with only four hours from the first contraction to the birth of my baby. During the pushing phase it felt like they were stuck and the pain was immense. A midwife barked at me that this is what it was supposed to feel like even though I kept telling her it burned. It felt like I was splitting open. My baby was thankfully born safely, weighing 7lb 7.5oz but I was spent. Until the doctors came in and told me that I had, in fact, been tearing slowly as the baby was coming out. This resulted in a third degree tear and I had to spend the first two hours postbirth in surgery. I had been torn inside and out and back to front. I remember being in and out of consciousness in theatre. I remember telling the doctor I could feel it. They kept telling me it was nearly over except, in truth, it wasn't going to be over for years afterwards.
Afterwards, I was in a lot of pain recovery wise. Something just wasn't right. At my postnatal check with a gynaecologist the nicest doctor told me I had been sewn up incorrectly. It had been too tight in places causing excess scarring and pain. They had also caught my bladder which made for some embarrassing incontinence. I was told I would need to wait for reconstruction. Unfortunately, when the appointment came around, the male gyneacologist was rude and misogynistic. He said there was nothing physically wrong with me, that I was just fat and needed to lose weight. He threw a box of syringes at me, filled with numbing gel to stop me feeling the pain. He also said that whilst he was down there he would check for sexually transmitted diseases. I lay there with silent tears. As soon as he was done I ran out of the hospital, never to see a gynecologist for another four years. I lived with my birth injuries for too long, until I fell pregnant with my second baby.
The birth itself was a planned c-section. I was so petrified of something bad happening again, it would keep me awake at night panicking. A doctor advised against the procedure but I was never offered help with my fears and they eventually agreed to the section. My baby was a chunky one, weighing 8lb 6oz. The recovery was painful and awful. I was considering breastfeeding but was told by a midwife that I couldn't if I wanted pain relief (I now know this is wrong). Hearing the screams of the woman next door scared me away.
After birth, I struggled to bond with my baby and to feel connected to them. Of course I put on a face and showed the world the opposite. What sort of mother would I have seemed? At 5 weeks postpartum the pain got too much. I still couldn't stand or walk properly. I went to the toilet and neon green pus was flowing out. A friend got me to hospital and they took one look at me and said 'you won't be home for a while'. I was so poorly, they told me that I only had another 24hrs left unless I got treatment. I was stuck on a ward, extremely poorly with sepsis. They put me in the postnatal ward except I didn't have my baby. They were at home. I didn't have one single visitor for the full duration of my stay. Doctors told me it was my fault. Fat people get infections. Again I didn't feel strong enough to stand up for myself. I had a doctor try to put an I.V. in me 7 times. My veins were collapsing but my hands and arms were in a terrible mess with massive, painful hematomas.
On my last day on the ward a lovely midwife asked me where my baby was and, when I told her they were at home, she looked shocked. She told me me that, as they were so young, they could have been admitted with me but no one had informed me at the time. By 8weeks postpartum I had quite severe postpartum depression. I think it stemmed from everything that had happened previously too. I vowed never to have another baby because I just couldn‘t handle it physically and mentally. Still, baby number 3 came along three and a half years later.
I was much more informed and in charge this time. I decided on a vbac delivery and that I would be breastfeeding. I sought out my own support and found an amazing local group who armed me with the best information. Towards the end of my pregnancy they kept saying that I was having a very large baby. I had asked several times for a sweep once I was 38 weeks pregnant as I was concerned about baby’s size. I was repeatedly told no. 40 weeks came and went. My community midwife, who had been off for the last few weeks, was disgusted that I had been refused and had me booked in that afternoon.
Two failed sweeps later, and I was booked in for an induction. Unfortunately, my induction date was rearranged and so I ended up going in at 41+5 weeks. Due to my previous section, I was informed that I would only be allowed one chance with a pessary before I’d have to go for another caesarean. I waited five hours for the pessary to be placed in. Within half an hour, I was having contractions. The midwife told me that I couldn’t possibly be having contractions and that I was just experiencing cramps, caused by the pessary.
I lay on the bed for the next two hours, writhing in pain. Suddenly, I felt a pop. My husband went to inform them that my waters had gone. The midwife came storming into the room to tell me that my waters could not possibly have burst. She barked at my husband to help her get my trousers off. Her face went white, her hand pushing the alarm to which everybody came rushing into the delivery room. As it turned out, those excruciating pains were signs of a placental abruption. It wasn’t my water, I was bleeding.
My baby’s birth was swift but they were healthy, weighing a hefty 9lb 2oz. I also acquired a second degree tear in the process. I lost a lot of blood. On the postnatal ward I repeatedly told them that I was exhausted and felt very dizzy. I was told I hadn’t lost enough blood for a transfusion (I later found out I was borderline). My daughter struggled to latch due to a severe tongue tie and so we stayed on the postnatal ward for support.
One time, I was sat on the edge of the bed when I blacked out and dropped my baby, head first onto the hard flooring. I was so traumatised by what had happened. The midwives were so lovely but the doctors felt the need to question me several times a day about it for a week over it. Asking me to explain what had happened, over and over again. Thankfully after MRI scans, X-rays and lots of trips to special care for check ups, she was fine but I was not. I just felt like if they had listened in the first place, I would never have bled out and dropped her as a result. I believe that breastfeeding saved me from postnatal depression, as the closeness allowed me to bond with her. We fed successfully for 2 years, even through vasospasms and dysphoric milk ejection reflex.
The birth of my final baby was thankfully less traumatic. They were born with a cleft lip which was traumatising, even though we knew in advance, but we still able to breastfeed. I also had another planned c-section, however the care this time was great. They used a special dressing called a pico7 and so healing and aftercare was so much better. I just wish it had happened with my previous 3 births.
I believe that, as a larger lady, I was prejudiced against at times and certainly not believed. I knew what my body was doing and because it wasn't following a textbook, I was not believed. This nearly ended my life and severely affected my mental health. I hope other women never have to experience what I have been through and I will never be the same again, physically or mentally.
To share your postpartum story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me @postpartum_matters.
I hope that by sharing our stories, we can change the conversation from ' bouncing back' to resting and recovering. And, as a society, we can start caring for and holding space for those who are postpartum.