The first two weeks after having a baby are tough, as a first-time mother you don’t really know what is normal, you’re feeling your way in the dark. If you have done any reading before the arrival of the little bundle you know you need to capture to memory as many of these events as possible as all the moments that you are meant to treasure fly by in a blur. There is nothing abnormal about this fact, its safe to say those first 14 days are a whirlwind.
So you prepare yourself for the changes you face, to your body, your sleep, your life in general and you begin to carving out your new life as a mother and try to establish the new norm. However for me, I was almost certain within the first 24 hours, that something wasn’t right, that it wasn’t normal for me to feel like I did both physically and emotionally.
Writing this post, has been emotional. I have relived certain things my mind has chosen to forget and I have tried to keep it as brief and factual as I can, so that I may begin to tell you my full story. However please forgive me if I skip things, or if you later find edits to this post, as it has proved difficult for me to relive those entire two weeks clearly. This post is just the prelude if you like to the journey I have been on for the last 9 months. I will however attempt to share my mental state and not just my physical state with you as I progress.
My delivery was not really that unusual, a natural birth turned into an assisted birth with an epidural and forceps, thousands of women worldwide have had far more traumatic experiences and survived.
However as a Brit in Portugal, there were a few adjustments I have to make to the expectations of my labour and delivery. I have always been against having an epidural however the Portuguese health system does not allow for any alternative pain relief, your choices are 100% natural, an epidural or a Caesarean so I opted for the epidural and now I’m really glad I did.
The upside of giving birth to my little one in Portugal is that they still keep you in the two days after delivery but that’s about where it ends I knew the first day after having him the pain level I was experiencing was more than it should have been. I found myself discounting it as expected having received an episiotomy, however as those 24 hours unravelled I was in growing pain and convinced it would become more than I could bear. With a colicky baby who clearly was in as much shock as I was postpartum I hovered there with him in my arms, unable to sit down, not quite able to stand rocking him back and forth and trying my best to comfort him.
He wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t cold he was fine, but deep down I honestly think he could sense all was not right with his mum.
At 2am in the morning a mid-wife came and whisked my baby away to help, however when I begged her for pain relief she just left me there in a puddle of tears telling me I was fine. It took all the strength I had to climb (yes climb, the bed was about 4 foot off the floor and reached using a set of steps) back on my bed, where I couldn’t sit or lay comfortably and resulted in me curled in the fetal position sobbing uncontrollably whilst clutching various parts to stop the pain from worsening with the movement.
After hours, at 9am the following morning, a new midwife appeared in the doorway, took one look at the hot mess in front of her before informing me my little man was fine and asleep with them and that she would issue me with pain medication and I was to return to bed and sleep before getting showered and only then could I have my baby back. As a breastfeeding mother the best I could be offered was intravenous paracetamol which I gladly accepted. I tossed uncomfortable for maybe an hour before I shuffled to the bathroom and attempted to wash what was left of my neither regions.
This task in itself told me that things were not how they should have been, even postpartum.
I gingerly dabbed a flannel and shower gel between my legs, mindset that I needed to keep the area as clean as possible but scared out of my wits that I would do more damage. As I gently felt my way around, what I felt was not the body I once knew. Understanding things would have changed having just given birth I was still not ready for what it felt like and to this day I am so glad there weren’t any mirrors in the shower cubicle for me to see my behind.
As I tried to wash around the area, my entire bottom felt like it has been blown away. If honest, I felt more like a victim of a bomb blast as opposed to a new mum. There was no shape to my bottom, it merged completely with my legs and I could not tell one butt cheek from the other. So much so I had to get my husband to come and look!
I had suffered hemorrhoids in the last few weeks of pregnancy, so wasn’t surprised to know I had them from pushing either, however I was still reeling from the shock of the doctor pushing them all back in when stitching me up and just how long that process had taken and how large and many of them there were.
My vagina was too sore to really go near, so I made do with a gentle over the top wash and chose not to investigate that too much further. I knew from trying to pee, that things were out-of-place and the pressure and pain I felt just sitting to go was enough to tell me all was not right. However I could pee, albeit, it took a lot of focus and energy to make it happen. But as long as I could pee everyone appeared happy!
Without any doctors visiting I was left to the midwives who took an old school hardy approach to entering motherhood. My husband who is Portuguese, did his best to bridge the gap between me and some of the staff, however as a man, he would try to relay what I had told him but would accept the answers he received, of course not knowing any different. after all he was also a first time parent and not a woman.
I cried uncontrollably to him almost constantly over those first 48 hours in the hospital
Whilst he held our son (and pretty much for at least the first 4 months afterwards as well). trying to explain to him the level of pain I was in and what was going on down there without putting him to much outside his comfort zone, but it was impossible to convey just how bad things were.
Don’t get me wrong, I expected there to be pain and discomfort, especially since I have a forceps delivery and carried a bruiser of a baby, but something inside me kept telling me this isn’t normal. I watched as other mothers; even those who had just undergone a caesarean got out of bed, lifted their babies gracefully and gently began moving into normal life and wondered why it all seemed so hard to me. It was like having a devil and an angel on each shoulder. On one side I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do what the other mothers where doing, but on the other a little voice kept saying, this isn’t right, you aren’t the same as them, something is wrong.
When my mother visited later that day, I attempted to explain it to her also, however both her and my husband felt that perhaps my pain threshold was considerably lower than any of us had anticipated and that my hormone levels was considerably higher resulting in the fact I appeared unable to cope with motherhood. After all on the outside I looked like every other new mother on the ward. How were they suppose to know, being that no one had even explained to me at this stage the level of the injuries I sustained during my delivery. I can’t blame them really, even I would have thought I was overreacting and hormonal if I wasn’t actually experiencing the pain myself.
But my inner voice, my gut if you like wouldn’t relent, it kept chiming in saying this isn’t right, this isn’t normal.
When climbing back on my bed after having tended to the baby on the second day, I felt something pull and almost like a snapping sensation inside of me. Concerned I had burst my stitches I told a midwife when she came to inspect me. She took a look at me externally and said no everything is fine. She never did an internal examination even though I told her it felt like it was inside. It was as if she hadn’t read my notes and didn’t know herself what level of stitching I had received. At this point I still didn’t know myself, although I was still unconvinced all was ok after that examination.
When the doctor did his rounds the following day it was a completely different doctor to the one I had seen prenatal or the one who had delivered the baby. (none where particularly interested in how I was holding up) I tried as best I could in broken Portuguese to try to get him to understand the pain level but he’s response was yes you have stitches and things seem quite swollen ( I later established what he meant by swollen was the size of the hemorrhoids I have acquired) I was promised something to help, which turned out to be flavonoids! ( Basically a planet extract that reduces swelling in your veins) and on his way he went. I felt lost, I knew what I had gone through, I was present and correct for the entire event, however the pain I seemed to be in, just didn’t stack up to what had unfolded in the delivery room. I wasn’t able to make sense of it, or reconcile the two. Yet no one seemed to want to take the time to work through this with me. I’d had a baby, I had to recover. I was to expect some discomfort – DISCOMFORT, that was the word they used a lot. They didn’t seem to understand that when I said pain, I actually meant pain, whole-hearted, body shaking making you physically sick pain. That I couldn’t physically more, even a twitch without an immense amount of pain washing over me. No one seemed to be interested in anything I tried to explain to them, again my stitches were played down.
When I was discharged at the end of day 2, there was no improvement. I was required to sit through a baby safety class before I could be signed to leave (basically telling you not to drop baby, not to leave them on a bed and all the most simple things most people with common sense would already know). The fact, I actually couldn’t sit was besides the point and by this point my mum has kindly brought me a baby’s rubber ring to use. Although even that was impossible! There was no medical advice for me, no follow-up or instructions on how to care for my damaged body, I was just released without anything other than a blue book for my baby and being told to make a 6 week postpartum appointment with my GP. Then off into the real world I was sent.
The car journey home was unbearable!
Sat in the back not because of baby, but because I couldn’t find any position suitable in the front, I was perched on my inflated rubber ring, hanging on to the overhead handle supporting all my weight on my arms so as not to place any pressure on my undercarriage, however even then the slightest of bumps in the road have me howling in pain.
I was glad when we got home, not just because the journey there had ended but I felt that being in comfortable and familiar surroundings would aid my recovery, but that was not to be.
Whilst people around me tried to assure me every day would get a bit easier and a little less sore, I was finding the opposite happening. I couldn’t lift my baby because the pain internally was to great to bear, I couldn’t feed him unless I was laid on my side, regardless of where I might be. I still couldn’t sit even with the rubber ring and the only place I seemed to find any relief was sat in a warm salt bath, but even then immediately afterwards the pain would intensify further. I cried so hard and heavy constantly, I wasn’t happy with my body, with how it was behaving, with the fact I seemed unable to tolerate the pain of childbirth.
I begged my mother to help me, begged her to inspect what was going on down there as I was unable to get into any position myself to take a look and quite frankly it scared the living day lights out of me with just the pain alone. She reluctantly agreed and did her best to describe what she saw whilst trying to reassure me that I was ok. I think if you asked her now, she would admit that she was petrified I was suffering with postpartum depression. She spoke with various friends, some from the medical professions who offered suggestions to help ease the comfort, and whilst some temporarily gave me a little respite, none really worked.
I remember saying to her and others ” I shouldn’t be in this much pain!” and receiving the answers “Jez keely you have just had a baby cut yourself some slack”. When I spoke with a close friend who had her son the day before me, she said she was up and moving and had been out walking with him, whilst I couldn’t even make it from the sofa to the kitchen and if I stood straight I felt that my entire insides where about to drop out.
Every time I looked to someone for help or guidance I was told it was to be expected, to give myself a break and allow myself time to recover.
The entire episode had me questioning my sanity, was it in my head, was I really experiencing this, was I overreacting to it, was my pain threshold lower than I had credited myself with? I had alway felt I have a pretty good tolerance to pain, I am a gritty determined person, who when she sets her mind to it can overcome most obstacles. I pushed myself, in my head thinking I needed to get moving, that it would aid my recovery if I could slowly start to more about. Clinging to the pram handles I attempted to walk to the local coffee shop around 5 or 6 days after giving birth. I think I made it to the end of the road before the tears overcame me and I had to ask my husband to help me back in the house. To me I was weak, my body had left me down, this did not help with my mental state either. I was frustrated and angry that other new mums were enjoying motherhood whilst I rotted on the sofa! But more importantly it did not help my body to recover, because unbeknown to me, it was attempting to repair far worse injuries than even in my wildest imagination would not have comprehended and it would be another 4 months before anyone exactly took the time to explain those to me.
All I really recall now looking back at those first two weeks as a new mother is the immense pain I suffered, the tears I cried and the longing look I gave my husband as he held our baby and tried his best to console me and support me where he could. I feel cheated out of experiencing one of the most wonderful times in my life, one that I will never get to experience again. Sure I am able to become a mother once more (although not without complications) but never again will I get to experience those feelings of being a new mum for the very first time.
This post may seem an essay to some who have read it, I hope others can relate to this and if I can help just one person from feeling alone and realising that if you know in your heart what you are experiencing isn’t normal then stand up for yourself and take action, don’t go on others judgement as I did.
My story doesn’t end here, it hasn’t really even began, and over the course of many posts I will continue to share with you what I went through, what I am going through and what will finally be the resolution to my issues, however there is so much to this story that I need to tell that I cannot possibly do that all in this one post.
If others out there have post birth stories, I urge you to share them in the hope we can help other new mums, please let me know what happened to you.