THE BIRTH OF OUR BABY GAVE MY HUSBAND PTSD
I looked at him in disbelief. ‘I can’t leave him now,’ I said. ‘There’s no way.’
But my consultant was insistent.
‘We’re very concerned about you,’ he pressed. ‘And that sick little boy needs a mother.’
I looked at his tiny body. The maternal pull was almost magnetic. Jenson needed me. I felt like I was turning my back on him.
‘Make sure you stay with him, don’t leave his side,’ I said to Karl. ‘No matter what. Promise me.’
I sobbed as I was led away towards my own hospital bed. Worst mum in the world, that was me…
When my partner Karl and I found out I was expecting again, it was a bit of a shock. Still, once we’d got our heads around the idea, we were delighted. We’d always wanted a big family, the house filled with kids. And with three boys of our own and four kids from Karl’s previous relationship, we were certainly on our way!
‘You must be mad!’ friends said.
‘After all while, they kind of take care of themselves,’ I’d shrugged.
But by the time I was six months gone, I was starting to struggle. I’d always been a really hands on mum but as my bump grew, I started getting a lot of pelvic pain.
At first, I tried to ignore it. Aches and pains were part and parcel of being pregnant, after all. But after a few weeks I was wincing as tidied up after my boys – Ryan, now 14, (almost 15) Callum, six, and Quinn, four.
My GP diagnosed pelvic girdle disorder a common condition which affects up to one in five women during pregnancy. As the weeks passed the pain grew so bad I was relying on crutches to drag myself around. By December, I found it hard to cope and was back and forth to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for pain relief.
By late December I was desperate. ‘I can’t go on like this much longer,’ I sobbed. ‘Please, you have to induce me.’
Finally, at 37 weeks, they agreed. But things started to move fast, too fast. The pain was far more intense than with my previous three labours. I was struggling to cope was rolling about in agony.
Suddenly, a sharp, tearing pain jolted through me. It felt like my insides were being ripped out. The pain was so intense I thought I was going to pass out.
‘It’s just the baby’s head moving down. Keep pushing,’ the midwife urged.
But I’d given birth to three babies before and I’d never known pain like this. I was in so much agony I could hardly focus.
Then suddenly, they couldn’t find a heartbeat. Time passed in a blur as doctors dragged in a scanning machine and desperately tried to find out what was going on.
Karl was distraught. ‘Can’t you do something?’ he begged.
After 53 minutes without detecting a heartbeat I was given an episiotomy to try and speed up delivery.
My little boy was blue when he finally came out. He was rushed off to be resuscitated. But I was so exhausted I could hardly take in all in.
Eventually, the painkillers kicked in and I drifted off. But when I woke up, the bed was saturated. There was blood everywhere. My gown was soaked through. Panicked I was haemorrhaging, I pressed the buzzer.
At first, they thought my massive blood loss was thought to be down to labour and the cut but then they realised that I was losing urine, too.
‘You’re incontinent,’ the doctor explained. ‘Down to the trauma that your body’s been through. Try not to worry. It will only be temporary.’
Later that afternoon, Karl wheeled me down to the special care baby unit and I held Jenson for the first time. He was 6lb 11oz of gorgeousness, He looked so like his big brothers.
‘They’re going to adore you,’ I cooed.
But by the next day, he had deteriorated. We were told he had Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a bowel condition which is more common in premature babies but in Jenson’s case was likely to have been bought on by lack of oxygen. He needed an operation to remove two thirds of his bowel, and would be fitted with a stoma bag.
I was beside myself with worry. Surely his tiny body was too small to cope?
The next morning, I woke to find Jenson on a ventilator. He’d suffered a seizure. They’d decided to bring his op forward.
‘I have to warn you, Jenson is an extremely poorly little boy,’ the doctor said. ‘You need to prepare yourself for the worst.’
I was terrified.
After, we went to see him. He looked so frail, his tiny body covered in tubes. I wanted desperately to hold him but he was so ill we weren’t even allowed to touch him. The next 72 hours were critical, but slowly Jenson seemed to be getting stronger.
As he was recovering from his op, I was taken down to theatre to have a camera inserted into my vagina. Shockingly it revealed a uterine rupture, a rare, but serious childbirth complication. My uterus had torn and Jenson had slipped into my abdomen. It had left me with extreme damage my cervix, urethra, vagina wall and bladder.
‘To be frank, it’s a mess down there,’ the doctor said. ‘But there are things we can do,’ he reassured. ‘In time.’
I nodded. To be honest, I was more worried about Jenson right now. I was discharged from hospital at the beginning of February but visited him daily. As the days passed, the journey became more and more painful. The constant flow of urine was burning my skin, making it red raw. My GP sad he’d speak to my consultant.
On my birthday, February 14th, I made the agonising trip to see Jenson. But while I was sat at his bedside, my consultant wanted a chat.
‘We want to admit you,’ he said, ‘We’re not happy with how you’re healing.’
Only, Jenson wasn’t doing so well either. They’d discovered that his bowel had retracted from the stomach and closed up so the stoma wasn’t working. He’d need another op to remove more of the dead bowel and some of his colon. We were devastated. He’d been through so much already. Which was why it so hard to leave him now…
To try and reduce my discomfort, the doctors decided to insert a catheter through my skin into each of my kidneys. The tubes would then drain the drain urine into a collecting bag either side of body, giving my vagina time to recover.
It was horrendously painful and I was in agony afterwards. Only morphine was strong enough to numb the pain. But all I was worried about was Jenson.
‘He’s still fighting,’ Karl assured me.
Each day brought more hope and finally, on 28th February, we were allowed to bring Jenson home. He was 36 days old.
It was a relief, of course, but I also worried how I’d cope. I could still barely move with the pain – let alone look after a baby and run the home. Karl gave up his mechanic job to help me run the home and look after the boys.
My body had rejected the catheters in my kidneys and I had constant skin and urine infections. I was left relying on maxi pads to stem the flow of urine. Even then, I often had accidents. I felt like an old woman. It made me feel dirty and I started covering up in frumpy baggy trousers and long cardigans that hid the leaks.
Karl and I hadn’t been intimate since I fell pregnant with Jenson. Now, there was no chance. Apart from the pain, the thought of me weeing on him was enough to turn us both off.
I struggled to bond with Jenson. Long periods of not being able to hold him and feed him since birth had paid a toll. All that special time taken away from me that we could never get back….
‘Is there nothing more you can do?’ I begged my consultant.
In August 2016, I underwent a hysterectomy and vaginal repair. But despite a huge scar held together by 27 staples, the vaginal repair was not a success. Six weeks on, I was still incontinent. It was so disappointing. Fitted with a long-term catheter as a consolation prize, I spiralled deeper into depression. ‘ You’re suffering with Post Traumatic Stress and Post Natal Depression brought on by the birth,’ my doctor explained prescribing anti-depressants.
And it wasn’t just me how was struggling. Karl was floundering too. He was tired, snappy, and so emotional. With us not being intimate either, I worried we were growing further apart.
‘You have to get help,’ I told him. The kids needed us.
Eventually he went to see the doctor and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by the birth too. It was a shock, but hardly surprising after everything we’d been through. He’d been so worried but had been left to deal with everything else, too.
It was a relief to finally know what was wrong but without Karl working we were struggling for money. We’d always managed before.
‘How has it come to this?’ I wept as he came home with a bag full of value-brand baked beans from the local foodbank.
We were both proud, hardworking people and Karl especially couldn’t cope with the fact that he couldn’t provide for his family. Apart from confiding in my closest friend, we hid how hard things had got from family and friends. We felt terrible, like bad parents.
In January 2017, I had another op to graft some of the skin from my labia to repair the scars that remained on my bladder. I was terribly sore afterwards but after cystogram after cystogram came back clear, I finally started to think that maybe, just maybe, the nightmare was over.
Only then a CT scan on 13 May brought my hopes crashing to the ground.
‘I’m afraid a small hole still remains,’ the consultant said.
I couldn’t believe it. It was too cruel.
Jenson is now 18 months old and Karl has just returned to work. I’m getting by with the help of family and friends while I’m awaiting a third op, although I’ve no idea when that will happen or whether it will be a success.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve gone from a normal happy family to relying on handouts because of what happened in that delivery room. It’s been a nightmare for all of us but this has probably been hardest on Karl.
I feel terrible saying it, but Jenson’s birth ruined our lives. I might have four kids but I don’t feel like a proper mum any more. I can’t get down on the floor to play with the younger boys and we can’t take them on day trips because my anxiety is so acute. I’m reliant on painkillers just to get through the day and I’ve been diagnosed with ME and fibromyalgia bought on by the trauma and stress of the last year.
I just hope one day I will get over this and be the kind of mum Jenson and my other kids deserve.