Trigger Warning: This birth story discusses birthing with a disability. Topics discussed include spinal injury, PTSD, general anaesthetic, caesarean section, spinal surgery, and pain management. If you are triggered by these topics you may wish to skip this blog or read it once you have support available. If you are seeking support for your birth trauma, you may wish to contact our Peer Support Service..
In the midst of a global pandemic, and in a lockdown city, we started our wee family. I can confidently say I’m one of the few people to have a baby and a spinal operation in a global pandemic. When I tell this story, I cannot quite believe it’s my story.
I went into pregnancy with a well-managed spinal injury and mobility disability. From conception I had issues, but I did not stop moving my body; I did everything within my control to carry my baby to term and look after my body. Pre-conception I was training for pregnancy, right up to the end I was attending the gym, moving any way my body still could.
2020 wasn’t an easy year to have a complicated pregnancy, particularly in Victoria. Throughout the early pregnancy, bushfire smoke blanketing the city, I had multiple trips to the ER with unmanageable pain; MRIs to pinpoint the cause; finding our my first surgery wasn’t done right; falling; COVID scare; gestational diabetes; returning to the ER over and over; months of crutches; being dependant on my partner, Tom, for things as simple as getting in and out of the shower, and finally succumbing to the pain and living on Endone, Tramadol and Panadol in the final weeks.
In the early days, I had to fight to get my OB and Neuro to work together. Luckily Tom was still able to come to my appointments back then, but by five months along, I was going alone. I am a confident, forthright person who, over time, has had to learn to advocate for my medical needs. What about those who aren’t?
Our time in hospital – birth
Mother’s Day 2020, it’s a Sunday afternoon and we are back in ER. I’m 37 weeks pregnant, living on pain meds. The doctors have decided I’m better off medicated and carrying to term than risking an early birth and underdeveloped lungs, with a respiratory illness raging. That is unless I lose the sensations of my bladder, bowel or foot.
Which I did.
Generally I’d say midwives have seen it all and their game face is well developed. But when the neuro team announced I would need the baby out so they could perform spinal surgery, their faces dropped. It was bad. I cried in disbelief, the memories of my first surgery recovery flooding back. I think it’s called PTSD.
At Midday on Monday 11th May, I had Theadora under general anaesthetic. By late afternoon I was in an MRI machine, and 30 hours later I was being wheeled off to another hospital for spinal surgery. It was the only time I saw Tom cry as he kissed me goodbye and was left in a maternity hospital to care for our newborn for an indefinite amount of time.
I can vividly see the shelves behind the surgeon as he told me there was a 50 per cent chance of nicking my spinal cord. I can see the roof tiles of the operating room and hear the anaesthetist calming me down as I hyperventilate with panic at what I might wake up to. I can see the end of the bed in post-surgical recovery as I move my toes and feel my foot more than I have in eight years. I’m tearing up writing this because I can feel the fear and the helplessness all again.
Due to COVID lockdown, Tom wasn’t allowed to leave the maternity hospital to see me. And I was allowed back to my newborn baby once I could walk to the bathroom. Sit up, get out of bed, walk 10 steps to the bathroom, sit down, pee, stand up, sort my clothes out, walk back 10 steps and done. Simple.
Not simple. I’m chopped open, back and front. I’ve still got a mobility disability. But I’ve got a new-mum level of determination. And if you knew me before this, I already had a lot.
I tried to get up. I could barely sit up. I waited a few hours, tried again. A lovely nurse reminded me no one was going to discharge me in the middle of the night, so I settled in for a night of pain meds and baby pictures. My family on the other side of the world keeping me calm. For the Dad’s reading this, Tom doing night two solo.
Come morning there was nothing I wouldn’t do to be back with my new family. I moved my body with sheer force of will. If they wanted me to cartwheel down the halls I would have tried.
That day I was back in the maternity hospital with Tom and Thea.
For me, right now, the memories of those early days bring involuntary tears to my eyes. I can’t think about them without emotions flooding back, primarily fear.
I am, by nature or experience, a stoic person. I ‘cope’ well when things are hard by chunking things down (usual time wise), by contextualising (the baby is healthy and safe), by talking to my closest friends and family (thank God for the internet) and actively choosing to frame experiences in an empowering way.
So, I got through the final stages of pregnancy and those first few days with these tried and tested tools. Cool. Cool, cool, cool.
But not without scars.
And not without tears on reflection.
I don’t really know how to process what happened. I have no idea. I’m not sad or struggling to bond with Thea/move into this new phase. I just don’t (yet) know how to reflect upon it without crying.
Maybe one day. Maybe never. I don’t know. What I do know is that was fucked, and we need to talk about trauma around birth.
My rehab isn’t over, please join my amazing cheer squad @briarloves