medical notes

In the blur of days following the birth of my twins I was given a leaflet with details about someone I could contact to discuss my birthing experience.  It didn’t seem relevant at the time as I was trying to look after two new beings whilst slowly (and painfully) emerging from a drug-induced fog.

Whilst I knew that I had nearly died in childbirth; I buried that piece of information and instead focused on surviving those first gruelling months of motherhood.  As I became more capable in my role I had more headspace for thought; and when I thought about “the birth” I usually found myself crying.  I assumed it was hormones and tiredness; and that it would pass.

When the twins were 6 months old I took them to see a Cranial Osteopath to help with their sleep issues.  Whilst there, the Osteo asked me if I’d been administered many drugs during the birth.  I said I didn’t know and explained the length and difficulty of the birth, resulting in an emergency c-section. He suggested that I had probably been given quite a lot of drugs and that it would be pertinent to get my notes to know exactly what they had pumped into my body; particularly since it could have impacted the twins.  I hadn’t even considered this…and so I set about the mammoth task of getting my medical notes from the birth.

I phoned the hospital and asked how I should go about obtaining my medical notes.  I was transferred a couple of times; quizzed on why I wanted the notes and then advised that a form would be sent to me.  The form itself was reasonably straightforward; however, there was a section about whether or not I intended to take legal action against the hospital.  I duly completed the form and sent it off registered delivery.  After a few weeks I called the hospital to ascertain when I might receive my notes; and they advised me that they had not received my request.  I provided them with the registered delivery details and suggested they look into it.  A week later I called again; and again; and again.  Eventually I lost my patience and suggested to the last lady I spoke to that perhaps they were deliberately avoiding dispatching my notes to me because they had something to hide.  Interestingly she called me within the hour; advising me that they had tracked down my request and that my notes would be copied and sent to me within the week.  A week later I called again – apparently they were short staffed and my notes hadn’t been copied; after another of my outraged rants I was advised that someone would do it that day.

I received a large bundle of notes a few days later which I read; and using Google, partially translated into comprehensive chunks.  I was indeed administered a shit-load of drugs over a 48 hour period; all of which I copied down to share with medical professionals in the future regarding my health and the health of my twins.

For about a year after giving birth; any discussion or thoughts about it resulted in tears.  I am pleased to say I can now talk about it like a rational person; however I do bear a bit of a grudge against the hospital….for two reasons.  1) the idea of talking through your birthing experience with someone post event is a really good one.  It would probably be better for a health visitor to provide the contact details once you are home and settled, with an explanation about how it could help; rather than pushing one of many documents into the hands of a scared and exhausted new parent.  2) we are all entitled to access our personal data and should be able to do so without hurdles or hindrance; particularly if that information we are seeking to obtain is pertinent to our well-being!

thoughtless words

On the third day after I’d given birth; family came to visit us in hospital.  One of the first things someone asked me was whether they had accidentally “left one in there” pointing to my swollen stomach. I was so upset, that after they left I anxiously asked one of the nurses whether the swelling should have subsided by now. She said something along the lines of – you’ve carried two growing babies in there for 6 months and you’ve just been through a significant operation…it will take time.

The day after we were discharged from hospital we decided to go to a cafe in an attempt to be “normal”. A pretty young mum intercepted me as I was hobbling back to our table and told me I looked “amazing” and I should be very proud of myself that I had made it out. I didn’t look amazing, but the fact that she took the time to say something so nice really touched me; and whilst I did (of course) have a little cry about it, it made me feel immeasurably happy.

In stark contrast the countless people that stopped me when I was out to comment on the fact I had “double trouble”, or “you’ve got your hands full”, or “poor you”, or “I can’t think of anything worse” probably didn’t realise the effect their thoughtless words had on me. With one of these utterances I could go from being thankful that I had been able to get the little people out of the house, to being tearful and full of self-doubt and fear.

A while ago a new friend and mum of twin girls popped round for a play-date. She was tired and the girls were clearly wearing her down. She told me that she had received an anonymous note through her door with a link to a website for managing crying children. On the same day after a long and emotional day, her husband had relieved her of the girls and she was having a well-deserved quiet moment in the garden with a glass of wine. Whilst sitting there she overheard one of her neighbours on the phone saying that she was “sitting in the garden having a glass of wine whilst her kids are screaming inside”. My friend retreated to her bedroom and cried.

If only people knew how utterly exhausting (on every level) it is being a new parent; how destructive thoughtless words can be; and how desperate many of us are for just a kind look or a word of support from those around us.

post natal depression

When I went along to my NCT classes I mindfully tuned-out to the sessions covering depression and c-sections.  Neither of these things were going to be relevant to me so I spent those classes looking at the other parents sitting in the circle wondering what their babies would look like.  Had I known more about the statistics surrounding both and the likelihood that it could affect me I may have tuned-in.

The following statistics have been taken from the findings of a survey conducted by the charity 4Children:

  • Approximately 33% of mothers who experienced depression symptoms during pregnancy went on to have PND.
  • Approximately 25% of mothers still suffered from PND up to a year after their child was born.
  • Approximately 58% of new mothers with PND did not seek medical help. This was often due to them not understanding the condition or fearing the consequences of reporting the problem.

These figures are frighteningly high; and yet we still seem to bottle up our experiences with shame when really we should be sharing and supporting each other with the knowledge and acceptance that it can happen to anyone.

Here’s my account.

Mother B

3 months into being a Mum.  I felt tired – exhausted actually; lost; scared; unconvinced that this was a role I could fulfil effectively; isolated; lonely; unprepared and…ashamed that I wasn’t the happiest person in the world for finally becoming a Mummy.

I had no one I felt I could talk to about it; and so with encouragement from my husband I booked an appointment with the local GP. When I sat down in front of her I was still not convinced that I needed to be there; but her first words: “why are you here?” prompted uncontrollable crying.

When I finally pulled myself together I remember saying that I was “finding things a little hard”. The GP asked a few more questions along the lines of: “do you have family and friends close by to help you?”: “do you think you could have post natal depression?”; and “do you feel suicidal?” all of which I answered no to and then started crying again.

The GP explained that it is not uncommon for new Mums to feel overwhelmed; and that post natal depression can creep up on anyone at any time. She suggested taking some anti-depressants and having a telephone discussion with a counsellor.

I was resistant to both suggestions but concluded that I had nothing to lose. I had two telephone-counselling sessions, which were pretty ineffective, possibly not helped by the fact that I had screaming babies on both occasions. I felt the Counsellor’s main objective was to ensure that I wasn’t a danger to myself or others; and so once I had confirmed that I was neither, we determined that further calls were unnecessary.

I took the pills for less than 6 months. I didn’t feel particularly impacted by them, and when I woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to take them anymore, I just stopped. I didn’t discuss my intentions with the doctor, in fact I deliberately didn’t return to see her again. I just stopped – which by the way is generally frowned upon by medical professionals. I didn’t feel affected by the pills because they had effectively enveloped me in a thick wad of bubble wrap that not only prevented me from falling and hurting myself; but also stopped me from working up enough bounce to jump.

The pills undoubtedly helped me get through a rough patch. They afforded me the time and headspace to adjust to my new role. I could have explored other options: homeopathy; acupuncture; in-person counselling; asking friends for help and support…but I was so exhausted, frightened, overwhelmed and embarrassed that I was unable to even consider alternatives.

birth

Mother B

When I had put together my Birth Plan, I had bravely (naively) stated that since I have a pretty high pain threshold I didn’t want to take any drugs that could impact the babies. Three or four hours into labour I had abandoned the plan and asked for every kind of pain relief available…as a consequence my recollection of the next few days is patchy.

Things I do remember are: being in a very high bed; being hooked up to lots of machines and tubes; being monitored every few hours; bad reception on the radio; seeing a sequence of anxiety, boredom and expectation on my husbands face in loop mode; being hungry and not being allowed food; reminding myself that a large proportion of women go through this at least once and so it can’t be that hard…

Over the thirty two hours I was in labour, sleep was intermittent. Since there was no knowing when I might be sufficiently dilated, KB was allowed to stay the night in my room. He was guided to the birthing mattress and given a pillow and a blanket. Because I was awake so much through the night I knew that he had slept soundly. The following morning when he awoke he told me how uncomfortable he had been and that his neck hurt. I remember this exchange vividly…my poor poor husband had a sore neck whilst (by that time) I had been in labour for twenty hours!!!

My dilation progress was slow; and every time I was checked and advised that nothing much had changed I felt like I was a disappointment, a let-down, a poor performer. There was very little to do but watch the clock; despair at the highly depressing day-time TV; and look at the hideously flat stomached, tanned women in the magazines I had taken in to keep me distracted.

The latter part of the second day is particularly hazy…but at some point I was told to start pushing…and I did! A lot. The number of voices increased, the chatter became faster and then quieter…and then a male voice announced that the babies were in distress, my temperature had dropped and my blood pressure had increased…or maybe it was the other way round…and discussion about an emergency caesarean ensued whereupon I was presented with a consent form. I could barely hold a pen but they wanted my signature which I gave in the hope that the chat would stop and the action would start. Kelvin looked tired and strained and was hovering…he hovers when he’s not sure what to do…I knew at that point that there was a possibility this could all go horribly wrong.

I remember being rolled down a very brightly lit corridor and welcomed into a theatre. A sheeted wall was erected covering my lower half; and a male voice suggested a ‘who’s who’…I think there were about 13 introductions.

Before the team started cutting me open they kindly checked that I couldn’t feel anything. Luckily I couldn’t but I was well aware of what they were doing as my body was being rocked from side to side. Kelvin was sitting by my left shoulder and I felt like I needed to be strong for him but my teeth started chattering and I suddenly realised that I had absolutely no control over my body whatsoever.

Shortly after my post operation “clean-up” up I had the opportunity to properly hold my babies; a boy and a girl. My initial observation was that they had black hair – I hadn’t even considered that as a possibility, and wondered if KB was maybe wondering about that… My second observation was that they were incredibly small, tiny in fact. I was wheeled into a ward with four other women all of whom were attempting to sleep, and I was positioned with a plastic cot on either side of me. At that point KB said he was going home to get some sleep but that he would be back first thing in the morning. I felt an overwhelming panic set-in. Why did he want to leave me now; how was I going to cope without him; would he come back or had he seen enough to scare him off? A lovely nurse came to see me soon after his departure and asked me if I needed anything. All I could think of was a lovely cup of tea, so I asked and shortly thereafter she helped me sit me up and gave me my first cup of tea as a mother. It was delicious. My delight at the tea was soon replaced with the realisation that logistically I was somewhat incapable. I couldn’t move without searing pains around my abdomen; and so couldn’t put the empty tea cup anywhere, let alone twist to touch my babies. I was desperately tired, but I was gripped by the fear of something happening to my babies. Was I supposed to be feeding them? Should I be holding them? Were they breathing….? I rang the bell and the cheery nurse reappeared…I asked her what I should be doing and she told me to get some sleep and that they would be monitoring the babies for me. I felt relieved…but then started to worry that they could accidentally get the babies mixed up with other babies and I hadn’t spent enough time time looking at them to recognise whether I did in fact have the right baby. Two cups of tea and more irrational worrying later, the nurse told me they needed to take my little boy away because he was struggling to keep warm. After an intolerable hour I called the nurse back and said I needed to see him. I’d worked myself into an awful state and I think the nurse could see that. He was brought back in a heated cot and I fell asleep shortly thereafter.

getting & being pregnant

Getting pregnant is easier for some than it is for others.  Below, we have each given our accounts on pregnancy:

Mother T

My partner and I have been together for 14 years. (No, we’re not married yet, would I like to be?….. Well I think so, not sure!…ask me again in a couple of months!) 

We met on our first day at Uni. We were good friends for the first year and then we crossed the line of that friendship and haven’t been apart since.  We have been there for each other through thick and thin, and really early on in our relationship he had to take on my health issues too. Just before I went to Uni I discovered I had Cervical Cancer, which thankfully was caught in time and the bastard was removed. Two fingers up at you Big CC, but then the following year while at Uni I found out I have endometriosis. Now it’s a pain in the ass. Quite literally. So 13 years later and 4 operations it has settled slightly but unfortunately will always be with me and make my life hell, with hormonal outbursts, painful breasts, painful sex, painful ovaries feeling like they’re going to explode, and pains up my bum. But when I first found out, I had some doctors saying that if you want kids then try now then have a hysterectomy, or that I wont be able to have kids at all. This was in my 20’s when I wasn’t ready to become a mother or hadn’t actually been thinking about it BUT then that’s all I was thinking about. It haunted me. I didn’t want to listen to the matter of fact doctor and I certainly wasn’t going to have a hysterectomy. I took a lot of hormonal drugs and painkillers instead and saw a lot more doctors, and had a lot of people poke and prod my most intimate parts. This fucked with my body and my mental health.  I began to believe that I was never going to have children and hated my body.  Especially ‘down below’.  I binged, I put on weight, I got lost in who I was as a woman, I became very self conscious, very unconfident and worse of all I was jealous of other girls/women, who had no problems in that department. 

And then I fell pregnant at the age of 32. 

That was the day my life changed. My body finally did something awesome for me. I began to get fitter, healthier and a little bit more excited by this surprise. But there was still a little devil in my mind that said that my body was going to ruin this for me. I was super sick and had terrible heartburn but I loved being pregnant. I loved feeling my bump grow every day and the more confident I grew in the knowledge that I was nearing the 9 months and having a successful birth the more confident I grew in myself. Then 36 weeks in, She stopped moving. My heart felt like a lead balloon. I went straight to hospital and they hooked me up to all the machines until finally we heard the heartbeat to our relief. I went home so exhausted mentally and physically. I felt so sick. I slowly manoeuvred my way onto my bed when I most certainly heard a POP and felt wet down below. I tried to look down but couldn’t see pass my big belly, so like a beached whale tried to move off the bed and call for help – my waters had gone! – back into hospital!  My life changed again.

 

Mother W 

At the age of 38 I knew that I had fallen pretty hard into the medical category of ‘geriatric mother’. Not very sexy but I didn’t meet the right person to have children with until late in life.

Seeing the big 40 bobbing on the horizon, I was pretty convinced my baby boat had sailed but within a month of ‘trying’ I was pregnant. Sorry, awful expression that, far too visual.

I was naturally delighted but I was also paranoid that it was all going to go wrong due to my age. I didn’t buy any baby clothes until the very last minute and I was only brave enough to share the news on Facebook a month before my little fella was born. 

Despite my nerves, my pregnancy was a great experience, not an ache or pain at all. I can’t say the same for the stitches and sleep deprivation that ensued but it was fun while it lasted. 

Still suspicious that getting pregnant was a fluke and sure it would take longer the second time around, I was shocked to find I was pregnant again when our first born was just eight months old. 

My first reaction was to burst in to tears as I felt guilty that I’d not been a Mum long enough to Jack to be having another one. My sister said that it’s impossible to think you can give as much love to another baby as your first but your heart simply gets bigger. She was right. 

This second pregnancy was so different to the first. I craved crappy food and found myself devouring massive bags of giant chocolate buttons on the sly. The pains in my back and hips was so bad it hurt to lie down and I winced picking up my toddler. My bump was so massive I still can’t believe it when I see photos! Six months on and my body is still recovering, I still have hip pain lying on my side and sitting crossed legged is not much fun anymore.

Now a mum to two under two I feel so, so fortunate to have had them so late on and without complications but it is bloody challenging physically and mentally.

 

Mother B

I met my hubby working on a project in Sydney.  Previously we had both spent far too long with the wrong people and so wanted equality and fairness in our relationship from the outset. This worked well until we discovered that in order to get pregnant we needed some help from an IVF clinic.  This ‘help’ involved one of us (me) having daily injections, regular tests and probes, headaches, bruising; and a strong feeling that our equilibrium was slipping away.

We were very lucky that the IVF worked first time around; but the fact that we hadn’t fallen pregnant as easily as some people made us feel anxious about ensuring I did nothing to jeopardise the pregnancy.  I gave up sport (my addiction); alcohol (my relaxant); and reduced my (much needed) caffeine intake. We researched nutrition; and every ‘unusual’ sensation was rapidly googled with follow-up calls to the IVF clinic.  I became a borderline neurotic.

We discovered with great amazement and joy that we were having twins and – as you’d expect – I gradually ballooned into a hippopotamus with very fat ankles, and outstanding pelvic pain that made sitting/standing/sleeping pretty uncomfortable.  A hot Summer wasn’t hugely helpful nor was trying to juggle house renovations and commuting into London.

Whilst my husband was/is very supportive, I regarded him with envy and anger that his life was seemingly continuing as-was.  Meanwhile I was a (gigantic) shadow of my former self.  I placated myself with the view that it would all change back to the way it was once the babies were born, but of course it hasn’t which I have (with time) learnt to accept.