*I don’t tend to write many serious posts. This is one of them. It’s not a short read so you might want to grab a drink and stick your feet up.*
Even after 3 years, this is still very raw.
I can feel my chest shuddering as my body is instinctively trying to stay calm and in control. I am sweating. My head is spinning and wondering why the heck I am letting myself think about what happened... but maybe this is what I need to do.
Right away I should tell you that this is not another birth gone wrong story. This is my experience of the postnatal ward. My own personal nightmare.
Little Button’s birth was by c-section. Without it, I was told that she could die. At the time, these chilling words were enough to have me briefly forget my paralysing fear of surgery and instead eager and impatient to sign the consent form for the go-ahead. Who wouldn’t!?
I am telling you this because, as it turns out, the act of having a c-section played centre stage to my mistreatment by the postnatal ward staff. I just didn’t realise this at the time.
It’s just a room
Blissed out by the sight of a much alive and kicking Little Button, I was wheeled up to the postnatal ward to recover. On arrival I was met with icy glares from the staff and was promptly plonked on my trolley in the middle of a corridor whilst they argued over where to put me. I remember thinking how weird is this! I don’t know why, but I thought that I would have been greeted by smiles, congratulations and tea and toast. Isn’t that what happens on One Born Every Minute?
After what seemed like an eternity, the most senior looking midwife begrudgingly sneered through her teeth that it was my lucky day and that I could have a private room because everywhere else was full. Ha! You mean the private rooms especially reserved for recovering c-section mummies… which is me. I raised my eyebrows at Mr Button, but he shrugged it off making excuses for their behaviour and putting it down to them being busy.
We had a laugh at the private room which they seemed so protective over, it looked more like an old fashioned prison cell. Lovely and oh so inspiring when you have just had a baby…not!
I was, however, grateful that they seemed to be leaving me alone, as I hardly wanted sour faces ruining our first family moments. Except, after a while I started to notice an increase in pain creeping over me… normal right? Most ladies post-section will refer to the pain as ‘being hit by a bus’. But give or take a few hours later and I felt like I was dying, the pain was unlike anything I had ever felt… again possibly normal. But agony took hold so strongly, that quite franky I was on the very edge of losing the plot. Then in popped a sour faced midwife who, without saying a word gave me something for the pain (I presumed) and then scarpered off after promptly telling Mr Button he had to leave, as apparently all the post-birth ladies needed peace and quiet.
Great. Not only was I in complete agony still and couldn’t physically get up on my own accord to look after Little Button, but the midwife’s who (I thought) were meant to be helping me in a gentle and caring way had the right hump with me for some reason. This was going to be a long night!
I pleaded with Mr Button to hide under the bed or something and not to leave me, but even as he tried to loiter behind, he was met with daggers and a cross ‘leave now’. He insisted that I shouldn’t worry and would be there all night by phone.
I was worried though.
I wasn’t JUST worried, I was petrified. Of the pain, the inability to get up and the scary midwives who seemed to have it in for me.
Don’t ask for help
Things got incredibly worse quite quickly from there. Little Button was crying and of course I couldn’t get up to see to her. I hauled with all my might on the bed barriers, but I just couldn’t make myself work. On pressing the ‘help button’ I was yelled at… ‘what do YOU WANT!’ the midwife shrieked and what’s the word… kissed her teeth at me (I think?).
She gently picked up Little Button from what I could see, but then roughly plopped her on top of my c-section scar laughing and headed out. The agony I was feeling was only slightly masked by the pain killers I had been given earlier, so this was enough to send uncontrollable volts through my body and bring me to tears in a second. She came back. Oh, she didn’t realise what she had just done and was going to help me. NO, no, no. Instead, she grinned and took the help button out of my reach.
That first night was the longest night I have ever had in my entire life. I couldn’t sleep. I held Little Button tight and cried, wishing that I could disappear and as each second went by, the pain got stronger. At some point much later another midwife came in, looked at me clutching onto Little Button and tutted, then gave me pain relief. Again, no conversation. I asked her if she would put Little Button back in her cot and to be fair she did and very carefully. Though not a kind word to be heard.
I would hazard a guess that sometime way after midnight a party started, right next door to my room. There was music, high pitched squealing and a constant chatter. Yes… this was exactly the peace and quiet I needed. I called Mr Button and begged for him to come bust me out and that they wouldn’t even notice that I had gone because they were having a party. He wouldn’t, worried that I had only just had major surgery, so instead he promised to be there first thing in the morning and would stand outside the postnatal ward door until he was let in.
I said NO
I had barely slept a wink so was pleased to see a different face come in to see me in the morning. Not a midwife, but a different member of staff. Hello! I winced through screwed up eyes, hoping that finally I would see a friendly face. But no. Instead I got barked at… ‘GET changed!’. So I replied with a firm but polite no thank you. Given that I still couldn’t fully move, I had wanted to wait until Mr Button arrived for a hand in getting changed.
Obviously this had been the wrong thing to say. Protesting politely at the top of my voice, she threw the covers off me and dragged me feet first down the bed until I was completely flat on my back. In upturned beetle style so I couldn’t move I presume. I shouted for her to leave me alone. Silence. She then somehow (with possible magician skills) stripped me of my clothes. Good god!
Pleading for her to stop she then somehow managed to put a nightie back on me and then left. I am not one for letting it all hang out, so this, in addition to her ignoring my wishes has greatly tortured me for the last 3 years.
Pain relief errors (deliberate?)
By the time Mr Button got in to see me, the pain was unbearable again, I was lost to it. He managed to get a consultant to see me, it was one of the surgical team. It was quickly uncovered that the reason I couldn’t manage the pain was because I wasn’t being given my pain relief at the right time by the postnatal ward staff. So there were huge stretches where I had nothing in my system, naturally I wouldn’t be able to manage.
There was a meeting, a telling off and the surgical team had said to call them if needed again. Really? I mean… really? All this time I was in uncontrollable agony because they were not giving me pain relief on time.
Thank goodness for the junior
A change in rotation meant that I was assigned a junior to look after me. I cried… with relief this time. Someone who actually noticed I was there and who respected my wishes. She was disgusted by the treatment I had previously received and on the day I was leaving, encouraged me to leave clear feedback. I didn’t. I couldn’t wait to escape the nightmare and didn’t want to think of what had happened again.
We thought you had chosen to have a c-section
I didn’t manage to leave without being seen by the midwife who had dropped Little Button onto my c-section incision in the middle of the night. ‘I am so sorry’ she crooned whilst trying to embrace me, 'WE thought you had chosen to have a c-section. We didn’t realise that you HAD to have one.'
I didn’t stick around. But that hasn’t left me. Was it an admission of deliberately ganging up on me, hurting me, undressing me without my permission and letting me suffer… all because they thought it was my choice to have a c-section. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounded like to me.
When are you going to have another one?
I am too scared to have another baby, not that I wouldn’t love to have a sibling for Little Button, I really would. But I can’t do all that again. It might be different a second time around, but then again it might not.
Even 3 years on, driving past that hospital gives me the shivers. I know that not all postnatal wards are like this, that there are a zillion amazing midwifes out there. It was unfortunate that I was unlucky.
I am not sure why I wrote this as a blog post, it’s more like an essay. I think secretly I hope that a midwife will read this and think much more carefully about what they do when caring for someone who has just given birth, no matter how a baby happens to arrive. I hope that they will realise that what happens in the postnatal ward is just as important as in the labour ward. I hope that they realise that words and actions can stick like mud and they have the power to completely nurture or poison a family. To make someone just like me too scared to have another baby.