Postpartum PTSD: Still Fighting To Heal From Her Traumatic Delivery

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How women are treated during labor and delivery can have a direct impact on whether they develop postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or postpartum depression.  It doesn’t matter if the doctors and nurses have seen it all before, and it’s just another day at the office for them. If the mom feels her life or her baby’s life was threatened, or if she feels she was powerless and unheard, and if those experiences were traumatic to her, then she may develop postpartum PTSD. The actual experience, and how the mother feels about her experience, both matter.

Warrior Mom Lisa sent me her story, and I wanted to share it with you as an example of how physical trauma either during or after birth can lead to postpartum depression or postpartum PTSD. Please note this story includes a very scary and difficult delivery aftermath, so if you are sensitive right now it would be best to skip it.

Dear Dr. P.,
I laboured for 28 hours on August 22, 2011, and did everything you and your colleagues asked of me in order to have the VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section) I so badly wanted.  I had delivered my first baby only 19 months prior by emergency c-section, and I really wanted daughter #2 to be born vaginally so that I would have an easier recovery and be able to care for my newborn and my toddler.  Who knew the hell that was to follow?
I started pushing at 10 pm.  You came in, after I’d been supervised by your senior resident all day and evening, as I pushed.  You told me you had to perform some surgery later that night so you were hoping to get there soon.  I got the message … go fast.  I was okay with that; I wanted to meet my new baby.  I pushed for 40 minutes and you said the perineum was really holding, that next push, I’d need an episiotomy.  I wanted no part of that so I really went for the next push and out my beautiful daughter came.
She was perfectly healthy and off you went, leaving me to deliver my placenta with the resident.  You never checked on me.  As soon as you left, the resident realized I was bleeding heavily.  She massaged my uterus; I pushed out the placenta (most of it, anyway).  She “cracked the bed” and blood poured all over the floor.  Her face registered concern and I knew something was wrong.  I asked her if I was going to be okay.  I was scared. I looked at my husband, who was taking photos of our daughter as she was carefully checked over, and wondered if he could take care of our girls by himself.  The resident examined me up close and determined that I had sustained “catastrophic” (her word) vaginal tearing — up the front, not towards the back.  She tried her best to sew me back together and told me that a part of my most sensitive parts had torn off and was missing.  She finished up and I was rushed into the shower to clean up.  Blood mixed with the water and the bathroom looked like a slaughter house.  I felt nauseous and weak.  I wanted to snuggle with my daughter but I was being kicked out of my delivery suite and put onto the mother-baby floor.  I didn’t get to ask any questions and I didn’t feel right.  I was rushed to my regular room, where I vomited and vomited.  I should have been cuddling with my baby.
The next morning, a nurse took out my catheter.  I had the urge to go to the bathroom and by the time I got there, I had peed all over the floor.  I was numb and completely incontinent.  I never got to see a doctor again, and never got to ask any questions.  Off I was sent to my house with my gorgeous, healthy daughter and my toddler waiting for me at home.  What was to come was six weeks of total incontinence, a horrified look in the mirror at my mutilated body that had been poorly repaired, and daily bleeding until I was 13 weeks postpartum, at which point I passed a chunk of placental tissue the size of a chicken egg.
The pain from the tearing was terrible. It was excruciating to go to the bathroom. I went through five months of invasive, though successful, pelvic floor physiotherapy.  My daughter was colicky.  I could barely walk from the damage to my body but had to carry my weeping child for hours upon hours a day.  She never calmed down; I couldn’t help her.  I couldn’t care for my toddler because I was so sore I couldn’t play with her.  I struggled everyday.  I felt that I was continually letting my children down.  I hated myself as I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be.  I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and still fight, six months postpartum, to heal from that.  And today, six months later, after the specialist I was referred to turned out to be the very doctor who walked out on me after my delivery, I have to heal now from the repair surgery I finally had.
This is not your fault, but you could have helped me more than you did and all you had to do was slow down.  Please don’t rush mom’s deliveries.  Please check on us after the baby is born.  Please say sorry when I tell you what happened, even if it’s just that you’re sorry that I’ve been through hell when I should have been so happy.  It would mean so much.
~ Lisa
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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. I had an emergency c-section with an OB I had met once. My surgery was at 2 a.m. I’m assuming the doctor went home because she never even came to check on me in recovery. I guess she was inconvenienced by my drawn out induction on a Saturday night. I had nurses that barely spoke English so no one could tell me what was going on, how long I needed to stay, etc. I had to ask the nurse to call the doctor so I could speak to her and beg to be let out of that jail.

    All it would have taken was 10 extra mins to talk to me in recovery and a little compassion when I called on the phone. Seriously.

    I also had to go to PT for pelvic issues. That sucked.

    Going to stop now before I cry more….

  2. Not sure why the spacing is messed up on this post. I retyped it myself. Will have to fix later today. Sorry y’all!!!

  3. That sounds just awful. I’ve heard that many patients who have undergone medical trauma or malpractice want the apology more than anything else. I hope you get one. God knows you deserve it.

  4. Wow, sometimes it’s so hard to believe this happens. I am so sorry you had to go through this. I think it is wonderful that you are speaking out & hopefully someday situations like this won’t exist.

  5. Dear Lisa, I wish I could give you a hug. You are amazing for surviving through so much.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear about your terrible trauma. I too suffered a traumatic birth and initial time in the hospital, had a colicky baby and suffered from post partum pTSD. It was a long recovery and if you aren’t in talk therapy please find someone as that was tantamount to my recovery. Prayers for your healing. Thank you for hating your story, not enough women are brave enough to.

  7. Ugh…I hate feeling so dreadful after reading stories like this. First because it brings back memories, and because someone else had to suffer like I did. I too had a horrible tear – which led to rectal incontinence in me. Glad to know I’m not the only one that went to physiotherapy. Glad I’m not the only one that still needs repair surgery from the tear. I too lost so much blood, but didn’t get the transfusion I needed until a week after delivery when I couldn’t stand up and get out of bed, and an ambulance was called. But through sharing our stories, we continually heal. And we can kiss our little ones, because when we are feeling well, we can truly say that enduring the hell is worth it, as we gave life to our little ones!!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words and support and to Katherine, for this amazing place to be ourselves and to gain strength to fight for our recoveries. I had my repair surgery in March and the baby turned 8 months old yesterday. She is amazing and both she and my toddler are worth this fight. Having the repair surgery was not fun, especially because it almost made me sick to have to go back to the doctor who left my delivery. I still haven’t gotten over that final kick while I was down; that he is the expert in this kind of surgery but he never looked at me after the baby was born. Argh! Being physically “whole” again helps my mental recovery and having the pelvic floor physio was extremely helpful too. This PPD and PTSD have been life altering and I never saw it coming but given the circumstances, my obstetrician probably could have and my healing could have started way earlier. I have an excellent g.p. who is following me closely and a terrific psychologist and I am making gains. You all will too. It’s a terribly long process but we’ll get there. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now and there are longer stretches of good days between the bad now. I hope my story helps someone and there is good to be gained. Your stories continue to inspire me and remind me to hang in there.