“But at least you have a healthy baby!!”
Yes, absolutely, that is what we, the minority of women who are injured so unbearably, so unfathomably badly during our deliveries, are told. A watered down version of “look on the bright side!” when all you can think about is the intense pain as you struggle to breastfeed your newborn baby while adjusting yourself to try to find some relief from the searing pain of hundreds of stitches from your emergency 4th degree tear repair surgery that followed 40 hours of unmedicated labour.
Women injured traumatically during birth are overlooked, and as a result, overwhelmed. Told again and again that they’ll “forget the pain” and to “enjoy the baby” as they recover. Here is what a new mom who has had a 4th degree tear might have to adjust to after the birth: Not being able to contain her bowel movements. Not being able to control her flatulence. Having to consider a temporary or permanent colostomy bag. Having to plan for every worst case scenario when leaving the house, which include bringing changes of clothes in case you have an accident. Nothing is simple ever again, and your whole life becomes a state of constantly trying to feel normal or to at least appear ‘normal’ because you’re too embarrassed to come to terms with how mortifying it is to always know that having a bowel or urinary accident is a real possibility, and all because you tore so badly during the delivery of your baby.
Now, this doesn’t make us love our babies any less. Being a mom is an honour, and we cherish our children beyond measure. Some of us even go on to have subsequent children, knowing how much of a risk it is to put our bodies through it all over again. Of course they are worth it. But that doesn’t make our pain, our suffering, our lifelong struggles to cope with a body that has been torn apart any easier. Some of us have to have multiple repairs, and thus many painful recoveries. And no one talks about it. You’re not supposed to talk about how much pain you are in, or how difficult your life is after the baby. And for those who don’t tear so badly, what you endured during delivery probably did fade into your memory as a distant, brief time in your life. For us who have endured the worst tearing possible? It stays with us every day, because our lives are affected by it all of the time. I cannot run. I cannot jump. I cannot pick up more than 10lbs at a time. I’ve had to give up the exercise I love, picking up my children when they got too big; I have to talk to colorectal surgeons, nearly 10 years now after my tear to see if it makes sense to stop barely coping with my long term injuries and get fitted with a colostomy bag. That is my reality. That is OUR reality. And it needs to be talked about. It needs to be ok for us to accept this part of our lives. There are far more of us who suffer silently, too humiliated to reach out for help. If you have suffered a traumatic birth injury – you are not alone!
My advice to anyone who knows someone who has endured a birth injury of any kind: Be compassionate. Ask them how they are. Do not diminish or downplay their pain or their feelings. Tell them that no matter what, you will be there for them, and do your best to help when you can. Hold the baby, let the mother cry, let her come to terms with her own trauma in her own time. Don’t silence her or tell her it will be ok. You don’t know that it will be, and she needs to know that she is not alone. Too many women feel alone after they have endured a trauma of this kind, and you can help by being present and mindful of their fears. Encourage them to seek pelvic floor physiotherapy! Offer to watch the baby so they can have a conversation with their physician about their symptoms. We can help support injured mothers by being there for them, and giving them what they need in order to recovery as well as possible so that they can go on to enjoy their lives with their family.
*Carol ~ Canada