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Birth Stories, LGBTQIA

Jess’ Birth Story – “The best and worst day of my life”

Jess PPH Birth PTSD

Trigger Warning: This birth story discusses trauma, topics discussed include postpartum haemorrhage, emergency caesarean, PTSD and ICU. If you are seeking support for your birth trauma, you may wish to contact our Peer Support Service.

Writing my birth story may be a coping mechanism for myself, but I hope this will also help somebody see the light in their dark place. This is the story of the day I was gifted the most beautiful little human. She lay on my chest and I knew from the moment our hearts beat together that no matter what is thrown at me, I will always be okay because I got to feel a love like hers.

Part one – The day we meet our daughter

Waking up on the morning of Tuesday the 12th of November 2021, I wasn’t sure what emotions to feel. I was so excited because I knew we were closer to meeting our baby girl and I wasn’t compelled by fear because I had always told myself you can do this, you will be fine, you will be okay, your body was made to do this and your body will never give you more pain in labour than you are ever able to physically endure. I was nervous but I’d almost say my wife Katie was more so, as she’s more of a realist and often worries about the what-ifs, and before this day I was the most important person in her world.

Katie burst into tears on the way to the hospital that morning as we were on our way with our bags packed knowing we wouldn’t be coming back home until there were three of us. She held my hand while driving and said to me, “I am so scared something will happen to you today, I can’t have anything happen to you, I can’t do this without you, I can’t be me without you.”

Was this a weird sixth sense she was having? I looked at her and said, “Babe you know I will be fine, nothing bad will happen to me, don’t stress, we’ve got this, we’re in this together.” I told her I would show her how to feed our daughter and dress her and change her nappy.’ Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Arriving at the hospital we met with the midwife I had been seeing throughout my pregnancy (let’s call her A) as I was in the Midwifery Group Practice program and was assured this was the best care possible. I was feeling as ready as I could have ever been to have this baby.

We arrived at 7:30am as we had been booked in for an induction due to my being 41 + 5 days. Unfortunately, we had no idea what to expect. I guess it came down to a lack of research on our part, but also poor education from our medical team.

Upon arrival, my midwife examined me. I was already 4cm dilated, so she hooked me up to the CTG machine which showed uterine contractions were happening, although I couldn’t feel them. I was in natural labour.

At 8:30am my midwife decided to attempt to break my waters to see if labour would progress on its own. After her first attempt she was unsure if the waters had broken properly. Katie and I were scratching our heads as if to say, now what? She explained we would wait an hour and see if the contractions sped up naturally, or if she would start me on the oxytocin drip.

At 9:30amshe hooked up my drip and explained that if I wasn’t in labour, it wouldn’t do anything. After about 15 minutes I started to feel contractions, and it was horrendous. My parents were wandering the hospital food court filled with overwhelming excitement they couldn’t contain. We could see them on Snapchat maps and told them to come in to see us. My dad had even taken the day off work and he NEVER takes the day off.

I remember him sitting across from me watching my face change in pain as he timed the contractions on his phone. They came on so hard and so quickly, it felt as though it went from 0 to 1000. After a short time, a midwife who was new at the hospital joined us (let’s call her B) and she immediately made me feel comfortable. I remember A bringing the gas for pain relief as I had started to metamorphosise into something I can’t explain.

At 12:30pm I was already 8cm dilated. I told Katie to call her mum to come in. Then, after what felt like a lifetime labouring on both my stomach and back, I felt exhaustion. I truly felt like I would die at this moment because the pain overtook my mind and I seriously thought there was no I could do it. I had my wife and our parents in tears as I screamed for them to please help me. I begged them screaming, “SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME. I CAN’T DO THIS!” I tried to zone out and take my mind to a different place, but I just could not cope with the pain.

By 1:30pm I was 10cm dilated and started pushing at 2pm. The plan was to only have Katie in the room when the pushing started, but at this point, I was so overwhelmed with pain I didn’t care anymore. As the saying goes, everything happens for a reason.

I pushed for a total of 57 minutes with poor Dad holding a wet cloth on my forehead, the Two Mums on one arm, and Katie on the other, while I had a midwife holding up each of my two legs. I screamed “I can’t do this, cut her out of me now!”. They all told me I could do it. Throughout the whole labour our baby girl’s heart rate never changed. She was chill and stable and perfect quite like she is now.

Shiloh Aspen Pigram was born at 2:57pm with the cord wrapped around her neck. Her mama Katie got to cut the cord twice and it took a few long seconds for Shiloh to take her first breath and change her skin from purple to a more natural skin tone. She was laid on my chest and I was utterly exhausted and thought to myself, this is what they mean when they say the pain and memory will go away when you finally see their face. At 2:57 pm we took our first family photo. Thank the lords we did.

My parents decided to leave the room and grab a drink while they cleaned me up and got out the placenta. Midwife A asked B to put a needle in my thigh to help release the placenta. She did so and I remember the placenta coming out, while A had a look for any tears in it and B left the room.

Before I knew it there were 20 medical staff in the room, my legs were still shaking from pushing and I felt delirious asking, what’s going on?! Two doctors told me I was bleeding a little and they needed to try and find the source of the bleed. I had never been so scared in my life. I had two doctors examining my vagina while putting medication up my bum. I had someone on blood pressure, someone on my heart rate, and someone trying to squeeze colostrum out of my nipples. My wife screamed and they kicked her and my mother-in-law out of the room. I felt alone and scared for my life and within 30 seconds they took Shiloh off me as she started changing colour.

I screamed, “I want my wife back!” and B went and got her for me. As they examined me one doctor asked another if my uterus was contracting on its own and the other doctor replied with, “Only when I hold it down.” He said, “Oh that’s not good, we need to get her to surgery now.” To say I was petrified was an understatement.

The doctors said I needed a spinal and luckily Katie was there to tell them if a spinal was needed the anaesthetist had said I was to have an ultrasound because I have scoliosis. They told her there was no time for that and they needed to put me under for surgery. Within seconds I was rushed out. I passed my parents in the hallway while a doctor sat on my uterus to hold it down on the way to theatre. I have never been more scared in my life.

I was pushed through the door of the theatre room and all I could hear was, “She’s Category One, we need to move now, now, now!” I was shaking head to toe, and it felt like forever for them to put me under as they were struggling to find a vain because I had lost so much blood. Two lovely people in theatre held my hands while I cried until they put me to sleep. I wondered if I was ever going to get to hold my baby girl, to kiss her and to be her mama.

I remember waking up and asking where I was. It was maybe 5:30pm and all I wanted was my wife and my baby. I was told I had to be monitored for 30 minutes to make sure my vitals were stable. I had a nurse with me to monitor blood loss. The surgeon came and told me I had lost a lot of blood and in surgery, they repaired a tear in my vaginal wall and removed pieces of the placenta in my uterus that had come apart.

As he left me in recovery, I remember telling the nurse I was scared, that I wanted my baby, and I felt like I was bleeding. She called the surgeon back over after monitoring my blood loss and said she was concerned as I had filled three pads in 20 minutes. He told her it should be fine, and just keep an eye on it.

Maybe 5 minutes passed, and I again told the nurse I could feel myself bleeding. She called another surgeon over who was not in the first surgery. She brought a few other medical team members with her. This surgeon asked if it was okay for her to push on my uterus to ensure it was contracting – a natural process that usually happens after labour. I said I was scared, and she promised to be gentle. As she pushed down on my uterus I screamed as I felt blood pour out of my vagina. She said, “We need to get you back into surgery now.” I cried “I want my wife, Katie.” She promised to brief my family and bring Katie back. She told me I would most likely lose my uterus and I looked into her eyes and I asked her to promise me that I wouldn’t die. “I don’t care about my uterus, but please, I’m begging you, please don’t let me die.” She looked at me and said, “I promise you.”

I was in the pre-operating room getting prepped for surgery and within minutes Katie was there by my side holding my hand telling me she loves me. “How much does Shiloh weigh? Is she okay? Is she healthy?” I asked. These were answers no one had given me three hours after my baby was born. All I needed to know was that she was okay, and that Katie was okay.

I was completely out of my mind, but I remember signing pieces of paper that stated I agreed to any blood transfusions if needed and that I understood my uterus may be cut out. I didn’t really care. I just wanted to know I would make it out alive for my girls. I kissed my wife and told her I loved her and made her promise me that she would hold our baby girl and tell her how much her Mummy loves her and that I would be with her soon.

They lifted me off my bed using a slide sheet and put me onto the procedure table. As they pulled the slide sheet out, I could see the cream coloured board covered in a dark layer of red and it terrified me – it still haunts me to this day. I closed my eyes for a second time as they put me under. I remember taking a breath and feeling my heart racing, wondering if I’d ever see my baby girl and hold her in my arms, smell her fresh baby smell and hear her cry. I couldn’t help but be afraid that everything could be gone in a split second. Would Shiloh ever know who I am? Would she know how much I loved her? Would she know how much I wanted her, how hard we fought to have her and how she was more than anything I ever dreamt of?

I opened my eyes, everything was a blur I was back in recovery, surgery was over, My surgeon briefed me about what had happened. I had three blood transfusions I had a postpartum haemorrhage total blood loss of 3.6 litres (minimum.) The surgeon told me “You had a uterus that was unable to contract so your uterus had pooled with blood and I had to hand express out blood clots, I then had to place a Bakri balloon inside your uterus and pack it with a roll of bandage which we will remove in 12 hours’ time.” She told me, “We saved your uterus. If we had waited five minutes longer it would have been gone.” I cried and said, “Thank you for saving my life.”

I had to stay and be monitored for a few more hours to ensure I was stable. My legs were hooked up to intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) machines to reduce the chance of clots. I had tubes coming out of me everywhere. I was hooked up to an ECG, I had 4 cannulas in both my arms and hands, and I was covered in bruises from multiple needles and collapsed veins. I had two tubes going into my vagina – one was a catheter, and one was for blood loss in my uterus.

I asked for Katie and Shiloh. I needed a hug, I needed reassurance, I needed to hold them, I needed my family. The nurses told me I had to wait until I was the last patient in there until my family was allowed to see me. After what felt like a lifetime, they told me I could see my girls but only for 10 minutes and then they had to go back to Maternity as there was no trained midwife in recovery. At 9:30pm I finally got to hold my baby again, kiss her beautiful face and tell her I loved her more than anything in this world. Before I knew it, they had to leave me again. I was finally pushed out of recovery to go to my own room at 1:20am.

Over 10 hours after I gave birth to my beautiful daughter I was finally reunited with my girls for good. I was in a high care ICU room with 24-hour midwife care. Katie held me and Shiloh and I just felt a love I never knew existed. Katie filled me in on the moments I had missed out on, the part where Katie was thrown in a hallway with Shiloh, handed a bottle of formula and not given an actual room while they waited for me for the 10 hours. She was told they shove dads in the hallway all the time and she’s no different. She was asked if that was even her baby by passing midwives, and after explaining she was the other mum, they said, “I guess I’ll have to take your word for that then.”

Mum and Dad left to go home at about 2:00am as they had been waiting to make sure I was ok and wanted to see me reunite with my little family. They later told me that was the hardest day of their lives. I didn’t sleep that night. I cried because all of this still didn’t feel real. How is it possible that we have been through the hardest, most exhausting, scariest experience of our lives, and I’m sitting here holding the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. I’ve made it, this is my life truly beginning, I’m all I ever wanted to be in this world – I’m a Mum.

Part two – Recovery

At about 7:00 the next morning – the first day waking up as a new family, which should be such a happy time for us – we were woken by the head of the department to formally apologise for the way Katie was treated while I was in surgery. We still have homophobic people working in the health sector–how sad.

I started my 5th blood transfusion. I had a total of 7 litres of fluid. I had two surgeons come and see me and check on me and I remember the head surgeon sat next to me and her eyes were full of tears and compassion and couldn’t believe what I had been through. She had just recently had a baby herself so she really put herself in my shoes. I remember thinking I looked like a puffer fish because of all the fluid and the nonstop tears falling from my face, but I didn’t care.

Shift change happened and we were blessed with the best person we met in this whole experience – midwife E. She came and sat next to Katie and I and told us what happened to us was not normal, basically, it was fucked up and unfair and not how our birth should have happened. E explained the importance of early intervention and that we needed to sit down and talk about the trauma before we wake up in six months’ time and it hits us like a freight train. I’m so grateful to have crossed paths with E and I still speak to her to this day and have a good relationship with her, I will be forever grateful to have met her. I just remember how much positive energy she brought my family; they actually still talk about E and how she made me feel like a warrior. My parents and Best friend came to the hospital and sat by my bed all day. At around 11:00am the Doctor came to remove my balloon and bandages. I remember the bandage was soaked in blood and it felt like when they pulled it out of me the bandage just kept coming it felt like meters and meters I just thought like how?! I struggled running on adrenaline and only having slept in surgery, trying to get Shiloh to breastfeed. If there was anything I wanted to do when I had Shiloh it was to breastfeed her. I tried but at this stage, there was nothing in my breasts due to the mass blood loss so I had to try and get her to latch every time she fed and then give her formula, but as long as she got a full belly and was happy that’s all that mattered to me. Midwife E was amazing she refused to go on her lunch break because she promised me she’d bathe me and she didn’t want to let me down, so almost 24 hours after I gave birth I was able to have a sponge bath (lovely I know) due to not being able to walk, so Katie and E went to town cleaning me, while still being able to make me laugh and put a smile on my face by making stupid comments about a sponge bath haha.

That night I was overtired I was broken, I was reliving all the moments from the day and night before, I could hear Shiloh crying and knowing I couldn’t get up and walk over and pick up my baby broke me. I longed to change her dirty nappy and dress her in a new outfit- yes I can do this a million more times but these were new special moments and I hated that I couldn’t do these simple things and I don’t get to relive this and start over. Her first days in this world and I didn’t feel like I was the Mum I needed to be for her. I was healing and yes I had been through a lot but none of that mattered to me, all I cared about was that I couldn’t be the Mummy she needed me to be and that is something I live with every day. I tried to close my eyes and go to sleep and every time I shut them all I could see was the theatre room and the slide sheet being pulled out from underneath me covered in blood. I was having flashbacks, I was inconsolable and I was a mess. Katie had to go and find the midwife in charge of the floor to get approval to medicate me to put me to sleep. To know that I couldn’t even be in control of my own sleep was a horrible feeling, I felt like a mental patient.

The next morning I was taken up to the regular maternity ward, luckily a private room with a little window seat for Katie to sleep on which was good because that became our home for the next 4 days, and there’s no way I could have cared for Shiloh and not have Katie there. That Thursday was a big day for kicking goals, I managed to get to the shower with two people helping me walk and sat in the shower chair while Katie washed me. Finally a proper clean body and freshly washed hair, I instantly felt better, My mum was there all day with us and a couple of friends came in the afternoon and my Dad came and sat with me after work. The Midwife that night told me to try – if I was up to it, to try and take baby steps. The longer the catheter stayed in, the harder it will be to retrain my bladder. I sat in my bed crying because I was scared they would take it out and I wouldn’t be able to make it to the toilet. But you know what? I tried my little heart out to take baby steps to the toilet and I told the midwife to take out the catheter at 9:00pm on Thursday night. “I can do it, I’ll be ok.” You know what, I did do it and I was ok.

Friday Morning at about 5am Shiloh let out a little cry, Katie was exhausted and didn’t wake up, I told myself I can do this, I don’t need anyone’s help. I put my legs on the side of the bed and took three steps to the bassinet. I looked at my baby girl and just cried tears of happiness, this was the first time I could get up to my baby’s cry, I changed her nappy and fed her some formula, I did it all on my own. Something so simple to some but such a milestone for me. I can achieve anything in this world, honestly this was one of the happiest moments since giving birth to Shiloh. Meeting with Doctors throughout the week, I wanted answers as to how this happened, could it have been prevented or was it destined? When I asked if this is something that happens all the time, I was told that postpartum haemorrhages happen every day and it’s normal. Yet almost every medical team member that came in contact with me for the first time had to comment about the blood loss. Every single one said, “I can’t believe you lost 3.6L” “You’re the one with the massive PPH.” I wanted to be told the facts about a PPH and how much blood is usually lost, so I asked one of the midwives who was in charge. She came and saw me and I asked her to dumb it down for me, she explained in this hospital all the bad PPH’s get flown in to GCUH and it happens a lot here however a PPH of 500ml or over usually happens to only 8% of women in QLD, and you lost a lot more than 500ml. To give you an idea a pregnant woman usually has anywhere between 5.5L-8L of blood, usually the body goes into shock and can result in a coma and death when losing 40% of your total blood loss, this is why so many grandparents used to pass away in childbirth, and I’m so thankful for modern medicine and blood supply on hand. This is why you should always donate blood if you’re in the position to be able to do so, donors are the reason I’m still here today.

Part three – Going home

We finally got to go home on Sunday Arvo and have three amazing Midwives who have kept in contact with us- T, E and Fancy Salad – Love you three. Fancy Salad (personal joke) actually came up to our room during her shift to say goodbye to us, she gave us so much love and support while we were in that dark room all day. She told us we were blessed with this beautiful girl- which we well and truly knew, but we were happy to hear it again. She turned to Shiloh and said these words I’ll never forget. She said “You don’t know it yet, but you hit the jackpot with these two as your Mums. One day you’ll realise how lucky you are to have them.” ♡

I pride myself on being a social butterfly in this world, I will generally talk to anyone and I always joke that make friends wherever I go. We had over 50 people come to our home for our baby shower and celebrate our girl coming into the world. I can honestly say that after going through the most traumatic experience of your life, laying in a hospital bed, trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle back together, trying to comprehend that things could have gone in a horrible, different direction, your realise who really cares about you. I always thought I had a massive support system, I had a lot of ‘friends,’ but I guess when it comes down to it, I really don’t. I don’t know how many times I sat at home and cried my eyes out because family, friends and people I thought cared about us didn’t ask us how we were. Whether it be from fear, not knowing what to say and how to say it, not fully understanding the extent of our experience or what it was, I honestly don’t know why but they stopped asking. They stopped showing they cared. It hurt, more than I’ll ever be able to share with you.

Katie had to go back to work two weeks after I gave birth. I was physically struggling still, mentally – struggle was an understatement. Katie works in retail and it was December- enough said. I don’t know how many times I argued with her via msg or calls because I was at home sad, feeling like I had no idea what I was doing, and she was busy at work doing ridiculous hours because yep Christmas. Luckily, I had my Mum and my best friend would pop over often and check in on me. I know it absolutely broke Katie not being able to be there for us as much as she wanted to. The first week at home without Katie here, Shiloh wouldn’t calm for me, I felt like she didn’t know who I was, and it tore me apart. I tried to breastfeed, and pump and formula feed and it was all too much for me and I still had very little milk supply. I had been on medication for two weeks and it didn’t help my supply, I was a broken woman and for the hunger of my child and the sake of my mental health something had to give, and that was breastfeeding. My midwife who had been looking after me at home (B) was happy because she knew how hard it had been on me and she reassured me that I did the best I could. Staying at home with Shiloh on my own felt like a new world, it was all I ever wanted but this baby never let me put her down during the day when I was alone, she would just cry for me. I started seeing my psychologist, (I have PTSD & Postnatal Depression) she said for what I had been through what I was feeling was normal, she told me Shiloh isn’t stupid, she can sense I’m struggling and she knows I need her more than she needs me. She told me she knows I’m tired and broken and she knows I need affection and that’s her way of giving me that by never wanting me to put her down. I still think about this often and I always thought it’s ok for your baby to cry but if she wants me to hold her and hug her and love her all day long then that’s what I’m going to do because I’ve wanted her more than anything- why wouldn’t I adore this affection while she still wants my love – before she grows up and it’s no longer cool anymore.

Yes I’m SO BLOODY LUCKY, yes our baby is gorgeous and she actually has the nickname dream baby – because she’s slept through the night since six weeks old, but none of this changes what we went through, nothing takes away the pain of not holding your daughter for longer than 5 minutes in the 10 hours after she was born. I don’t ever get to get that time back. Would I do it all over again to have the same outcome? In an absolute heartbeat! I would give anything to have our baby girl she is the rarest of diamonds and we’re the luckiest pair of Mamas in this World. That doesn’t change or dismiss what we went through though.

This journey has really tested me. I’ve had troubled pasts I have had experiences in my life that have truly tested me, but I have never had my mental health tested like this. The Loneliness I have felt at times is overwhelming. If you know me truly, you know I’m sometimes a savage I don’t always have a filter and I call things as I see them. One thing I will say about me is despite all of this I’m a real friend- I may be honest but I am real and if anyone in my life went through half of this, I would be there by their side holding their hand, living this experience with them. It hurts me that I didn’t get that from some people I thought I loved the most. People that didn’t come and meet Shiloh, didn’t ask me if I was ok and didn’t check in and tell me they loved me, despite issues in the past, if they cared they would have told me they were there and sadly some didn’t. My psychologist told me I get myself down because I expect from those what I would give to them- Amen Sistaaaa.

Someone recently told me that people come into your life for only a certain time and that’s ok they were there for just a few chapters, they were there to test you and make you realise who matters and who doesn’t and maybe that’s true.

Time heals everything they say, and I know I’ll be okay because despite what I sometimes think, I’m stronger than I believe, and this is only the beginning of the rest of our lives. I count my lucky stars every single day and I live my life full of love and know my heart is always on my sleeve, maybe that’s my downfall but that’s me. Even the toughest people get knocked down, it’s how we get up afterwards and where we go next that matters most.

If you would like to connect with a person who has experienced birth-related trauma, please contact our Peer2Peer Support service to connect with one of our Peer Mentors.

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