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Birth Stories

The impact of COVID surgery delays: Living with a birth injury for 2 years


Trigger Warning: This birth story discusses trauma, topics discussed include forceps delivery, episiotomy, and post-natal depression. If you are seeking support for your birth trauma, you may wish to contact our Peer Support Service.

Jorja bravely shares the story of her traumatic birth that took place in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After sustaining a birth injury, Jorja’s difficult recovery was compounded by the uncertainty of surgery delays and repeated surgery cancellations due to COVID. These delays left her with the difficulty of living with a birth injury for 2 years before she was finally able to have the multiple surgeries required.

My son Elliott was born on the 27th of July, 2020 after a traumatic birth which was then followed by an even harder recovery.

Being induced and the pain of labour

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 24 weeks pregnant, mainly dietary controlled with the introduction of insulin toward the end. I made it to 39 weeks before I agreed to go ahead with an induction due to fears for the size of my baby and a weakening placenta.

On Saturday afternoon I arrived at the hospital to begin the induction process with prostin gel. The morning arrived and I was moved to the birth suite, where I was given a second dose of prostin gel to help move things along. At 3pm my waters were broken, at 4pm they gave me oxytocin and that is when I really started to feel my labour pains. I tried all the birthing exercises I could remember, having my partner massage my back, bouncing on the ball, everything. I felt like I was handling everything so well at this stage and was so hopeful.

It wasn’t long before things really started to ramp up quickly pain wise, the CTT was showing me having double contractions which were intense and repetitive, with barely any time to recover before the next one would start. I knew it was time to try some pain relief when I was both urinating and vomiting at the same time while on my knees on the floor with my arms strewn over a ball.

At first, I opted for sterile water injections, which were the most painful things I have ever felt, it felt like a thousand bee stings into my back, I screamed extremely loudly as they administered them. They provided me with pain relief but for only for 30 minutes. It wasn’t long before I requested the epidural, however they informed me they weren’t sure how long it would be before they could give it to me, so I opted for morphine while we waited. At 8pm the epidural arrived and finally I had relief from my contractions, although I found myself extremely cold and my body was shaking uncontrollably, my teeth chattered, as I tried to keep warm under some heated blankets.

I had relief for the next few hours while my cervix was opening up and getting closer to being 10cm dilated. It felt like a long wait, my partner even squeezed in a quick nap on the couch as I chatted to the midwives and debriefed about what I had just been through.

It wasn’t until 2am until I finally got to 10cm. From here I was instructed to stay put to allow for the baby to descend. At 3am pushing commenced. It was an exciting time, my moment was here! I began to ease off the epidural pen to allow more feeling in my legs to assist my pushing. My midwives were amazing, giving me all the confidence I needed, helping me through my pushes and instructing me how to push correctly. He was crowning, we felt like we were getting somewhere. Then, at about 3.30am I was interrupted by the birth suite manager and some colleagues who informed us that emergency triplets were on their way to the hospital in half an hour. They left the room and momentarily and came back in telling me that they have to get the baby out of me now (with intervention) – otherwise I will have to give birth to my baby without a doctor around, and that would be dangerous if we were to run into any trouble – no one would be around to help.

“My option for an intervention free birth was taken from me.”

At this point I was in shock, a huge wave of anxiety ran over my body, I was so close to having my baby earth side, his head was crowning! And now the people who are meant to be protecting me at my most vulnerable are threatening to leave me, and worse – my baby could be in danger. I had no choice, I had to give the consent even though I really didn’t want to. I could not risk anything happening to my baby (looking back I wish I had not consented to the intervention, as I am aware now that there are indeed back up staff on call). I had only been able to attempt pushing for a total of 30 minutes before my option for an intervention free birth was taken from me.

After I had consented to the use of forceps, I could see the midwives having words with the birth suite manager and doctors, one midwife in particular seemed very unhappy with what had transpired. Not long after about 10 doctors, nurses, and assistants filled what was once a peaceful room and atmosphere with just me, my partner and the two midwives helping me push, to a mad rush of instruments and trolleys, and bodies rushing around me, all under masks, faceless bodies. The first doctor attempted to get the baby out of me with the forceps and a routine episiotomy was performed. The baby’s shoulder got stuck, she couldn’t get him out of me. Then the senior doctor took over, she was standing on the end of the bed, arms stretched out, violently jumping up and down on the bed as she tried to yank him out of me. It wasn’t happening. She paused and told me, “this is your last chance to push, if this one doesn’t work then we have to rush you in for an emergency c section”. I used every last ounce of my being I had to push, I gritted my teeth and pushed as much as I could. Finally, at 4.19am – my beautiful boy was born. It was a beautiful moment, having him placed on my chest and to finally feel him in my arms. His right eye was fused shut and he had lacerations and bruising all down the right side of his face.

This blissful moment was short lived though, as it wasn’t long before I was administered an anti nausea medication called Maxolon, which I had previously declared that I was allergic to – as it gives me extreme heart palpitations and panic attacks. I then spent that morning going through waves of panic attacks, I couldn’t even hold my baby in my arms, they were too weak and trembling. I also lost a lot of blood from postpartum hemorrhaging, so my body was already weak. It was strange to have so many people in the room to then be left in the room alone with my partner and this new baby, whilst experiencing bouts of extreme sweating and then shivering. At one point I even tried to rip the cords off myself and get out of the bed, as I felt trapped, like I was suffocating, and almost dropped the baby. Luckily we buzzed for a nurse and she came in pretty quick and was able to make me more comfortable by stripping my clothes off and taking out some cords and gently putting pillows in place to make it easier for me to hold my baby.

It wasn’t until 3pm that day (Monday the 27th) that the Maxolon had finally worn off. I was moved to a room by myself (which they said they had arranged for me especially given my birth), and here I was able to finally feel comfort and bond with my baby.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to breastfeed, Elliott just would not latch, no matter how hard I tried. I tried triple feeding (breast feeding, then bottle feeding and then pumping each feed), for around 9 weeks before deciding my mental health was struggling and I needed to accept that breastfeeding was just not going to happen for me, so for the next 8 months I exclusively pumped.

After a terrible birth, one that I felt like I had to block out for a long time and have received weekly therapy sessions to process, I was then thrown the further complication of my episiotomy becoming infected.


Dealing with episiotomy complications

It was around week 2 during a visit from an in-home midwife where I was diagnosed with an infected episiotomy wound and that my stitches had come undone. I was instructed to go straight to the emergency department. Here I was told to rest and take a course of antibiotics, and told it should heal closed by itself.

The next several weeks consisted of weekly check ups with my GP to monitor the infection and a second course of antibiotics before the infection finally went away. I was finally able to sit again – 12 weeks after my birth!

My wound in fact did not heal by itself as was hoped by both the ED doctors and my GP. I was sent back to the hospital’s physio/gyno clinic and put on a waitlist for episiotomy reconstruction surgery.

It wasn’t until September 23rd 2021 that I was offered a date to have the surgery. The surgery was cancelled due to COVID, I was then rescheduled for a month later – then that date was also cancelled. By this stage I had entered a deep depression. It had been over a year since I had my baby; a year of not being able to exercise, go for walks, wear tampons or even be intimate with my partner. It was at this time I had to start taking antidepressants to cope with my reality. I had lost hope that I would ever recover from this birth, both mentally or physically. I felt like such a failure; not only had I had a difficult birth, but I also couldn’t even get the healing part right – or breastfeeding for that matter. All things I had told myself a mother should be able to handle. I was failing at everything… I am so grateful to my partner for the incredible support he was during this time.

“We could not go on like this any longer”

Over the course of the next few months, my partner and I decided we needed to seek out private surgery options. We were told that, by now the waitlists for elective surgeries (from the covid pause on elective surgeries) were years long. We could not go on any longer like this. We researched private practice surgeons in the area and finally we found a fantastic urogynecologist who I felt comfortable with. I had my first surgery in early December 2021. We had hoped it would only take one surgery, however he could not fix it all in one go, as the skin in this area is delicate and needed to be done one bit at a time. My second surgery was in March 2022 – this was meant to be the final, but unfortunately my wound broke down in part of the area.  I  had my third surgery in May this year and I’m still recovering. We are hoping this will be the last time I have to go in for surgery, and that by July – 2 years after my birth – I will finally be repaired and healed from my birth.

This has been one of the hardest times in my life I have ever had to endure. Compounded by going through a pregnancy alone during covid, without support from family nearby, or even being able to have my partner by my side during appointments. Every inspection I had to attend alone. Every time I entered the hospital doors, I was alone. I would feel panic and fear walking into every appointment and check up. I am only just now starting to feel mentally strong and feel hope again.

My hope now is for other women to read my story and know that you are your only self-advocate, you are the only one that can speak for yourself. Know that you have options, know that what the doctors present to you at times may not always be in your best interest. Know that your continued pain and your discomfort is not normal – this isn’t ‘just what postpartum is now’. Seek out help and second opinions. If you feel alone and are struggling – talk to a therapist or family and friends. My therapist has been instrumental in helping me process everything, as well as my partner. I wish more people talked openly about the struggles they experience postpartum. Also know that natural births have risks too, something I would never have thought previously. And lastly, please never ever lose hope that you will get through this and be you again.

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.

If you’d like to support our work so we can continue to help women like Jorja you can donate here.

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