Again, there is a big trigger warning. This post will contain discussion of a traumatic birth, post-partum depression, and talk of suicide.
Please refer to part 1 of our birth story here.
In the previous article, I shared the events leading up to our emergency c-section with our third baby, Ella. Unfortunately, from this point, things in the hospital spiraled from understandably difficult to unnecessarily (more) traumatic.
It took about an hour for me to recover from anesthesia. After I woke up, I was a brought to the NICU where Ella was with my husband. Because of the way that she was born (emergency c-section due to her heart struggling), the doctors decided to keep her for observation for the night to make sure that she was just fine. They had been concerned that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck or that there was something a bit more serious happening. They actually later said that they had expected that she would have some serious complications but she didn’t and that was why they kept her for observation – the hospital staff didn’t understand why she was doing well.
Because I had to have full anesthesia, I wasn’t really present for the birth of Ella. I saw her for the first time in the NICU, with assorted monitors/wires attached to her.
Seeing her for the first time like that and realizing I was no longer pregnant was really jarring. It was really hard for me to understand that my baby wasn’t in my belly – she was in front of me. I touched my stomach to make sure.
It was almost disconnect. How could I just not be pregnant anymore?
When I saw her for the first time instead of that rush of emotions that I had with my other kids when they were placed on my chest, it was confusion and beeping monitors and worry. Why was she there?
I was told that she had been placed on my chest immediately after birth. I was unconscious for it and still can’t bring myself to look at the photos..
It was really difficult for me to accept and process all of this. So the first time I saw her I was actually a bit confused and still a bit struggling to understand just everything that had happened. from what caused the emergency to Ella being born to why she was being observed.
I was able to nurse Ella very quickly after seeing her. It was really nice to hold her and have that skin to skin moment. The stress and anxiety melted away and finally, she was safe in my arms. I could see her tiny ears, hold her precious fingers, kiss her cheeks, see her colour. Soak her in together with my husband.
After nursing, we were doing our best to have that initial bonding of the 3 of us and having our special moment.
Ella was placed back into her little baby bed.
Immediately after one of the nurses came with formula, and she said it’s just standard policy that if there’s a child here that they have to give them formula.
In our birth plan and our discussions with our doctors, they knew very well that no matter how she would be born that we were going to nurse. Unless of course, there was something indicating that she needed it for her health.
This is all about 30 minutes after I had fully woken up from anesthesia. We had an emergency c-section that I was trying to comprehend and process. And 30 minutes after meeting my baby, a nurse is literally standing with formula a few centimeters away from my child’s mouth without discussing it with us. She just says she will do it as she starts trying to feed Ella without any indication that it was necessary. She only said it’s standard policy here that we’re going to do that. We have no choice.
I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with formula feeding, but this was just not our choice.
I was immediately on edge and I knew that what was happening was not okay. I told her to stop and demanded a reason/explanation. She tried to justify it because there could be a problem with her sugar levels. My husband was also very confused because they actually had drawn her blood and checked her sugar levels which were great.
There simply was no reason she gave us for formula other than “it’s policy for all babies here.”
I’m still quite confused and a bit angry about this.
Immediately, after such a stressful and difficult birth, instead of bonding and resting, I was flooded with stress and arguing with a nurse to try to understand what she was trying to do to my child.
Also, the way that she handled it was very unacceptable to us – coming to our child with the formula and starting to pretty much give it to her while both of us parents were there.
Maybe it’s the Montessorian in my husband and me, but we try to speak to our children with more respect and decency.
Because I was very clear about it, the nurse didn’t end up giving Ella formula in that time, but this incident started a downward spiral with my mental state which progressively worsened with each interaction with hospital staff the rest of the time that we were there.
After ordeal, the nurses came from the maternity ward to take me back to my room because they said I had to rest and I could not stay there. My husband was able to stay with ella so she wasn’t alone.
The other thing that felt really, really terrible for us was that they kept my wheelchair in a different room. I was alone in our maternity ward in the room that we could sleep in, but my wheelchair was away from me.
Since I became paralysed, no matter how many hospital stays I had, I always had my wheelchair. Now, I was just stranded in a room completely reliant on other people without my mobility aid and that is a terrifying feeling.
This is another thing that I’m really upset about. In hindsight, we should have been very clear that this was just unacceptable and my chair should have been in my room immediately. Even though I had just had surgery and wouldn’t just hop around and go back to normal, my mobility aid is such an essential part of me. It should not have been deliberately kept away from me for any length of time.
I spent most of our first night alone without my wheelchair. The nurses kept telling me to rest but my husband and my daughter were away. And the only thing that I wanted to do was hold my baby. And I couldn’t.
Again, it was just really hard to process not only the birth but then that I couldn’t be with her. And that they kept telling me that I had to be in the maternity ward for my own health rather than being with Ella. The nurse is promised that they would bring me to nurse Ella again every 3 hours but that was all the time I would get.
So they did that 1 time. The nurses came to get me and they brought me back to the neonatal unit. I was able to nurse Ella. They actually took her off all of the monitors and brought us to a separate room on that ward. Again – 0 monitoring there is nothing hooked up to her. She was just doing great. And the nurses said she was doing great. And they didn’t have any concerns for her. So I finished nursing again and asked if she could come back to our room. They said no, they had to monitor her.
We accepted this fully trusting the nurses, the staff, everyone, and they took us back to our room.
I had to wait for the next nursing session to see her again in 3 hours. Of course, no cuddles no holding her in between the nursing. Purely going there to feed her for 20 minutes, and then they would take me back to my room.
The next nursing session they actually ended up bringing Ella to our room since she had already been removed from the monitors and the nurses had already said she was fine. I asked if Ella was staying in our room since she’s not being monitored. And they said no, we still have to monitor her.
“But you already brought her here to nurse.”
The reply was, “Yes, but the policy is that the doctor needs to approve. The doctor won’t be there until morning and she cannot stay with you.”
So they ended up taking her back to the neonatal unit, where she just lied in the same bed just without her parents and no monitors, just nothing. They just wanted to keep an eye on her. Which the nurses in our ward also could have done. There was basically no reason for it other than the doctor had not come yet and they needed to follow some bureaucratic rule.
I still did not have my wheelchair and still was reliant on staff to permit me to see my newborn.
At some point I noticed that it had been more than 3 hours since I had seen Ella. I called the nurse and they said to me that she was sleeping, and they decided that it would not be a good idea to wake her up.
If you have any experience with breastfeeding, you know that that’s really not a good way to start – that she should be fed on demand and have as much skin to skin/boding time with mum. Basically staff again made a decision without discussing with us and just kept her away from us. I didn’t have that skin to skin time. I wouldn’t know if she had woken up in between their allotted 3 hours.
They just again made a choice for us without discussing it. And kept her away from us. When that was not the agreement, they didn’t come to us to ask. Should we wake her up? Should we bring her? What are you guys comfortable with? That was so frustrating. I was just waiting and completely helpless.
If I had had my wheelchair with me, we would have gone there just ourselves. Other parents were sitting there so we could have also gone. But I couldn’t because I had no wheelchair. And because I was just operated, I didn’t really want my husband to carry me. We were just stuck and we couldn’t see our child because of decisions that others made without a reason or justification.
In the meanwhile, one nurse suggested I start pumping. I had only colostrum so she threw it away and told me after.
Again, I was completely helpless.
Eventually Ella was brought to me to nurse, and again, nurses said she really has no reason to be held for observation and again reinforced that she was not actually being monitored for health concerns (obviously they were keeping an eye on her). She was doing fine, but the only reason that she could not stay with us as they had said the last 3 times was because the doctor was not there too approve, but the doctor would approve because she was doing fine and she is perfectly healthy. She’s just a small baby and only had a hard time during birth.
Our frustration here was so high. We are told repeatedly that there was no monitoring but that our daughter could not be in our room because she should be monitored. It was basically going around in circles but the result was my deteriorating mental state with. every. single. excuse. I was spiraling by now.
So I nursed her and again they took her away again. I still did not have my wheelchair. Again they would not bring me to Ella.
Nurses had reassured us that the doctor would be in about an hour, and then we would be able to finally have a baby in the room with us and finally be able to bond and recover, and that ended up taking about 4 hours. It was really long and we kept calling, and staff kept getting annoyed. My husband went there a few times. The nurse was frustrated with him and told him that he couldn’t take her in that we couldn’t basically have her in a room, and they just needed to wait for the doctor.
At this point mentally, I was spiraling into really dark and negative place. And every interaction with the nurses and the hospital staff just made it so much worse.
Pain management and trust
I called the nurse asking at some point in the night to ask if I could have some paracetamol. It’s a mild pain killer because I wasn’t sure how it would feel with the c-section. I was getting a bit of stiffness just from sitting so much and being on my back.
However, the nurses were very adamant that I needed to have very strong pain killers. I don’t feel comfortable with that. It was that I don’t need it. I have a spinal cord injury. My pain, tolerance, and my pain levels are different to able bodied women. I don’t want to take the stronger medicines. They said no that I had to take the strong pain killers.
Part of the problem for me with doing that is also that it causes very much digestive problems when you have a spinal cord injury. Those digestive problems are horrible horrible to deal with and I knew that I would be more pain because of that and tried to explain it to the nurses. They refused to accept that I didn’t have immense and extreme paid and said that I had to take them.
And exactly as I had expected, I ended up having having digestive problems.
My pain levels from the c-section itself were very mild. I was really surprised but I have more difficulty coping with nerve pain daily from my injury or just my “normal pain days” from my spinal cord injury.
The problem was, I was talked over by nurses and ignored whenever I tried to tell them this. They knew better. They have had other patients before and I should trust them.
But I am the only person with a spinal cord injury that has given birth there. (One of the gynecologists told me this)
At another time, I asked one of the nurses to help me turn to my side, and she said that they couldn’t possibly do that because it would hurt too much. I tried to explain to her that it does not hurt to go on my side. And she just said no due to my pain that I did not have. In the end, the nurse just left and I had to do it myself in. Lying on my side was very comfortable but getting into that position was painful and difficult since I had to bend over and lift my legs. Had she helped me as I had requested, it wouldn’t have bothered me.
So at this point now, not only am I not able to see my newborn, but now they’re not listening to me about my own body.
And I still don’t have my wheelchair.
It is all just building up and adding to this feeling of being so helpless and so out of control during what should be a beautiful time filled with bonding and relaxing with my husband and our new baby. Instead, every couple hours I am basically having a conversation where I have to defend or fight for my child or for myself.
It just kept going on and on.
Eventually, Ella was brought to our room and was able to stay.
However, we were constantly interrupted by hospital staff. They would come in to change her diaper and measure her temperature. They would just take her to do it.
My husband would say that he is capable of changing her, but the nurses would argue and say that they had to because they also needed to take her temperature. He told them (more than once) that it’s his third child, he knows how to do that, too, but again, they had to do it because – well we don’t know why.
And yes, of course, we changed her when they were not in the room.
Spiral spiral spiral
In the end, actually, Ella lost a bit too much weight. She was a very small baby already and we had to supplement with formula until my milk would properly come in.
The thing is – there is just no support for breastfeeding. I said to one of the nurses that I needed help but with getting her to latch, and the nurse just told me “we’re just going to give her formula”.
Based on my previous experiences breastfeeding my other kids that the stress and chaos from everything just made it impossible to breastfeed in that hospital.
Again, I don’t have any opinion on formula feeding if that’s your choice or needed. We know in our situation, a lot of the struggles we encountered and the impossible start to breastfeeding came largely due to the stress that we encountered. In the follow-up appointments that we had with the children’s doctor and midwife (who are not associated with the hospital), as well as the hospital’s own lactation consultant, we were told repeatedly how badly the hospital staff had mishandled our situation, how wrong it was, and they offered proper support for breastfeeding.
We requested and fought very strongly to leave the hospital earlier than expected. I was so sinking into such a deep depression so quickly and so intensely that I told my husband if we stay here, I’m just not going to survive.
I was very concerned that I could feel like the postpartum, postpartum depression and anxiety just gripping me so fully. I have never felt so uncontrollably horrible about my mothering that I started thinking and planning that my children and husband would be better off without me in their lives.
At some point, he asked me if I wanted to do something to care for Ella (I don’t recall what it was), but I was so checked out that I said no. I didn’t want to look at her because to me at that time, she shouldn’t get used to seeing me.
At least whatever part of myself was still thinking clearly told him that we had to go home straight away. Even one more hour there would be absolutely unbearable.
Each of the incidents may seem small. I probably could have coped with one or two by themselves or understood that it’s not so bad, but all together – everything compounded, it was I felt like I was consumed by what I saw as my shortcomings and failures.
I had been cut open and couldn’t go to my child. My wheelchair was kept away from me and it showed me how vulnerable I was. I couldn’t birth my child and I had put her in danger. I couldn’t feed her. I couldn’t go to her.
I couldn’t just get up and walk to her.
All these thoughts just kept returning and it felt like a punch in the gut.
With some distance, I know that I was in a terrible headspace and needed support. Unfortunately, the nurses and staff that should have been providing it, just didn’t.
When we were being discharged, I was asked if I wanted support for postpartum depression. I said no. At that point, my husband and I agreed that if I still felt like this at home or if he had any doubts about my well-being, he would reach out to our normal GP.
My husband said after the whole experience that it was just an experiment of how quickly can you manifest the postpartum depression and someone and just crush a new mums spirit?
Interestingly, because nursing has started with such difficulty, we ended up getting a lactation consultant to help. The one that we ended up getting actually is a permanent staff member at the hospital (the hospital did not inform us that there was a lactation consultant working there even though I had asked for help with breastfeeding). When we told her about everything that had happened, she was mortified and she said had to discuss this with her colleagues. At least there was that validation that staff had messed up. But the experience is still what we had, and we had to cope and kind of try to recover from all that stress.
In the Netherlands, after one gives birth, there is a special service called “Kraamzorg”. This is where a special person comes to the family home for somewhere between 4 to 8 hours a day for about 8 days after birth. They look after mum and baby, help with older siblings, do household chores, and even offer breastfeeding support.
The local midwifery center sends a midwife to the home to check on the mum, and the local children’s doctor does a home visit to check on the baby.
The support we received from these women saved me.
We talked for hours and the midwife helped my husband and I to communicate more about each of our experiences. The nursing support helped us to actually get a good latch and get Ella to gain weight in spite of the difficult start. The children’s doctor who has known us since our first was shocked at how I was doing and helped me to get my confidence back.
My husband has held me as I sobbed that I’m the worst mother and reassured me each time. He cried with me. Changed diapers (for me and Ella).
I’m not sure how we got out of the fog. I have never struggled so much to feel ok. To feel any sense of it will be ok.
Unfortunately, we had a very different experience that we had expected. Slowly, I started coming back to myself and I’m really grateful to the support we had at home.
After coming home, I basically held Ella constantly. Since I had felt like I couldn’t get to her and that she was kept away from me in the hospital, it created an intense fear of Ella being taken from me.
Cuddling, skin to skin, and nursing on demand have helped this all to subside. She’s not going anywhere. She’s ours and she’s here with us.
Seeing my older children interact with Ella and spending lazy mornings squeezing together in our bed have helped to heal my heart.
I don’t know exactly how the clouds seemed to part and the horrible feeling gently subsided. I wouldn’t say that what I experienced was “baby blues” – this was all consuming and so gripping that I was really concerned for my own safety. My husband couldn’t understand it since he was so overjoyed that both Ella and I had were healthy and he was grateful for our family. I was, too but everything felt horrible.
After some time now, I understand how much worse everything could have – from the surgery to my mental health afterwards. It all could have gone much worse.
I’m grateful for the support we had and the systems in place in this country to have support from different places. I know many women in other countries and situations wouldn’t have had access to it which can cause a very different outcome to a situation like ours.
At this point, we’re still adjusting to having a new member of our family, but the emotions feel more normal. The worries are more reasonable. And everything feels less intense.
I learned from all of this how important it is to speak up and talk directly even to nurses and doctors when I don’t feel comfortable or don’t properly understand their actions/suggestions.
We are focused now on healing, processing, and enjoying our time together as a family of 5. We are lucky and incredibly grateful that in the end, we have had a positive outcome.