I was two hours postpartum after my first baby, and I’d told her that something wasn’t right. I was still feeling too much pressure.
“Yes,” she cooed, one hand on her own seven-month-pregnant belly and the other one patting my hand. “Childbirth hurts. You’re going to feel some discomfort after.”
She didn’t check. So she didn’t see that thanks to a tear repair complicated by low platelets, the blood had pooled into a vaginal hematoma, creating a swollen, blackened mass of clots slowly tracking back into my body.
She didn’t check, so she didn’t know I was bleeding internally.
I complained several times over the next 24 hours, the superwoman high I’d felt a day earlier when my baby boy was first placed on my chest being chipped away with each halfhearted reassurance of “normal.”
When a doctor finally decided to listen and examine me, she saw the hematoma and addressed it.
She didn’t explain. She just reached her fingers inside, tore open the stitches, and began pulling clots out. The grape jelly-esque blood spilled onto the sheets I’d be lying in for the next six days while I screamed and my husband, pale as the whitewashed walls, tried in vain to comfort the newborn matching my howls. She didn’t medicate me for this manual evacuation.
When that doctor returned to my room an hour later, she didn’t tell me what she’d be doing at the foot of the bed. I cried and gripped the hand of the kind nurse (who’d only come in to ready an IV for a blood transfusion I didn’t know I needed) while she irrigated the gaping hole the hematoma had left and packed that hole with gauze that may as well have been rocks as I tried in vain to get comfortable for the next three days.
No one told me that I’d be reporting to the doctor twice a week to check for infection for the first six weeks of my maternity leave. That standing more than five minutes would make the room spin for a month. That I’d be unable to sit for 10 weeks. That I’d spend my maternity leave flat on my back on the couch.
When I told a doctor at one of those many, many check-ups that if I were to have another kid, I wanted a c-section, she clucked her tongue and said that I shouldn’t wish for that — a C-section would be a tough recovery.
Nine weeks postpartum, I was still bedridden and beyond tired of bleeding. It’s normal to bleed for up to 10 weeks, the doctor commiserated when I called for the third time that week.
She didn’t schedule an ultrasound then. So she didn’t see the one centimeter piece of rotting retained placenta that had embedded itself into my uterus more than two months prior.
She didn’t explain that the D&C I would require at 10 weeks postpartum for the postpartum hemorrhage would stop that bleeding I’d initially complained about, so the IUD I thought I needed to curtail it was unnecessary. She inserted that IUD while I was under the D&C anesthesia.
Three weeks later, I begged a doctor to remove that foreign body from a body that was feeling increasingly foreign to me anyway.
She smirked and shrugged before she followed my command. It’s not responsible for the itching and pain you’re feeling, she told me. “That’s just low estrogen from nursing, but if you want it out, I’ll take it out.”
She didn’t look while she was removing the IUD, so she didn’t notice the tremendous amount of vaginal scar tissue the hematoma had left behind.
Time after time and mishap after mishap, I convinced myself that the doctors, with so many years of experience, knew better than me, a first-time mama. I struggled with visuals of clots spilling out of me, lived with a constant dull ache, and agonized as I relived the day over and over again, trying desperately to pinpoint what I’d done to cause this. Was it because of my platelets? Because I was induced? Did I push wrong?
Nearly 11 months after the happiest and hardest day of my life, I met my niece and fought back a panic attack when my sister’s hospital room looked just a little too similar to mine.
I knew if I were to ever go through this again, if I were to try for a second child, it couldn’t be in that hospital.
I transferred my records to a new practice and a new hospital.
As I sat on the paper-covered cot in a paper-thin gown, he closed the door, one hand gripping my 100-page file and the other reaching for my hand.
“I’ve read your medical record — that was an incredibly traumatic birth experience. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
No one had told me that before.
Using a model, he explained what had happened to me.
No one had done that before.
He asked if he had my permission to examine me, and he noted the extensive scar tissue immediately. He prescribed a regimen of cream and vaginal dilators and said we would break that scar tissue down together before we discussed surgery; if surgery were deemed necessary, he promised he’d call in the best surgeon he knew.
I had an appointment each month to check on progress, and each time, he applauded my progress and encouraged me to keep it up.
Fourteen months after giving birth and just three months after switching doctors, I finally began to feel normal again. He sensed the shift in me and broached the subject of “the next time around.”
To avoid a repeat hematoma performance and further physical and emotional trauma, he recommended a scheduled C-section. With my permission, of course.
He listened. He cared. He supported.
Three and a half years after my traumatic birth, that wonderful, wonderful doctor came in on his day off, a day he was scheduled to fly to a conference, to safely deliver my baby girl via a planned, scheduled C-section.
Every single day, I trace that faded white scar on my belly, remember that healing day, and offer up a silent prayer of thanks that my second birth was so very, very different from my first.
Listen to your heart, Mama. And find someone who will listen to you.