'The anaesthetic failed during my c-section. I've been haunted by it for 34 years.'

The case study in this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

*Names have been changed 

As told to Cindy Lever

The prospect of meeting her fifth baby imminently filled Sarah with joy as she was wheeled into theatre. It would be the midwife’s fifth caesarean, so she knew the procedure well.

Sarah had booked a private anaesthetist, but when a trainee turned up instead, she was shocked.

The spinal block was administered, and the obstetrician began.

But as he began to cut the now mum-of-six cried out in pain as one segment was not numb, so all the pain referred to the right-hand side.

Watch: A woman shares the debilitating impacts of birth trauma to her physical and mental health. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC News.

"I felt the scalpel slicing and the pulling open and stretching of the five layers to get to the baby and the sting of diathermy to close the blood vessels to stop the bleeding and the retractors to keep my abdomen open," she reveals.

"'I said I can feel it, I can feel it'. I remember the anguish on my husband’s face and my nails digging into him."

Two nurses and her husband told the anaesthetist she could feel it, but Sarah said he just looked lost not knowing what to do.


The obstetrician said he couldn’t stop, leaving Sarah with no choice but to lie on the operating table, unable to move and praying for help.

"Every time the needle went in I tried to kick them, but my legs were numb. I felt like I was silently screaming," Sarah recalled.

"I worked at the hospital and remember thinking, 'I can’t put on a performance because I have to work with these guys'."

Sarah doesn’t recall the moment after her son was born or holding him, and it wasn’t until she was wheeled back to the ward, she was given pain relief.

Coming home from hospital the trauma, of what she describes as obstetric violence, set in.

Sarah suffered insomnia and was easily agitated and irritable. She was later diagnosed with postnatal depression with anxiety.

"I told my husband it should be written on my forehead that I’m not coping," she said.

"I was only just making it, but I never left home without my nails done, because I didn’t want the world to know I wasn’t coping."

For 34 years the impacts of that day stayed with her overshadowing her and her family’s lives.

"[I've experienced] so many symptoms," she explained. "Intolerance to noise; I was hypervigilant to the kids. I didn’t believe doctors, so I’d take them to different health practitioners. 

"I had a dread of something terrible happening to the kids. They all had asthma, and I’d spend the night worrying they’d have an asthma attack and die and I’d do the rounds at night checking they were breathing.


"Then I thought I’d lose my husband, so I’d take his pulse while he was asleep.

"Panic attacks were second nature."

Returning to work was also a challenge. Having to go into theatre on one occasion became too much, and she had to leave one day and be replaced.

It took Sarah 34 years to find the words to describe how she felt and trauma therapy has helped heal the emotional scars and PTSD.

Sarah’s experience was rare. The Royal College of Anaesthetists sets a standard that fewer than 5 per cent of elective patients should feel pain and fewer than one per cent should require conversion to general anaesthesia.

Listen to The Delivery Room where Leigh sits down with Jessie Stephens, alongside her husband Rich, to talk about their birth story. Post continues below.

Sarah wants to encourage others who have had c-sections to take good care of themselves after birth, to monitor their wounds and how they're feeling, and to talk about plans for any potential future births. 

Despite her experience, the 67-year-old wouldn't change how she gave birth: "I refuse to say I feel robbed of the experience of a final push. Going back five times to have a caesarean while fully awake requires courage and the end result is triumph."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.

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