pregnancy

'The day my vagina broke: The story of my traumatic birth and the prolapse that came next.'

Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions and images of birth trauma, and may be triggering for some readers.

We were in the birthing suite. ‘Push…push…puuuush, Stephanie,’ they were all saying to me.

Importantly, thought I was doing what they asked but I NEVER felt an urge to push. When I thought I was pushing, it didn’t seem to feel any different. The pressure (not so much pain) was intense.

I felt constipated. Like I was blocked without being able to release the pressure.

Mums and non-mums answer questions about childbirth, and their answers were very different. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

Other people (I’m guessing doctors and nurses) were still coming and going from the room. This next part felt like it all happened so suddenly (and I will never know exactly how long it was because it was never documented). I was back lying on the bed, my feet up in those stirrups – just like the movies – and legs wide open… Then in walked the registrar. She told me her name and that she was there to get baby out. My immediate thought was something was wrong with baby.

Quick, help baby come out, I thought. I don’t want anything happening to the baby.

The registrar told me my baby was posterior, and was facing the wrong way. At that very moment, I could not comprehend what she meant.

By this stage, the registrar was holding up something that looked like a cup, saying she needed to turn baby the right way, telling me what she was holding was like a vacuum. I looked directly into my partner Tom’s eyes. He could see the terror on my face, because he too looked the same. He then looked to our midwife for help.

Our midwife gave us both this slight nod. We all knew what it meant: let the registrar do what was needed. Even if it wasn’t part of the plan. At the same time, the registrar said to us that if she wasn’t able to get baby out with the vacuum and a ‘slight cut’, I would be rushed off for an emergency C-section. The image of her pointing to the door with the scissors in her hand will be etched in my memory forever.

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The idea of a C-section after all this was beyond me. It felt like a failure. The registrar also seemed to have it all under control. A ‘slight cut’ and vacuum, and baby would be here. Not quite.

Baby was stuck. The vacuum failed to turn baby the right way.

traumatic birth experience Stephanie Thompson
Image: Supplied.

The next vacuum failed too, as did the next one. The fourth vacuum also failed. The ‘slight cut’ (episiotomy) was actually a huge cut from the front to back. Meaning I was cut open from the opening of my vagina up towards the anus. It was sheer agony. The pain in my heart was the most agonising part. I didn’t think I was ever going to meet my little baby girl.

At this stage, it actually felt like the registrar was trying to shove baby back up, the wrong way. It was chaotic. Pain and pressure at the same time. It’s very difficult to describe the feeling in words. Even writing about it now, my body is having a physical reaction just thinking of that very moment. I felt like my insides were being ripped from me. We now know it was the forceps being used to ‘force’ their way in and around baby. To get her out.

Then it was the most indescribable feeling of release. The pressure release was like the bottom of a bucket bursting from too much water. Everything came gushing out. I feel like there was nothing left inside me. Nothing at all. I felt very hollow.

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That all didn’t matter now. My baby girl was on my chest. I was in shock. I kept asking if she was okay, if she was alive. It was only once she started squawking that I was relieved. My baby girl and I were meeting for the first time, on the outside.

I was finally a mumma bear. And I was so in love.

The registrar stayed focused on my vagina. She told me it needed ‘a bit’ of stitching. My focus was on our baby girl. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Finally, the midwife placed baby back on my chest, wrapped in a blanket.

Stephanie with baby Elsie, after her birth. Image: Supplied.

Well, hello there, little Elsie. Time stopped. The registrar was there for some time more, but by this stage I was numb down there anyway, and completely focused on Elsie.

Once all the stitching-up was finished (because a lot of repair work was actually required), the registrar vanished – never to be seen again. The midwives got me up out of bed and straight into the
shower. Elsie got to meet her daddy and have skin-to-skin with him.

I was showered, dressed and taken to the ward. I had lost a lot of blood, so they took me into the maternity ward in a wheelchair.

After Elsie getting the ‘all clear’, we signed some paperwork and, without so much as a goodbye, walked ourselves out of the maternity ward around 8.30 pm. I felt faint and weak but passed it off as just being nervous about taking this precious little human out in the big wide world.

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I was stressed, personally – and silently. I was in pain. It took a day or two for all the pain medications I was having in hospital to wear off, and the first few days I was so swollen it was all still numb down there. But then all the pain hit. I could not sit down for weeks following child birth. Not at all. I was just so happy to be a mumma and be home with my baby that I didn’t want it to matter.

It did start to matter, though. I could not sit to breastfeed Elsie or sit to do anything. It was too painful from front to back. Lying down was the only position I could be in. I started to let our midwife know about the troubles I was having, and she suggested things like sitting on a rolled-up towel. I tried other things suggested too, like sitting on a doughnut cushion, but nothing really seemed to relieve the pain; it just made it worse. Not even more pain medications helped.

After a while, the pain wasn’t improving downstairs and I felt ‘off’. I was so very petrified of looking down there, that I just didn’t. However, within the first week or so, and with the pain getting worse, not better, I decided it was time to see what was going on.

A pungent smell was coming from down there, too. I still couldn’t sit down and certainly was in no position to bend over to see what was going on, so I took a photo.

What I saw on that screen looking back at me was mortifying. I now knew why I didn’t want to look in the first place. My entire groin was black, blue and purple. Beyond the bruising, I actually didn’t know what I was looking at. What is that?

I could see a big, gaping wound, opened up with raw flesh exposed. It was hard to tell what was what. I actually couldn’t tell what part was my vulva and what part was the wound. I did understand what the smell was, however: infection where my stitching had come undone. It was just such a mess.

The next morning, Tom took me and Elsie back to the GP’s surgery. Everyone was gushing over our little baby girl. Lying back on the bed I watched two professionals’ faces change from ‘baby gush’ to ‘shock and OMG’. Then my GP said, ‘Oh, darling, what happened to you? There is a lot going on there.’

My stitching was all coming undone. It certainly was infected. No wonder I could not sit down. The wound was tearing along the right side of my butt, along the sit bone.

I had no idea the worst was yet to come.

traumatic birth experience Stephanie Thompson
Stephanie Thompson with her family-of-four. Image: Supplied.
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The swelling had subsided a little with each day. I was checking on the wound periodically. Apart from the reduced swelling, it was the same. Still open. Still sore to sit on. At about day ten, after the shower I took a quick snap and what looked back at me from the screen had me in a panic.

Was that another baby’s head crowning? Was I having twins and no-one knew? Did they leave one in there?

As irrational as these ideas and fears seem now, at the time they were real (sleep deprivation wouldn’t have helped). It certainly looked like a baby head was crowning from my vagina. Something round and pink was popping out. It was 7pm and we didn’t know what to do. So we did the only thing we knew and phoned our mid-wife.

Tom and I were talking through the door. Tom was on the phone with the midwife and I was holding this photo, trying to describe what it was (there was no way in the world I was going to show him). As soon as I heard her pull out the ‘it’s all fine and normal’ line, I screamed at the top of my lungs, ‘IT’S NOT F**KING FINE, I’M NOT F**KING FINE’.

Leaning over the bathroom basin, crying uncontrollably by this stage, I’d had enough of being told that I was normal – and fine.

Clearly my broken vagina was not normal or fine. It was time to take matters into our own hands.

This is an edited excerpt from Stephanie Thompson’s new book, The Day My Vagina Broke, $29.95 from Publish Central, which will be available from November 17 onwards. It's available for pre-order, or to purchase on Woodslane

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