THIRD-DEGREE tearing, pain so extreme they couldn't walk or shower for two months, and being "sewn up like a blanket"- three women have opened up about the brutal reality of childbirth.
Although 90 per cent of mums experience tears, grazes or surgical incisions (episiotomy) from vaginal births, a recent survey by My Expert Midwife showed 59 per cent of women aren't prepared for how childbirth changes your body.
In the hope of educating mums-to-be, three women open up about their own painful experiences…
'It looked like the midwife was sewing a blanket'
Misha Clarke, 21, a health and safety manager from Cumbria, endured an excruciating 42-hour labour with her first baby, Cade, now two years old.
She suffered third-degree tearing, which was so severe that she could “barely sit or walk” for two months, and was later diagnosed with debilitating postpartum depression.
She said: “I was nervous pre-birth as I was aware of all the scenarios.
"And even though I educated myself on these, when my waters broke I still didn’t feel mentally prepared.
“Because of the third-degree tears (which affects the anal sphincter and can require surgery to repair the area) I experienced with my first baby I was in a lot of pain for around three months after birth.
“I had a vaginal birth but during delivery, I suffered a severe third-degree tear to my perineum as well as several deep lacerations to the inside of my vaginal wall and labia.
“I had to receive seven stitches in total to repair my perineum and remember thinking that it looked like the midwife was sewing a blanket!
“The pain was so severe I could barely sit down or walk around without being in agony for nearly two months after my son was born.
"As well as the pain, I also developed swelling and bruising around my perineum, which hindered my ability to perform daily tasks.
“The whole experience had a significant impact on the quality of my life until I eventually started to heal.”
I had to receive seven stitches and remember thinking that it looked like the midwife was sewing a blanket
Misha had been “terrified” of potential tearing and attempted to perform perineal massages ahead of the big day, which can prevent tearing during childbirth.
But she found it hard to keep these up as her partner was working away from home during the final weeks of her pregnancy.
Unfortunately, the physical trauma was not the only post-birth complication Misha endured – months later, she was hit by postpartum depression.
The mum-of-two, who was meant to get married on June 20 but postponed her wedding due to the pandemic, added: “I’d always heard about postpartum depression and I thought that won’t be me, I won’t have to deal with it.
"But when my first-born was three months old, it just hit me like a tonne of bricks.
“I almost feel ashamed for feeling that way when I was blessed with a healthy boy. But it’s something, unfortunately, some mothers have to deal with and it shouldn’t be a taboo."
Now a mum-of-two, Misha doesn’t plan on having any more kids, because she doesn't want to go through the experience again.
'Three-day labour left me unable to shower and haunts me to this day'
During her pregnancy, Terri-Ann Howarth, 31, felt positive about her birth plan – which centred around hypnobirthing.
Unfortunately, things went down very differently from her plan.
The mum, from Bolton, was in labour for three days and ended up with “mental and physical scars” that haunt her to this day.
She said: “I didn't have much fear regarding birth as I felt very happy from doing an online course and reading positive birth stories.
“I always imagined my childbirth experience would be magical and calm, I never dreamed I would be left with mental and physical scars which would still haunt me to this day.
“During my pregnancy, I did a hypnobirthing course in the hopes for a natural birth with minimal intervention or drugs. Unfortunately, as soon as I arrived at the hospital, I knew this would not be the case.
“I was in labour for three days and ended up having to be placed on a hormone drip and have an epidural.
“Eventually the midwives were forced to intervene and use forceps to deliver my baby.
"For this to be successful, they had to perform an episiotomy to make my vaginal opening bigger.
“The entire process was traumatic, and I suffered a lot of blood loss.
"I was completely devastated until I saw my beautiful baby boy for the first time.”
I never dreamed I would be left with mental and physical scars which would still haunt me to this day
While Terri-Ann was thrilled with the arrival of her son Odin (born on 26 March 2020) the surgical procedures from the delivery took months to fully heal.
The mum said: “The pain was horrendous, I couldn’t even shower myself and when I eventually had the courage to look down there, I cried due to the appearance and the massive scar I was left with.
“I am only beginning to feel more normal now, 12 weeks later, and I still get anxious whenever I think about it.
"I would seriously consider a caesarean if I were to have another baby.
“I didn’t know much about perineal tearing before the birth.
"I tried to talk to my friends about their own personal experiences and whether they had suffered any tearing, but I found it to be a topic that they were often too embarrassed to discuss openly.
“I believe there is a serious lack of information provided to expectant mothers on the benefits of perineal massage.
"I only discovered it through my own research online as my midwife never mentioned it to me.”
While she still finds it uncomfortable to talk about her upsetting delivery, Terri-Ann said it has not put her off having more children.
'Using the loo was excruciating'
Compared to Misha and Terri-Ann, 41-year-old Emma Lupton’s childbirth experience was a breeze.
But the mum-of-one credits much of this to her consistently performing perineal massage, to avoid excessive tearing.
Working as a paediatric nurse, Emma, who lives with her husband in Harrogate, also had the benefit of professional knowledge.
She said: “Thankfully, my first childbirth experience was fairly straightforward.
"I carried out perineal massages every day from 34 weeks and while at the time I nearly gave it a miss, I’m so glad I persevered as I believe this really helped make my birth journey as comfortable as it could be.
“My birth plan was to have no plan. To do whatever feels right and follow the advice from the midwives. Keep calm, concentrate on my breathing, and don’t feel fear. No shouting and swearing.
"And use whatever pain relief I felt necessary, hoping to do it without an epidural.
“I did not follow the plan…. I held my breath and shouted (maybe even swore!) through the pain.”
Childbirth and tearing: the facts
Giving birth is often described as a magical experience, but the reality is many women suffer from excessive pain and trauma that could potentially be avoided – if people spoke more openly about what goes on in the delivery room.
Clinical data reveals that nine in 10 mothers who have a vaginal birth suffer some form of tear, graze or episiotomy (surgical incision).
And a recent survey, commissioned by My Expert Midfwife, has revealed that 59% of women are not prepared for how childbirth could change their bodies, including dealing with perineal trauma.
Terrifyingly, the survey also showed that 32% of the 1,000 British women polled didn’t know that perineal trauma could happen at all, while 36% don’t know where their perineum is.
Perineal massage can help prevent excessive tearing, so it's important women are informed about the facts.
Although Emma had a positive experience overall, having done everything she could to lessen any potential side effects, the mum-of-one said the recovery process was still “extremely painful”.
Emma added: "Even though I only suffered minor tearing, I still found the postpartum recovery process extremely painful.
"I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without uncurling my toes for about two weeks.
“As this was my first pregnancy, I always felt embarrassed to discuss perineal trauma and tearing.
"I remember asking some of my friends if they had ever experienced tearing in childbirth, but found that even those closest to me found it awkward and were reluctant to share any intimate details.
“I believe there is a societal stigma surrounding perineal trauma and more needs to be done to help women feel confident to ask the questions they want to without feeling embarrassed or ashamed.
“Tearing, pain and trauma are the negative aspects of labour, but of course they happen and are very real."
Emma was overjoyed with the arrival of her two-and-a-half year old son, Arthur, and hopes to have more children in the future.
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