Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

How women felt physically

Women were understandably keen to get home as soon as possible. After days, weeks or even months in hospital, separated from their families, being discharged was a big day.
Alex had been in hospital for several months with placenta praevia (where the placenta is in the wrong position and blocking the birth canal), separated from her husband and toddler. She described the emotions of finally leaving the hospital.
What sort of physical shape the women were in when they got home varied widely depending on what condition they had experienced, how ill they had been, and how long they had been in hospital. (See ‘How women felt emotionally).
Women were often physically very weak. Alison, who had had a haemorrhage (heavy uncontrolled bleeding) and hysterectomy described being weak but “desperate to get home”.
Some women were still bed bound or in a wheelchair when they were discharged. Belinda was in a wheelchair when she went home, “not in the best of states”. Lisa, who had had a hysterectomy and problems with her hips, was bed bound for months afterwards. She couldn’t manage stairs or look after her newborn baby. Her partner had to look after her as well as do all the care of the baby. Sarah, who also had a hysterectomy, was in a lot of pain. She couldn’t manage the sofa so her husband, Rob, organised a sun lounger for her, so she could get in and out of it. A common frustration for these women was not being able to look after their children.
Women felt very tired, and several who had had a haemorrhage felt very weak, as they had lost so much blood.
Many of the women we interviewed had had major abdominal surgery to deliver the baby and save their lives. Often they were in a great deal of pain from those operations when they came home. Debbie had a uterine rupture (a tear opening the womb directly into the abdominal cavity) and said she was in “unbelievable pain” when she got home, and it was eight or nine weeks before she felt she could walk normally and do reasonable things. Hannah was discharged with a catheter still in.
Kerry, who had placenta praevia and a haemorrhage, was in a great deal of discomfort when she got home. She should not have been driving for six weeks because of her caesarean operation, but she didn’t have the money for taxis or anyone to give her a lift, so the only way to visit her son in neo-natal intensive care (NICU) was by driving.
Although most women made a good recovery, a few women did have ongoing health issues as a result of the complications they had experienced. Hannah and Karen were both dismayed by the realisation that they were going to be less fit for the rest of their lives. “It is a very odd thing, you catch yourself thinking, oh now I’ve become someone who is going to be less well for the rest of my life, and that is a weird feeling.”
Scarring can be a problem for some women who have had life-threatening complications. This can occasionally lead to ongoing physical problems. Hannah had long term digestive problems because of the way her internal scar tissue had stuck together. Her husband explained how it affected her.
Scarring can also be frightening and emotionally upsetting.
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Further surgery may help with certain types of scar that women experience. Sarah had scar reassignment surgery on her scar as part of the drain hole wouldn’t heal. Anna had septicaemia and had a hysterectomy. She was 21 years old and very worried about how the scar was going to look. Joanna’s baby was stillborn, and for her the “physical scars are associated with memory, like emotional scarring as well I suppose.”
Getting back to normal
On the whole women did make a good recovery, although it often took several weeks or months. Alison said she “felt a lot stronger after three weeks than I expected” and Cate was strong enough to look after all three children by the time she went for her 6 week check. “After I passed the 6 week mark I just physically picked up very quickly.” Kate had HELLP syndrome (a combined liver and blood clotting disorder). When she came out of hospital she was swollen and bruised, and had to inject herself with an anticoagulant Clexane (enoxaparin) for six weeks. But by 14 weeks she felt “completely back to normal, just settling in to mummy hood.” For Rachel, getting strong again after her hysterectomy was very important. She took up running and was focused on getting back to normal.

Last reviewed April 2016.


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