Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Understanding what happened

Finding out what had happened to them, and coming to terms with the seriousness of their illness, and what a narrow escaped they had had, was often emotionally very difficult for women. For many, trying to understand what had happened to them and make sense of their experiences has been a long, emotional journey. As one woman explained, the emotional impact is powerful and takes a while to overcome. “It’s a bit like throwing a stone in a pond and the ripples just, the initial ripples are quite strong and then they sort of dissipate.”
 
Realising what had happened
Often it took women a while to realise the full severity of what they had been through. This may have been because they were unconscious, in intensive or high dependency care for hours or days, or because it just took a while for it to sink in. Cate, who had a blood clot after her third baby, said, “I don’t think I realised at the time how much of a near miss I’d had.” It was only when she went back to see the consultant, a few weeks later, that Amy realised how much blood she had lost during her postpartum haemorrhage (heavy uncontrolled bleeding after birth). The consultant was concerned she might feel a bit low, “because ‘when you nearly die it can be a bit traumatic’. That was the first time anyone had said how serious it had been.”
Understanding what happened
Many women we spoke to explained how important it was to fully understand what had happened to them. It helped them fill in the blanks in their memories of the events, and also helped them come to terms with their illness. Alison was interviewed a couple of years after her haemorrhage and hysterectomy and said she felt another follow up meeting would be helpful. “I’m actually at the point where I would like to go over it one last time, maybe just to get closure, that I can piece it all together in my mind.” Cara became “obsessed” with discovering what had happened to her after she had a haemorrhage and hysterectomy with her first child, “I basically became an expert. I researched everything.” Karen was keen to piece together the blank patches' “I just wanted to fill in some of the gaps for my reference.”
Seeing their notes
Women sometimes asked for copies of their notes to help understand what had happened. They felt ready for this at varying times, some almost immediately after they went home, others years later. Even though sometimes there were bits of information missing, on the whole, going through these notes, either on their own or with a medical professional, was really helpful. Some recommended going through them with someone who wasn’t involved in their care.
Making sense of their life-threatening experience
Coming to terms with such a life-threatening experience can be very difficult. The memories of the traumatic experience, and realising what a narrow escape they had were difficult to understand. Samantha said that even though she was warned she might develop pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure), she never really fully grasped what that meant – “I hadn’t considered it to be something so dangerous.”
Several found that the “what might have beens” really preyed on their minds, others were haunted by the memories. Anna, who had a hysterectomy after developing septicaemia said, “Night times I would think about it… why did it happen? How has it happened?”
There can be continuing sadness and feelings of grief looking back, especially for women who know they will never have another baby. As Sarah said, “You are grieving for children you’ve never had, for experiences you’ve lost.” Debbie had a uterine rupture during the birth of her second daughter. She said that every month that went by she felt better, but “I think I will always feel sad about it.”
 
Anniversaries could also stir up emotions. Several women described how difficult their child’s birthday could be, because it was also the anniversary of their traumatic experience.
Despite the difficulties of getting over the emotional impact of the emergency, women often talked of the needing at some stage to put it behind them, otherwise it could overwhelm them. Anna described making a conscious decision to be positive, even though this was not easy.


Last reviewed April 2016.

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