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Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Career and life path

For some women and their partners, their obstetric emergency does not have a lasting impact on their lives. They find that the emergency, although frightening when it is happening, is something they can put behind them and does not affect their daily lives greatly.
 
However, obstetric emergencies may trigger major life and work changes. Cara, who had a haemorrhage (heavy uncontrolled bleeding) and hysterectomy when her daughter was born, took a year off work to recover - rather than the six months she had planned. Joanna also took more time off than she had anticipated. Rebecca had a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) in her leg during her caesarean operation, which has left her with a drop foot and needing a leg brace. It has had a significant impact on her life, she feels she has lost her independence as she can no longer drive. Her husband’s work has also suffered.
 

Rebecca has been left with a leg brace after surgery on her deep vein thrombosis (blood clot). It...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 40
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And to me, you know, mine was the worst thing you could ever do. To them it’s just one of the things. Like my doctor said, “Look,” he said, “You know, you’re the third person in this hospital that’s had this.” You know, so it’s not, you know, it’s all square at the time. He said while he’d been doctor there he had had one more experience. So it’s not something that’s completely new and out of this world, but to me lying there it’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me, you know, its… you know, very traumatic and that and I think it had an effect on me. As I said, I stopped driving. Well I couldn’t drive for a long time. Then when I went for assessments and I had a couple of lessons. I never had the courage to drive again. And I think that took away from a lot of you know, independence for me, for the rest. It was a really tiring time, because everything had. I couldn’t do a lot of things for myself. And my husband had to do a lot of things, and things that you don’t want your husband to have to do for you and that. Yes, no I think the main thing is I lost independence. It took that away from me and also the ability to take care of [second daughter] by myself. Because nobody wants to feel that they’re reliant on everybody else to do things.
 
No. And what do you think has been the impact on the rest of the family?
 
It did have a great impact. As I said my husband you know, he still to this day says he can’t… he doesn’t have a normal weekend. That he spends all his time carting the kids to… Because we tried to keep their lives on track as much as we could, which meant keeping all the activities, moving them to the weekends. I do all the activities that involve the school or karate that is within walking distance. He then has to do things like swimming and gymnastics and football which is further away. I do feel that he had a lot of pressure. There were a lot more things that you don’t think about, but everything changes. Insurance on things. They go up because you know, it costs you, I mean you don’t think about these things, but everything costed more. We had to you know, take into account things and you know, my husband his work suffered. He had to be, he was a person who always used to go to work half past six and come home around you know, seven. It’s only now that he’s starting to regain that. Because I can now, you know, apart from not being able to walk without, I mean I can walk around the house without a brace, but I can’t walk out of the house, because I will trip up or things like that. So, I can, other than that, and a few ongoing gynaecological things which are not affecting me physically, you know, I can take care. But my husband’s work suffered. He couldn’t, he had to wait and go in late in the morning. He’s into, finance which means you might be told you work from 9 till 5 but essentially you need to be there from 6 till 7, 8, 9 you know, at night. So you know, he had to take off extra time, unpaid, unpaid leave, you know, to be with me. He couldn’t progress because he couldn’t stay you know, in his career couldn’t progress for a good time because he had to be home. He had to be home to bath [second daughter]. He had to be home to help put the children to bed and sort them out. You know, things that nowadays I can do. But then I couldn’t.
 
After their own emergencies, some women we spoke to were motivated to be more involved in birth support, training to be teachers for the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) or involved in support groups. Deborah who lost her baby in childbirth has become involved in setting up a local branch of the Birth Trauma Association (BTA). She hopes to be able to help others faced with similar situations to her own, “and in itself it helps me. Because it’s cathartic, you do get something from it.” Others decided to change career, for example, Rachel retrained as a psychologist.
 

Rachel decided she was going to train as a psychologist while she was still in the hospital.

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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Now I took the decision when I woke from coma still in A & E to change profession. Because I had dreams about my CD rom in purple colours, my hallucinations were about that partly and I thought it can’t be that on my death bed but this is what I thought about. Nobody would care if the CD looked less good because I’m in a coma. But I want to make a difference, so the next time I die people will mind. 
 
And that’s when I decided I’ll go to psychology because I always was interested in psychology. And I got offered based on my Masters in Multimedia, I got a sort of fantastic job at the university where I did the Masters, which is a very good university and I couldn’t refuse it. So I took the job. I was managing a team of multidisciplinary designer kind of team, and during that time we tried surrogacy a couple of attempts it didn’t work out. We then decided to adopt and we then started the journey of adoption and… by the time the referral of the twins came up, I decided I’m going to chuck my job and I’m going to go, international adoption and so I’m going to go and leave the country while my twins are growing because I wanted to be there with them. 
 
So we did that. For a long time we lived there. We changed countries. And then we came back. Seven months later I changed profession indeed. I started a conversion to psychology and after a couple of years when I’d done that I became an assistant psychologist etc and I worked my way up. Did, worked as an assistant researcher etc. It’s a long journey.
 
During that time, my partner’s career changed dramatically and that had an effect on the dynamic of the family because whereas before we had a kind of control over his time and he was a very involved Father to [son] from zero to five. With the twins he wasn’t. So there was, there were some issues there for me. 
 
Other parents found that their experience had a negative effect on their work choices. Tom had a nervous breakdown after his wife suffered a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the main artery of the lung) and haemorrhage. He talked about the “side effects” of that experience – “one way or another I’d been passed over because of my time off. My line manager lost trust in me, and I in him, to be honest and we’ve never fully regained that.” Anna was just 21 when she had septicaemia (blood poisoning) and a hysterectomy. She was planning to go to college to train as a midwife, but she does not feel she can do that anymore.
 
Some women (who were looking back 5-10 years) described their obstetric emergencies as the beginning of a big life change. After Sarah’s grade 4 placenta praevia (the most serious type of placenta praevia where the placenta completely covers the cervix/birth canal) and hysterectomy, her husband developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and he has been unable to go back to work, which then “left us seriously financially in hard times.” Five years on, Sarah is now the family breadwinner and her husband looks after their three girls. She said that she has had to learn new skills but returning to work has been a positive experience.
 

Sarah talked about the positive sides of their experience, even though it has been a “tough road”.

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Age at interview: 29
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
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And you have to sort of get new focuses and learn new skills and, and that’s really important as well, as just, and I think for us, that has been the like, me going back to work has been a real turning point for me, because I’m good at other stuff as well [laughs]. You know, and that’s really important. And it’s, you know, it’s a positive. At the end of the day it’s a positive experience. Because we’ve all got something out of it. And, you know, we wouldn’t have been in the places where we went, you know, we moved out to the country for like eighteen months. It’s like what I say, it’s like our sabbatical, where we literally just lived in the middle of nowhere. And we lived country life for a while, and we, we gave each other, we healed in that time, and you know, we just it was a really, really nice experience and we would never have had that time had my husband still been working twelve hours a day and you know, so it’s a tough road to get to, to get to there, you know. I wouldn’t say tomorrow, oh like I’m just to throw myself under a bus, you know, just to gain the life experience, but it, it does sort of shape the way, and you know, we’ve moved in different ways, and we’ve gained different experiences that we never would have done had we not have had this experience. And I think that’s, you’re better for it. Hopefully. If you, if you manage to stay together, which me and my husband have, its, it’s definitely makes you a lot stronger, and I don’t know things like him not putting the toilet seat down are not as important as it was sort of before you know, so you argue less now, you know, because it’s not, it’s not as important any more. You know, I think that’s a real sort of strong message is, that that’s not important any more. This is important, and just to be grateful for each other.

Sometimes women made a decision to make a career change during their recovery. Rachel, however, decided she was going to change her career early on while she was still in hospital after losing her second child and having a hysterectomy. Although her plans to move to another country were abandoned, she completely changed her career and she and her husband have gone on to adopt two daughters from abroad.
 

Rachel talked about how ten years on from her emergency and the loss of her son, she and her...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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It varies. Depending on where my life will be [laughs]. So, it’s a bit of theory kind of impression. Where will the electron be when you will look for it? But it will always be with me. The loss of my son and the trajectory that our life took as a result. There are so many losses entangled there, that I think I’m still. We’re now in therapy, my husband and me, and we are just about to start untangling that yet again. Whereas ten years ago, we thought we are kind of dealt with it and so on. I think, and this is something that I know professionally, you know, I have clients who come ten years after brain haemorrhage or ten years after divorce and they are still having loads of issues which they think they’ve dealt with, back ten years ago they were fine. But its, I, I use as comparison rays of the sun or rays of light from an old star that already died. It still gets seen on earth once the star already died. So there is there are ramifications to things that you have experienced a long, long time ago. It seems to be a long time ago, into your present and I’m sure that it makes sense, it will be also into my future.


For more on recovery see ‘How women felt physically’, ‘How women felt emotionally’ and ‘Getting home and trying to get back to normal life

Last reviewed April 2016.
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