Underneath it was a battlefield... A courageous testimony about a difficult birth and pelvic floor problems postnatally.

We were overjoyed at the arrival of our child!
I had not thought about the pregnancy and the delivery for one moment. All of the friends that I had met were well again three months after giving birth. At the most, they were a little tired because of the lack of sleep caused by the baby.

Pregnancy sickness, pregnancy-related pelvic and back pain... No, those nine months were not easy.  

But I told myself it wouldn't take long.
Until the delivery, which could last 48 hours at most and then it would get better (right?).

Finally, labour came. I had even gone ten days overdue. But the night before I was to be initiated, the contractions started spontaneously. I had planned to try and give birth without an epidural and only take one if it hurt a lot.

I swallowed the pain and wobbled back and forth all day until finally our midwife advised me to go to hospital. She said our baby was due the same evening. It was hard going to the hospital and the long corridors to the delivery room, but it was all right.

Once in the delivery room, there was a bathtub and I had planned to go in and hopefully recover for a while. And yes, that went reasonably well. The bath was nice and warm, my husband helped me and it felt good. The contractions did not get any stronger though. The midwife encouraged me to get out anyway as the labour seemed to be at a standstill.

Around 11 pm, the midwife decided to use a contraction generator because nothing much was happening. I mean, there were still painful contractions but there was no further dilation. The inducers did their job.
It started to hurt seriously now, in the sense of a huge amount.
I now asked for an epidural but of course it was already too late for that. Apparently, she didn't really dare tell me that herself, but she whispered it to my husband and together they tried to keep me calm. I was like a zombie undergoing the pain.

A little after midnight, the contractions started. According to the midwife, things would go fast now. We could not really define "fast".
My husband and I had not done any research on childbirth so we did not know what to expect.
It went on and on. Other people gathered around my bed, there were nervous whispers. At one point, there was apparently a discussion in the corridor and the nurses stood there shouting at each other. We hardly knew what was happening. I was in immense pain, trying to follow instructions about 'push now', 'turn so we can monitor the heartbeat', etc... In the end, after 3 hours of pushing, our son was born. A hefty 3kg945 and 51cm, but above all: with his arm next to his head.

A woman's body is not made for a baby to be born with its arm next to its head.
The baby is not made for it either.
The first two weeks of his life, our baby held his arm up constantly. He was a real crybaby, though. After one and a half years, his crying improved a lot due to a visit to a new osteopath and the placement of tubes in his ears.

I myself had been looking forward to the birth very much, especially to the moment when my pain would start to subside. Fortunately, the nausea disappeared almost immediately. The pelvic instability also disappeared like snow in the sun.

But at the bottom it was a battlefield.

I remember a nurse coming into the room the day after I gave birth and asking if I was still bleeding. I started to laugh because I had just dragged a huge blood trail to the bathroom because my maternity dressings couldn't hold it any longer. She was shocked but I didn't think anything of it.

They had already told me that I had two "cracks". One part of the labia had been torn off. They tried to sew it back on but it died later. The other tear was stitched up and I thought that the loss of blood was part of it and would stop. The enormous pain would surely lessen as well. According to my mother, I just had to bear it and sit on it. I took the necessary painkillers and tried to sit on the swollen 'ball' at the bottom. I didn't last long though, I'd rather be walking around.

The first few weeks I was in a lot of pain but tried to stay strong. I had to change my sanitary towels often. Urine leakage was not an issue at that time. I could hardly tell blood from urine. Everything hurt and I could only pee in the shower and at the same time wet everything because urine burned in the wound.

There were visitors. After a week, it was my brother and sister-in-law's turn. There had been no bowel movement but everything was upside down so I had not worried about that yet. I was standing next to my sister-in-law, squatting with my sanitary napkin. Suddenly, I let out a huge fart. There was no stopping it. I was so embarrassed that I went to the toilet and she never mentioned it again. In the days that followed, it turned out that I could barely control my farts.

And then the first bowel movement had to come...
I cried out in pain. I restrained myself from bowel movements again. But I tried again. Hold it back again. Tried again.
I stood up in the bathtub so that I could run some hot water over it. So much pain. A kind of second birth. All the wounds opened up again. Blood loss. It was terrible. It didn't work out in one go.

Apparently, something was wrong and I had to try and get some of the poop out. With the hand and some toilet paper. What happened?

At first I thought it would only be the first time because it was after giving birth. I started eating a lot of raw vegetables and drinking fruit juice to make the stool softer. Then I got diarrhoea. That was sort of the intention but then it turned out that I couldn't control the diarrhoea at all.

Normally, you still have time to rush to the toilet. I don't anymore.

And it hurt, because diarrhoea creeps into all the little wounds. Again and again into the shower. Definitely do not leave the house. Lots of clothes to wash. Fortunately, maternity pads stop most of it.

Visiting, that was what I was looking forward to now. I had to balance my diet and search for stool that was not too hard but not too flat either. It remained difficult and unpredictable. There was also the problem of loss of urine. I eventually heard about this from friends that they also had it. But they talked about a few drops. I had to get up at night and pick up the baby before I could go to the toilet. Every time I showered, mopped, washed clothes.

After six weeks, I had a check-up with the midwife.

She had said that this time she would not come to my home and that I had to come to her practice. A good half hour's drive by car. Loading and unloading the pushchair. No certainty about where the toilet would be. I really wondered how I was going to do this but I thought that all women went through this and that the midwife would know what she was doing. Fortunately, I had a plastic bag with spare clothes and was able to park in front of a small café where I could quickly go to the toilet. According to the midwife, it looked fine. Too bad about the dead part of the labia but the other tear had healed well. When I started to complain about the pain, I saw that she thought I was exaggerating. I also started to doubt whether I wasn't being a bit squeamish.

I didn't dare talk about the loss of urine, let alone the loss of stool.

Fortunately, I also went to the physiotherapist in the meantime. She immediately noticed that I was still wearing a maternity bandage and inquired about urine leakage. I told her that I was still having a lot of problems and she immediately said that I had to go to a gynaecologist because I might have a prolapse.

I made an appointment with the gynaecologist, but it took several weeks of waiting. When I was finally allowed to go, she didn't really see a problem either. She even suggested that maybe I was going through menopause, which is when many women experience leaking. She did refer me to the specialist about this in her hospital.

I went to see the specialist. He didn't really see a problem either, everything seemed to be in place. There was no organ that had clearly sagged. I said that I was still in a lot of pain and that I should go back to work the following week. He hinted that he didn't really see why I wouldn't be able to work, but finally prescribed three more weeks of sick leave.

The first thing my boss did when she received my sick note was, of course, to call in a control doctor . This time, I had to explain what was going on on the spot. Fortunately, there was immediate understanding when I explained the situation, but it's not much fun telling a complete stranger that you can't check your urine. I did not say anything about my stool, I was deeply ashamed.

Meanwhile, I had already given birth four months ago.

At last I had a little less pain and I tried to go for an occasional half-hour walk. That was also one of the few moments when our baby was quiet in the pram. I then often had urine leakage. I always wore a long coat and dark trousers and hoped I wouldn't run into anyone.

I remember well an encounter with the jovial neighbour who obviously wanted to have a chat while my whole left trouser leg was wet and I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible.

After five months, I took the gamble and went shopping with my husband and the baby for the first time. We went to buy garden chairs and a garden table in a big shop next to the road. It was only a ten-minute drive and we went to buy just that and then go straight home. I had only just arrived when I felt that I would not be able to hold my stool. Of course, I had brought a change of clothes, but bowel movements are really difficult to camouflage. Everyone was going to smell it. I went to the cash desk as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there was a toilet. I was just in time. I did not go shopping again for the next three months.

Meanwhile, my sick note had run out. I turned to our family doctor.

Fortunately, she believed me!

But she did not have an immediate solution either. In the meantime, I had been desperately searching the internet for women who had experienced the same thing or for ways of solving the problems.
I had found the small pelvic clinic at the UZA and asked if it was okay for me to make an appointment there. She supported me but I could only go there about six months after giving birth. In the meantime, she wanted to write me a sick note. Of course, I had to see the control doctor again. I remember very well that he sincerely wished me 'a lot of courage and better health'. I was pleased.

Finally, I could go to the UZA. First, I saw a doctor in training. She noted everything (my leakage of urine, my loss of stool I was still concealing) but did not immediately see a problem.

She called the professor. I will never forget the look on her face when she looked at my vagina.

It was immediately clear that it was serious. She immediately asked about my bowel movements.
I confessed that this was indeed a serious problem. Several examinations followed. The diagnosis was that I do not have a prolapse of either the bladder, the vagina or the rectum as many gynaecologists will recognise. In my case, my pelvic floor muscles are torn at the two sides, so everything hangs about five centimetres lower: my bladder, my vagina, and my rectum. Externally, I only have a few tears, but internally it appears that I have torn a lot. My sphincter consists of about 60% scar tissue. It cannot do its job any more, so it cannot stop bowel movements properly.

In the UZA they taught me a new method to hold up bowel movements.

No, my sphincter doesn't work any more, but apparently there is another muscle above it that can do more or less the same, only you have to train it. They indicated the muscle internally and from then on I started training like crazy. I also train my pelvic floor muscles very hard. I will do these exercises every day for the rest of my life. Fortunately, as an outsider you do not notice anything, so I do them while driving, showering, walking, ... If I sometimes forget to do my exercises, a few days later I am in trouble again. Urine or bowel movements, difficult to predict, but a very good motivator to keep up the exercises.

I endured the pain for a long time. It was only a year and a half after giving birth that I was finally pain-free.
I no longer work in the place where I had once loved so much. I still hear my colleagues from back then sometimes. My boss has never heard from me again.

My husband and I thought hard and finally decided to have a second child. The birth was planned in advance as a caesarean section. It went well and did not affect my pelvic floor muscles any more, although the last few months before the birth it was worse again with the loss.

A few hours after my C-section, the epidural came loose. The nurses and I were obviously not aware of this. I was in pain during the night, but regularly thought, 'Oh well, I'm lying awake with the pain now but it's not so bad compared to my first delivery and since they say that a C-section hurts more, the epidural will probably not be able to stop the pain completely'. When the nurses discovered that the epidural had come loose, they immediately gave me extra heavy painkillers.

Since then, I have been convinced that I am really not a wimp and that that first delivery was completely crazy.
Our two children are doing well and we hope to be a happy family
. Although the mother does a ridiculous amount of pelvic floor exercises
and will never jump on the trampoline again...












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