There is a new blogger at Science and Sensibility—a science writer (and pediatrician) named Tricia who is going to be writing about patient safety and other interesting topics. She wrote an article for the online medical journal Pulse about her traumatic post-birth experience that involved (among other things) a large number of clots and a painful manual extraction.
What an intense story it was. I had a manual clot extraction following my first son’s birth and my uterus literally HURT while reading her story and remembering that experience. However, unlike Tricia, I was at a birth center and had a very gentle, caring doctor who was wincing as she did the extraction saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know this is hurting you.” Even so, it was an excruciatingly painful experience—the most painful physical experience I’ve ever had. Uteruses are simply not MEANT to have hands in them. And, birth is about things coming out, not going in! I was left with lingering questions about why the doctor did a manual extraction instead of having me squat to see if the clots would come out on their own. Perhaps it was a more serious situation that I realized at the time and she was just playing it cool. I can find almost no information online about this type of an experience, just a small mention in one of my midwifery texts about “sequestered clots,” which is I guess what I experienced.
Reading about this other blogger’s experiences really brought back this painful experience for me. I have noticed a tendency amongst childbirth educators and doulas to sometimes only focus on the good and empowering parts of births and to overlook or not mention the “traumatic” parts. Personally, I felt so good OVERALL about my birth experiences, that it seemed like a “betrayal” of sorts to talk too much about the parts that were not as good. While I experience giving birth as the most powerful, transcendent, empowering, and just super awesome cool, experience of my life, when I take a couple of steps back into memory I also realize that each of my births involved a certain element that was significantly traumatic as well. With my first it was the manual extraction and then my postpartum recovery from what I feel like was a very mis-diagnosed/poorly treated labial tear. With my second, it was recovery from a very similar tear right next to the old one (but with the visually traumatic addition of bruises). I really felt like I had “failed” in some way to have not protected myself from tearing again in such an unusual and very awful way. Someday I would like to write a blog post or article about this—I find that labial/clitoral tears are a significantly overlooked subject in the birth and midwifery literature. Indeed, I hadn’t even it was possible to have a non-perineal tear. If they are mentioned, it is in some dismissive way about “skid marks” or “labial split” or “a little burning when you urinate,” not in terms of the fairly significant genital mutilation I experienced.
I also had an intense amount of clots following my third birth (second trimester miscarriage at home)–-“only” the size of grapefruits though, not “frying pans” as in Tricia’s story-–and when I finally went into the ER about it they acted like I was making a big deal out of nothing (“people have miscarriages all the time. They’re very common.”) They were not “sequestered” though, they were coming out (and coming out, and coming out). Despite these experiences, I was never classified as “hemorrhaging”—the ER doctor even said (with a shake of her head like I was an idiot), “you’re not hemorrhaging.” And, indeed, I did not have any postpartum symptoms of hemorrhage—no anemia or anything like that (though yes, loud heart-pounding-in-my-ears after this third birth). In addition to the more obvious trauma of having my baby die, the experience of very truly feeling close to death—of no longer being able to distinguish whether I was fainting or dying—is the thing I can barely talk about from this birth experience.