Post Birth Recovery

Looking a bit less dead than I did last time.

I’d just like to warn anyone reading that I’m going to talk about lady bits during this post. So maybe look away now if you’ve either never had a baby and don’t want to know about the grizzly details or if you don’t own lady bits and want their postnatal state to remain a mystery forever.

I realised today I’ve talked a lot about my children’s progress on this blog, which is a given really, but not really mentioned my own recovery from the birth this time.

If you put aside all of the other complications that happened postnatally with Alexandra – there was still the small matter of an episiotomy and 27 stitches to recover from. Even if you’ve pushed an entire human out of your body with no lasting damage to your hooha, it’s still going to be a little sore right? So add into that the fact someone’s done a cross stitch in your lady bits and it’s a long slow recovery. I’ve heard of people taking up to a year to recover from an episiotomy.

Thankfully mine didn’t take anywhere near that long but I do remember around day five getting the midwives to check my stitches as I was in so much pain I was convinced there must be some sort of infection going on down there. There wasn’t but it was still pretty unbearable!

This time round I escaped with a small tear that didn’t need stitching. I cannot tell you how much easier that was to cope with! None of that wincing as you sit down (handy when you’re spending all your waking hours in a chair next to your baby’s incubator) and weeing was much more comfortable – although that first post-baby poo is always going to be a terrifying prospect! But the thought is MUCH worse than the reality.

Aside from the hooha situation, I lost weight much more quickly the first time round (obviously being so ill!) so I’m still well over the weight I was when I got pregnant with Max (although I was this fat when I got pregnant with Alexandra!); I’m expressing this time so clearly that’s affected what’s happening up top as my milk had dried up by this point first time round; emotionally I didn’t have the third day baby blues either time but I think that’s because I haven’t had a ‘normal’ postnatal experience – there’s definitely been hormones flying around but isn’t that always the case even when you’ve not just given birth!

I was shocked how well I felt this time having had an unassisted delivery. By the next day I was walking around normal and aside from the lochia, leaky boobs and empty sack of a stomach I hardly knew I’d had a baby! People were commenting how well I looked and it was super refreshing especially having prepped myself to feel pretty shoddy.

It’s nice to know you can go through something as major as birthing a child and feel so good afterwards! It’s kind of empowering really! Which I feel a bit cringe saying but having felt like doctors delivered my first child and everyone else looked after her for months while I was a bit…well…useless, to bounce out of bed the next day and put some proper clothes on having pushed a baby out all by yourself feels pretty amazing actually.

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

Getting Better

An Alexandra montage!

An Alexandra montage!

This is part four of the story, click for parts one, two and three.

That Friday in ITU where I saw Alexandra seemed like a bit of a turning point and from then on they started taking out all of the lines going into my body – I had a few in my neck and my arms. I had a shower for the first time on the Saturday and started being able to walk a few steps. On the Monday I had my catheter out, which was the last step towards being able to go up to a ward. I finally had no lines going in me at all! The downside of that was they had to stab me every time they needed blood from me rather than being able to take it from an existing cannula but at least it felt like I was getting back to ‘normal’. The following day I was transferred upstairs to the cardiology ward, again in a side room but this time with my own en-suite and a view of outside! Okay it was only of roads and traffic, but I could see the helicopter landing and it was just amazing to see the outside world.

I stayed on the ward for a week and a half, although it felt much longer. The pace of life there was so much slower than ITU where I had one-to-one care and so much was going on. In a lot of ways it was fantastic because I could sleep better and I knew I was well on my way to getting home, but it also meant time went so slow. I’d be watching the clock waiting for my mom to come in as she was always the first visitor in the day. I’d already had an angiogram which had showed there were no clots left in my arteries – which is what we expected but of course good news – so now it was just a wait for a slot to get an MRI scan to see what damage had been caused to my heart. Once I had that it confirmed I’d had a heart attack at some point when I was very poorly, caused by a clot in one of my arteries (not by lifestyle such as high cholesterol or smoking which people traditionally associate with heart attacks) which had left some of the muscle dead and some stunned. The hope is eventually my healthy muscle will start overcompensating for the dead muscle and the stunned muscle will wake up, but at the moment my left ventricle is pumping blood around my body at a rate of 25-30 per cent when it should be 55-60 per cent. So now it’s a case of heart meds for life, cardiac rehabilitation classes and regular monitoring to see how it’s repairing itself, if it does.

The doctors had been saying they hoped to get me home at the end of the following week but, although I was excited, I didn’t dare get too overjoyed in case it didn’t happen. Even on the Friday morning when they had confirmed I was being discharged, I kept saying I wouldn’t believe it until I was walking off the ward. Well come 3.30pm and that’s exactly what I was doing. They asked if I wanted a wheelchair to get to the car but I wanted to walk out of the hospital myself. When you’re recovering from an illness you have to be motivated and determined, and what could be better than ending my hospital experience walking with my amazing other half to go home to our perfect baby daughter, when three weeks previously the nurse who first looked after me when I arrive thought there was no way they’d keep me alive.

I now face a long journey to get back to full strength, they say around a year to recover after a stay on ITU, with the added complications of my heart and hand and the knowledge I’ll be on medication for life. But I’m sat here writing this while Alexandra sleeps soundly near me and I’m waiting for Dylan to come home from work. Being able to be part of this family is an absolutely blessing and I will truly always be so thankful for whatever it was that made me pull through – the medical teams, luck, my age, a combination of all that and other factors too. Who knows? All I know is I’m very happy the journey didn’t end there and although all of us have been through an ordeal, it’s made my relationships with my loved ones stronger, it’s made me feel stronger. There will be bad days as we all process what’s happened but there will also be so many good days as we all watch Alexandra grow and I get to do all the things I always wanted to do with her and so nearly never got the chance to.

So thank you doctors, nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, everyone at both hospitals who really did save my life. Thank you family and friends, especially my mom who was at the hospital daily. Thank you Dylan for being an absolute rock, for being ‘Mr Mom’, for everything you’ve done and continue to do for our family. Thank you Alexandra, your pictures all around my hospital room are why I fought so hard to get walking again, get mobile and get home to you my precious little lady.

Harriet and Alexandra x

The Start Of The Recovery

Tiny Alexandra - look how small she was!

Tiny Alexandra – look how small she was!

Click to read parts one and two of this tale if you haven’t already!

I was transferred to Birmingham ITU on Saturday, October 17, and they attempted later that day to bring me out of sedation but were unable to. There was talk of me needing a tracheotomy if they tried a number of times unsuccessfully but luckily the next time they tried on the Monday I woke up. It was a horrendously confusing time for me because I had no idea where I was or what had happened, they kept telling me I was in Birmingham but the last memory at that point was of going into A&E in Telford in mid September. Also the cocktail of drugs they had me on, and the fact I’d been under sedation, meant I was experiencing what they call ‘ITU delirium’ – I honestly believed the nurses were trying to kill me and were selling my drugs to teenage boys smoking in the next room. I told people I could see massive blocks of ice walking around and that the doctors were on rocking horses. It sounds funny now but at the time it was awful being convinced you could see and hear things and no one else being able to, and not trusting the people who were looking after you.

I had to be put back on the ventilator the following day but luckily by the Wednesday I was able to come off it again and I was well enough to be weaned off the oxygen. The amount of treatments I had is ridiculous and I can’t remember them all! But they included five lots of plasma exchange (where they take the bad plasma out and replace it with ‘good’ plasma), I had antibodies put in me and I was also treated with so many medications including one which is apparently known as the medical form of Domestos! I asked one doctor if I had anything left inside me which was mine and he said apart from a few of my own red blood cells, pretty much all everything in my blood was someone else’s.

For the first few nights in ITU I didn’t sleep at all, I think part of it was all the meds including steroids but part of it was psychological – I truly thought if I went to sleep I’d never wake up again. They even tried giving me some medication through a drip to get me to sleep and that didn’t work. Dylan had put pictures of Alexandra up around the room so I just stared at them – I knew I wanted more than anything to get home to the both of them but at the same time I was so scared I wouldn’t make it there.

Although things were on the up after a few days in Birmingham, there were always going to be long-term effects after such a big ordeal. One was my right hand – my limbs had been affected by the clots too (in fact that was when the doctors started to think it was APS not lupus) and although they’d mostly returned back to normal I had lost the feeling in most of my hand and the fingertips and nails were blackened. It’s slowly returning but the doctors have no idea whether I’ll ever get full use of it again, meaning part of my recovery has been about learning to do things a little differently (it took me a few goes to master nappy changing!). There were also concerns about the long-term prognosis for my heart which was pumping at less than half the rate it should be. More on that in the next post.

Because of the amount of muscle mass I’d lost while I’d been under sedation I had daily physiotherapy to try and get some of my strength back – on the Thursday I managed to sit on the side of the bed with two people’s help and the following day I was able to stand up for the first time. On the physio’s suggestion it was organised for Alex to come in on the Friday to see me. I cried so much when they told me it could happen and then spent the next 24 hours scared stiff something would happen to stop her being able to come.

Luckily it didn’t and I finally saw my baby girl again on the Friday, she had come in while I was on the respiratory ward in my local hospital but I had no memory of that so really it felt like the first time I’d seen her in a month. She’d changed so much, got so much bigger and started smiling. It was heaven to finally see her but at the same time so upsetting to know, however short a period of time in our lives, I’d missed out on that bonding time with her. From that day she came in with Dylan for most of the rest of the days I was in hospital, seeing the two of them was always the best thing about my day. Knowing some people don’t even get visitors, the fact my mom was there every morning into the afternoon, Dylan and Alex every afternoon into the evening and others in between too was amazing. My support network has been expansive and so fabulous (a special thank you here to Henrietta and Ben, Beccy and Manda for their support, to the NCT ladies for looking after Dylan and to everyone who babysat Alex so Dylan could come to the hospital when I wasn’t well enough for her to visit. You are all stars).

Join me next time when I get to move out of intensive care and on to a ward!

Harriet and Alexandra x