I learned the hard way why it is so important to be clear and direct when dealing with medical professionals during pregnancy and postpartum!
I remember during the pushing, my doctor saying “You know, Mrs. Sketchbook, one little snip and this baby will be out in seconds.”
“Will it hurt?” I asked between pushes.
“Not at all!” He reassured me.
“Then go for it!” I said.
Famous last words! Recovering from my episiotomy was the worst part of my postpartum experience. I remember the first night after the nurses took baby back to the nursery for his bath and observation. We had completely uninterrupted alone time for sleeping but I lay there, wide awake, staring at the wall, radiating pain. The clock was ticking (so loudly! Can’t they find clocks with muffled ticking noises?) and my body seemed to tense up in rhythm with its motion.
I had to pee standing up for days. Nursing felt impossible because I could hardly find a way to sit up that didn’t create unbearable pressure.
The nurses were sympathetic, but no-nonsense. “You’ve got a sore bottom!” they would say. Sore bottom? How reductive!
A few days after I got home from the hospital I woke up with a case of the cold shivers. I piled the blankets on and tried to calm myself. I was worried, so my husband called my OB and scheduled an appointment while I slept the fever off. I wondered if it was mastitis setting in; at the time I was heavily engorged.
We got to the doctor and I told him how I was feeling. He checked my temperature–101; a mild fever. The nurse said this was a common postpartum problem. I asked my doctor if it had anything to do with my engorgement, and without any additional investigation, he agreed. His solution was for me to nurse more. Made sense, but I couldn’t help but worry that something else was wrong. I made a vague attempt to get my doctor to try other tests, but he was confident it was a breast infection.
We schlepped baby to two more appointments that day, then came home to rest. The baby and I napped while my husband went out for necessary provisions.
An hour or so later, I woke up shivering violently. Again, I tried to pull the covers over me, but I was shaking too hard to get them over my body!
I tried to call my husband; no answer! I left him a message that, according to my him, sounded downright ghoulish. Fortunately, hubby got the message, dropped his basket in the check-out line, and was home in a flash. He said I looked blue and decided to call for an ambulance. We were so new to the postpartum process, and already so fearful, having just brought our baby home two days prior; he didn’t want to take any chances. I wasn’t able to do much talking, so I could hardly protest!
The ambulance ride was one of the scariest experiences of my life. By that point I had launched into a full-on panic attack. Thinking of my poor five day old baby made me cry. This was not the way my postpartum experience was supposed to go!
At the hospital, I was subject to all manner of tests. I had two IVs placed, was attached to a heart monitor, and had to have x-rays taken as well. I was catherized. All this while my husband and semi-naked baby looked on in pity. Four hours later, my fever was down and the test results came back: I had a severe bladder infection! I was frustrated with my OB for not considering this when I had visited with him earlier in the day. Just a little extra investigation and all this chaos might have been avoided. I was frustrated with myself too; why hadn’t I been clearer with my doctor that morning? I should never have led him to think that mastitis was the problem.
I was administered a bag of antibiotics before I could leave, and was hooked up to so many machines that I couldn’t breastfeed. On top of this, my poor husband had neglected to bring the diaper bag, he was in such a panic to follow the ambulance. Now baby was wet and we had nothing to change him into. One of the nurses took pity on us and brought our poor baby a sample bottle of formula, a diaper, and a change of clothes from the mother-baby wing we had left just a few days earlier. I was crushed to have to feed Scribble formula and to introduce a bottle so early, but it was the only thing we knew to do while my body processed the medicine.
Around 2:00 AM they released me. We went to McDonald’s and I got a 1$ sundae, the first thing I had eaten since the prior afternoon. Not exactly health food, but it was comforting indeed. I was exhausted, but relieved to be going home.
I started a course of antibiotics the next day (fortunately, my doctor was able to find some that would allow me to nurse). Amazingly, as soon as I began my antibiotics, my postpartum pain decreased by half! Turns out, the pain I was experiencing was only partly caused by my stitches; the bladder infection was causing the lion’s share of my discomfort.
A few months later, we got the bill for my trip: almost 4,000 dollars for the ER visit and tests, and another 1,900 dollars for the ambulance fee! Luckily we have pretty good insurance and only paid a small fraction of these expenses. Still, my trip to the ER cost almost the same as my entire labor and delivery bill!
My expensive bladder infection taught me a valuable lesson about how to advocate for myself when speaking with doctors. I have a tendency to under-exaggerate my level of pain and symptoms because I don’t want to appear foolish and neurotic in front of professionals. But I’ve since realized that it is important to be assertive when speaking with doctors and nurses. I had heard so many stories about tremendous postpartum pain, so when it was my time to experience it, I felt silly complaining. But excessive pain can be a symptom of other issues, so it is vitally important to speak up about it!
Did you have any postpartum woes? Were you assertive about speaking up for your needs?