Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy


Age at interview: 44
Age at diagnosis: 42

Brief outline: Karen was expecting her second son. After a healthy pregnancy she went into labour, two weeks overdue. When the baby's heartbeat became irregular doctors performed an emergency caesarean. Karen started to haemorrhage. Doctors were unable to stop the bleeding and finally decided a hysterectomy was necessary.

Background: Karen is married with two sons, one now a teenager. White British.

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Two years ago, Karen was a very fit woman (a marathon runner) expecting her second child. Her first son was 16 at the time, she was 42. She went into labour naturally 2 weeks overdue, but labour was long and she was eventually taken in for an emergency caesarean. Her son was healthy and a good weight when he was born, and she held him briefly in the delivery suite. But she had an atonic uterus (a womb that lacks tone and fails to contract after delivery) which would not stop bleeding. She soon became aware that things were taking longer than they should have been, and that the doctors were looking increasingly tense and serious. She was awake for the 4 hours of her haemorrhage, as doctors tried various techniques to stop the bleeding, although she probably drifted in and out of consciousness and wasn’t really aware of what was going on. She lost a total of 18 pints of blood, and required a massive blood transfusion. Finally after 4 hours they explained to her that they were going to put her to sleep, and they performed a hysterectomy to stem the bleeding. 

She woke up in intensive care (ICU) confused and in a lot of pain. She stayed there for 2-3 days before being transferred back to the labour ward and then maternity ward. She was only in hospital for a total of a week before going home. Her son was looked after in the special baby unit while she was in ICU. Once home she had her mother in law come and live with them for 6 weeks until she was well enough to start looking after her baby herself. Her husband developed shingles the week that she came home which complicated matters further. 
At the time of the interview, two years on she still felt very tired and hadn’t got back to the fitness she felt she had before. She had also developed thyroid and rheumatoid problems and wondered if these are connected to the blood transfusion. She has suffered flashbacks and post traumatic stress from her ICU experience and sees the ICU consultant nurse every 3-6 months for follow up, which she finds very helpful. She is also seeing a psychologist privately through BUPA who is helping her come to terms with the overall trauma. 
She describes feeling isolated from other (NCT) mums who did not have such a traumatic experience and were able to parent their babies differently in the early weeks. She also feels that while she received a lot of support at the start, everyone else has moved on and expect her to do the same.


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