Childbirth: A Cautionary Tale
First of all, I do not share this to leave the impression I am particularly tough, because I am not. At least not any tougher than any other mom after she’s had her first baby. I also am not in the business of scaring new or soon to be moms, rest assured the odds of experiencing the following are extremely slim, practically nonexistent. Truthfully, I share this slightly selfishly for cathartic purposes but also to spread awareness of a debilitating condition and to let sufferers know, you are not alone.
I had a dream pregnancy. If not for the big belly and the constant stranger comments about that big belly, I wouldn’t have even noticed that perfect babe cooking. And truthfully my labor was pretty easy breezy as well. I walked in half way dilated and ready for an epidural. A few hours later, it was go time and we started the pushing. About 30 minutes into pushing my doctor said I needed an episiotomy (2nd degree) that grew into a tear (4th degree). That’s right, I was open from A to B. I like to refer to this as the “Great Vaginal Explosion of 2015.” I’ll spare you more details of the cleanup, but I’ll tell you it wasn’t a walk in the park, but I didn’t care! I had my healthy perfect bouncing baby girl! Even though recovery was painful at the hospital I was determined to have a good attitude and go home to enjoy the first days with my new best friend for life.
And that I did- until I felt it. Air coming out of my vagina, uncontrollable. Weird, I thought, maybe I should call the doctor. Speaking to the nurse she said the doctor wanted me to come in later that day and she asked if I thought it was gas. Gas? What the fuck? Uh now that you mention it maybe could be, I said to her as my heart sank. As soon as I got off the phone I did what any logical person would, I ran to Dr. Google, told him my issues and began the process of self-diagnosis. Recto Vaginal Fistula- like an empty blood vessel or hole between my rectum and vagina. Had to be it. No other explanation, Dr. Google says so, it must be true.
I went to the doctor and he told me he was pretty sure it was a fistula. But that it might heal. Okay well Dr. Google wasn’t as optimistic as you are, but hey alright I like optimism. So I left feeling a little scared, a little defeated, and a lot tired and continued my week with gas coming out of my vagina. Then it happened. Not gas but actual poop came out. Poop. Out of my vagina. Not. Sexy.
I went back to the doctor and he referred me to a colorectal surgeon. What? I’m going to need surgery?
So back to Dr. Google I go- looks like surgery options are horrible, with a 6-week recovery, wouldn’t be able to pick up baby girl, let alone ever have sex again this decade. Speaking of sex, oh my husband. During this time, not perfect but generally extremely supportive, concerned, loving, and understanding. He was best-case scenario and my vagina was worst-case scenario.
So I go to the surgeon. Weirdest doctor I have ever met/been treated by/been in the same room as. I mean really I guess if you are a butt surgeon, there has to be an expectation of at least a little weird. But not to be outdone by the weird surgeon, was the exam itself. Let’s just say I had to assume the position. Horrible. So during this appointment, I asked him if he thought it would heal on its own and he said one in a million chance. So we began the process of planning surgery. My follow up appointment was set for 6 weeks and I was tired. And sad. And overwhelmed.
When I returned home, I told my husband I would need a miracle for the fistula to heal on its own. So we will pray for a miracle, he responded matter-of-factly. And miraculously, over the next few weeks the symptoms of the fistula dissipated eventually coming to a complete stop. I was cautiously optimistic, extremely cautious.
So I went to my 6-week appointment and I told the butt doctor my symptoms were gone and he was thinking most likely there was something blocking the fistula however he couldn’t find the hole or evidence there was a hole ever there. He said he had never seen this condition heal on its own and when he had read about it healing, he didn’t believe it. Relief set in. I took a deep breath in and exhaled 8 weeks of worry. And that was the end of it.
Yeah right. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful that my fistula healed on its own but rarely women are that lucky- and a year later I still wonder everyday if it’s going to reappear. Living with a fistula is no way to live, but lots of women do have to contend with this condition every day and my heart breaks for them. If you do happen to have this happen to you, make sure you see a specialist as soon as possible. Don’t let your OBGYN blow off your concerns, educated yourself. I was blessed to have a doctor who took me seriously, I have read so many stories of OBGYN who did not do right by their patients and did not point them in the right direction.
And believe this, there is life after fistula and obstetric injury.
Author: Erin Farlee