Sepsis was undoubtedly one of the most challenging and frightening times of my life, it left scars that are far deeper than the ones that you can see on my body. There isn’t much known about maternal sepsis, in fact I’m willing to bet that you don’t know it is the UK’s biggest cause of death in pregnancy (for mum and bubs) and that it kills more people that prostrate, breast and bowel cancer combined – it’s even been said this year that it is a bigger killer than lung cancer.

In fact I’m willing to bet that you don’t know it is the UK’s biggest cause of death in pregnancy
— Harriet Shearsmith

I’ve launched Suck it Sepsis, a fundraising and awareness campaign that will hopefully help to raise £5000 for Sepsis Trust UK who do a lot of work for those affected by Sepsis, and not just to educate caregivers or support families either. They do a lot to help those who have survived sepsis, as we truly are in the minority, come to terms with their experience.

I feel like the most sensible thing to do would be to tell you about my experience to start with. Imagine you are preggo, everything is going well, the baby is cooking nicely and you are LOVING pregnancy – extra portions, naps that aren’t just approved of but encourage… it’s the bees knees. Then the birth comes along and, like a lot of women, things go pretty badly ending in an emergency c-section. The birth plan is chucked out with the thongs that have now been replaced by special post-caesarean pants that basically hold you together.  Despite all that, you and your baby are here and that is what counts right? You’re ok, until you start to experience a hotness and pain above your scar. You mention it to the midwives as they discharge you and they tell you to head over to the GP as it’s probably a haematoma, perfectly normal. You do this, you explain that you have had a few headaches but it’s put down to over-tiredness and you’re told this lump below your scar is a haematoma (a collection of blood beneath a scar) for sure and it will clear up. Fear not.

You’re awoken one night in what you think is one of those mahoosive post-birth bleeds that leaves you feeling like you’ve just become the red version of Niagara falls and totally explains why maternity sanitary towels are log-like. You stagger to the bathroom and whisper-shout your husband in the hope that you won’t wake up the now-two week old baby. His face as he comes around the corner to bring you a new nightgown is something you will never forget. The words “That isn’t blood and it’s not coming from there, it’s coming from your scar.” The smell hits you and you begin to realise that you don’t just feel like death because you’re knackered and you have that baby blues thing everyone suffers from, that something is very very wrong. Alarm bells ring but they are distant and far reaching because, somewhere, deep down, you know that there is very real danger here but you really don’t feel up to getting too panicked about it. You’re rushed through to the hospital and when you sit in A&E, holding one of the log like sanitary towels over your c-section wound to stop the fluid from gushing out (gushing: a word you never thought you’d use and yet here you are). The on duty nurse ushers you in in that peppy way they way even in the middle of the night that suggests everything is ok, but when you take the maternity pad off your wound and the noxious fluid spurts towards her, all the perkiness evaporates and the last thing you see as the room fades black is her grabbing a team to help her keep you alive.

What follows is four days of having your wound drained, IV antibiotics that make you so drowsy you can’t really do much and fear. Four days without your newborn or husband, four days where you can’t care for yourself and have to have bed baths. Four days of hoping that your scar will close and that you can go home soon.

Four days without your newborn or husband, four days where you can’t care for yourself
— H

This was me, this was my experience with sepsis. In an ideal world I would have been in hospital for longer but I discharged myself once the antibiotics became tablet form. I have been doing a lot of talking about the physical implications of this horrendous experience, but what I haven’t done is talk a lot about the mental effects. Writing this for the umpteenth time since the campaign started just under a month ago has still brought me out in chills, it’s still brought on THE FEAR. The anxiety. 


I can honestly say that I have found it harder to bond with my eldest than I have with Edith and Toby, unable to spend that time with him, even though it was only 4 days the after affects were much longer, I struggled to hold him as easily, I never breast fed him (a blessing as Sepsis is one of the only things you can’t breastfeed with as it passes through blood). I often feel like I’ve let Reuben down in some way, like I haven’t been enough of a mum to him, haven’t been as good as I should have been – an emotion I’m aware is ludicrous but one that is still present.

Having sepsis increased my anxiety, it put me in a place where intrusive thoughts were my best friend during my second pregnancy and I would obsess over the possibility that I would have to undergo a second c-section. For such a long time I wouldn’t talk about my experience – 4 years as a blogger and I’ve rarely mentioned it because I just didn’t want to talk about it in detail, didn’t want to live the experience though the screen again and again (something I have really struggled with since launching the campaign). In addition to affecting my mental health, Sepsis affected my husband’s too. His fear during my pregnancy, especially at the beginning and the end, was palpable. He was constantly anxious that something would happen to me and was determined that I rest post birth as much as possible. I think in a bizarre way the experience brought us closer, but in another way it caused issues in our relationship that still haven’t been completely resolved.

In addition to affecting my mental health, Sepsis affected my husband’s too
— Harriet

I want to raise as much awareness as possible, to ensure that no one has to go through what I did and that people who haven’t been as fortunate as me won’t leave behind family that have no support. I want to encourage people to always ask “could it be sepsis?” when they experience any of the below symptoms or recognise them in their family members.

Written by Harriet Shearsmith




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Women talking unashamedly about their mental health and parenting innit.