5 THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY TO A SEPSIS SURVIVOR
5 THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY TO A SEPSIS SURVIVOR
I often find myself sat in the midst of conversations about pregnancy and birth, especially birth stories and how awful the labour/birth or aftermath was. “Ohhh I didn’t sit on anything but a rubber cushion for a week, I was in agony” or “arghhh mine was the WORST birth ever. I was in labour for 19283 hours and it was horrendous.” It becomes some sort of well intended and jovial pissing contest doesn’t it? Bit like a game of top trumps or some bizarre poker, I see your stitches and I raise you a third degree tear. Everyone crossing legs and making appropriate cringes.
Then the conversation will slowly turn to me and the fun stops. For me at least. How do you spin a tale of shitty labour followed by Sepsis into something that we can all clink glasses and have a “Oohh I feel ya sister” moment over? You can’t. You see, Sepsis claims more than 44,000 lives per year, it’s a bigger killer than breast and lung cancer and strokes combined according to recent statistics, yet it isn’t as uncommon as you think, it isn’t something that you think about when you think about labour or having a baby, but it’s the leading cause of direct maternal death. So here I am, with my wine glass ready to clink as I steal the top Trump, win the booty, for crappiest post birth experience.
My own story has been shared on Mental Mutha before, you can read it here in all its technicolour gory (not a typo poppets, it’s not for the faint of heart) but a quick run down: I was in labour with Reuben, my first child, and after a considerable amount of pushing, pulling and agony, we decided on a c-section. There was no way that kid was moving so through the sun roof he popped. I went home, life resumed in its hazy post birth pace and then I started to get migraines, I started to notice a heat around my wound alongside a mass. I went to the GP and was told it was a haematoma - so normal, not something to fret about. Until it wasn’t and it burst through my section scar as a collection of infection. Fortunately that grim moment, the one I will never forget, saved my life because having an erupted scar alerted us to the fact that something was very VERY wrong. Que 4 days in hospital on all the drips known to man and the rest is, as they say, history.
Now you’re up to date, I think there are a few things that I should tell you not to say to Sepsis survivors, especially maternal Sepsis survivors - and in case you’re curious, all of these have been said to me.
1.) Ohhh I’m so pleased I kept my wound clean. I bathed it every day and applied the miracle salve of the 67 virgins of Olympus.
I took poetic license on that last bit but the first half about keeping clean? A very common comment, and may I just say: Fuck off Ruth. I was VERY clean, I have a nurse for a mother and I’ve grown up around medical advice my entire life - not to mention that mama likey reading her book in the tub. I did everything by the book. Everything. It’s a misconception about Sepsis that you get it by being dirty or introducing something unclean into the wound. No. Just no. If you aren’t aware that infections aren’t something that you pick up because you’re a mucky puppy then you are the person they developed WebMD for.
2.) I really think you could have breastfed through it.
Facebook forums have shared my story many MANY times in the past, especially the ones I have written about being unable to breastfeed Reuben due to the infection, and one of the most common things to come back from the worst of the breastfeeding gestapo was “I bet she could have breastfed through if she tried harder”. Urghhhh. There aren’t even enough swear words to deal with this one to be frank. Honestly, there are certain drugs you might need to take that will save your life that you can’t take if you are breastfeeding and guess what poppet chops, you ain’t feeding no baby if your dead. No, you can’t power through Sepsis, you are quite literally shutting down. Don’t try harder. Not to mention that it is a documented fact that certain infections can pass through the Breastmilk and to your baby. Never make a woman feel shoddy for her choices, even more so if she has had that choice taken away from her so cruelly. It *broke* me that I couldn’t breastfeed Reuben.
3.) Ohhh and you went on to have another baby? Yikes.
Yep, well aware of those risks. Ta for mentioning them. No one, absolutely NO ONE will go into labour or find themselves pregnant as a maternal Sepsis survivor and not feel ALL THE FEAR. I was terrified I would have to have another c-section. Terrified. I don’t need reminding that it is risky to have a baby.
4.) I had an infection in my scar too. I had to just get on with it, no going off to hospital for me!
Did you? Ahh I’m sorry to hear that you had an infection that could be treated with straight forward antibiotics and a bit of resting. I couldn’t hold my baby I was so weak and I had to have multiple intravenous antibiotics to ensure I made it through the night. I mean, sure, the bed baths made it feel pretty spa like and I did sleep a lot when I was in and out of consciousness but yeah, you’re right. What a lightweight eh? Sepsis isn’t just an infection in the wound. It’s a death sentence of around as much as 50% of people who are diagnosed with it.
5.) I think we always remember things to be worse than they are. That all sounds very dramatic.
It does doesn’t it? And it was. Dashing through to the hospital, squirting the nurse with putrid blood when I removed the maternity pad I was using to hold myself together, the mad dash with a crash team. All very dramatic and a very lived experience. For me. For my husband. For my mum. My son, as little as he was, where did his mummy go? Never minimise a Sepsis survivor’s experience. Ever. That’s the very worst thing you can do.
For more information about Sepsis and how to recognise it visit the Sepsis Trust UK website. Recognising it early is a step toward surviving it, it’s completely treatable. Always ALWAYS ask, could it be Sepsis.
WRITTEN BY HARRIET SHEARSMITH
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