Well what an eventful seven weeks! And where have they gone? If anyone had told me I could just lose time like this I would never have believed them. I feel I am finally emerging now and increasingly ready to conquer the world again - although perhaps a country ... county... town.... street.... house ... at a time!
I confess I was worried about my op. I am a drama queen at the best of times and knowing my illness record I never do anything by halves! I had also never had a full cut operation before and the thought of an 8 inch scar across my tummy was something I did not relish. It also meant increased separation from Dominic as I could not drive for weeks and the need to rely on my parents and Clive for my every whim. As a normally very independent and capable person it meant the rug was quite literally pulled from under me.
But I had to accept the operation was needed. I had been suffering from gynaecological problems for several years; had two emergency stays in hospital for it this year and many days of pain and inconvenience. I had planned that my work diary was cleared by the middle of October until the New Year to allow time for recovery which is estimated at 6 - 12 weeks. Emotionally I had concerns too. I wonder how many ladies who have suffered postnatal illness do go on to have problems in the menopause/gynaecological area? The theories around hormones causing/adding to postnatal illnesses is very strong, so I was worried that I might be affected over this too. I am aware that depression can be a post-operative symptom of hysterectomy too.
Just as postnatal illness is a condition related to loss (of an expected 'normal' motherhood) an operation to remove your reproductive organs is also about loss - no more children, a possible loss of femininity, etc. Earlier in the year I had felt the loss of having no more children VERY strongly. I had sobbed myself silly over it and hurt those around me. I wrote quite cruel letters to Nick unfairly blaming him for the fact we never had any more children - that I had been prepared to risk puerperal psychosis again but he wasn't - and who could blame him? I love my brother and sister deeply and the concept of 'family' - it wasn't that Dominic wasn't enough - I just wanted him to have siblings. But I hurt him too in the process of my ramblings. I am truly sorry for that. Then with the breakdown of our family these last two years it all just seemed too much to cope with.
At the same time I seemed to receive a string of messages from other sufferers of puerperal psychosis who were scared to have another baby but wanted them. It seems my feelings around this were not unusual. The partners are often reluctant too - how on earth can they be expected to just sit back and say 'but of course we'll try again for another baby' when they have witnessed the mother of their child go through absolute hell the previous time? As the mother I feel the illness protects you and I found it easy to get maternal over pink frilly dresses, when all Nick could remember was pain and heartache. The only thing we were told by the psychiatrist when I was discharged was that if I ever got pregnant again then the chances of postnatal illness was higher! However, he did stress that everyone would be on my case next time. I like to think so. But it didn't happen for various reasons. We have a wonderful, healthy and bright son which is so much more than some have. I feel now I have put that issue to bed and moved on. I needed to for everyone.
I will put some advice for those thinking of another child at the end. I am delighted to say that some of the mums who contacted me are now expecting again and have plans in place with their health and family support teams to make the next birth and subsequent months easier!
So how did it go? I felt very tearful being booked in. I also said some pathetic 'poor me' things to Clive on the journey to York hospital and upset us both! 'Going down' really felt tough! The staff were brilliant though and dealt with me very sensitively. I have tiny veins - so small they had to gas me to sleep! When I awoke in the recovery room I felt relieved and floating on the morphine. I remember coming round and I could hear one of mine and Clive's songs playing on the radio - why does that happen? Of all the songs why then? As time went by I began to bleed heavily and the pain started to build. Next thing all hell let loose! Staff seemed to come out of the woodwork and I began to cry with the pain and panic. A gorgeous nurse called Debbie held my hand and kept stroking my hair and reassuring me. It was just like when Dominic was born!!! All mayhem but in the midst I felt that the rest of the world disappeared as I focused on Debbie's hand and reassuring words. I remember pouring my heart out to her and telling all this was my fault! I must have been so bad and I was being punished. Eventually I was told I had to go back into theatre; I scribbled a signature and plunged into darkness again.
When I came round next time I had left the stormy waters behind and it seemed I emerged into a calm and tranquil sea. Wow! Seven weeks on I am still in it! I don't remember much about the first couple of days except a stunning bunch of red roses Clive brought me. Each time I opened my eyes they were the first thing I saw, and I smiled. I had my Blackberry with me and Dominic had sent me hugs via Facebook. Little messages kept me going. Quite often I would dose off and I would wake up to find my Blackberry held up in front of my face! Mum and Dad arrived the next day with their usual unconditional love and support. The team at York hospital were great and I could not have wished for better care.
It seemed I had had a blood clot which just needed to disperse and possibly there had been no need for the second theatre trip. But no matter, I seemed okay. I was sore but quite amazed at how soon I could move around. Having a shower the first time was like having run a marathon. I was surprised that after three days I didn't need a dressing and my scar was so neat and tidy. The average length of stay is 5 days. I was determined to do it as so many around me had rolled their eyes and said 'yes, that's for NORMAL people - not you'! So with pride and determination I left on day 5!
Clive was looking after me the first week but he ended up with back trouble! What a pair we made. I had to learn how to move again - carefully, and he treated me like a porcelain doll. My Mum had a major operation 30 years ago and I remember her coming home. I marveled at how she had coped with three children and a shift worker post-op. She reminded me that her Mum had helped an awful lot. Grandma would have been 100 next year, but we still miss her and Grandpa. Does anyone else especially miss loved-ones at such times?
I had got myself some very un-sexy black jogging bottoms to wear initially - at least I was dressed. Looking back the first week passed quickly with lots of rest. We also got into little walks every day. I found if I went too far I would feel very sick. But each day I got a bit further. Clive made a good nurse but luckily didn't dress as one!! His sister Lynn was also wonderful.
Two weeks after my op Clive took me back to my parents. It was fab to see Dominic too who also waited on me hand and foot. I felt very guilty 'just sitting' and getting my every need met. Two days later we flew out to Malaga for a week in a timeshare with Mum and Dad. I got insurance from http://www.ch-travelcare.co.uk/ and took it all very slowly. Dad ensured I carried nothing at all and once we got to the apartment I stayed there the whole week! The journey was very tiring and the next day I was VERY sore and hardly moved but after that the days of laying in the sun were brilliant. We even had UK NW television and took smug comfort in the wind and rain of the UK whilst we basked in 80 degrees.
It was a risk me going to Spain so soon after my operation but so glad I did. It is nice to have a suntan in November/December too, and everyone tells me how well I look. Thanks Mum and Dad!
I did have a MAJOR upset a week after my op when my website and emails all 'went' due to an issue with the domain name. Perhaps though it was good that it did go offline with me, so to speak, as it stopped my usual avalanche of mail which I wasn't really up to dealing with. It has been back now for a week and I am finding it quite hard to keep up with already! I just hope I haven't lost any potential speaking events for next year or offering support if needed. But I accept I needed 'me time' too.
The last few weeks have gone with a gradual return to normality. Each day I seem to have more stamina and desire to 'do'. I have had a few tears of frustration when my head has wanted to do things but my body refuses to follow it! My challenge tomorrow is to do the M62 drive myself for an exciting weekend with Dom. Mum and Dad are going to London to be in the audience of Strictly come Dancing! Knowing them they'll end up grinning behind Bruce!
I got a great deal of information and support from the http://www.hysterectomy-association.org.uk/.
They have a daily tip for you in recovery which I found inspiring. The forums were useful to look at too when you have an 'is this normal?' moment. I highly recommend the site and wish the hospital had told me about it earlier on - I will be telling my consultant so at my appointment on the 17th.
I am not very good at doing 'nothing' but I have had to accept that for a few weeks. Daytime television can become a drag. I found I couldn't concentrate on much either, so my plan to write my book hasn't happened - yet! But I do have something to show for the last few weeks - a load of pink and white baby clothes which I have knitted! My sister is expecting her first baby in March and Clive's niece had a baby girl yesterday. I can't wait to have a cuddle and be a brilliant Auntie. At last my wish to buy and make pink and frilly things is granted - the difference is that I won't have the sleepless nights but hope to offer their Mums any support I can. And not be a pain!!! Mum and Dad sent me a stunning basket of fruit when I was in hospital www.gogofruitbasket.com and it is now refilled ready for baby Ruby!
So what have learnt from this experience?
* That recovery is similar whether it is a mental or physical illness, although the time aspect of a physical illness is easier to deal with - you have a vague outline of what is likely to happen.
* To practice what I preach - i.e. be good to yourself, appeal to the senses.
* Appreciate what those around you do for you - by trying to do too much, too soon it makes problems for everyone.
* 'Enjoy' your 'off' time - it passes very quickly.
* Having a recovery 'plan' of support and allowing myself 'time-off' has helped.
* Having realistic goals of treats to aim for but having a 'just in case' plan if I wasn't well enough, has been good.
* Asking for help, advice and support is good for everyone involved.
* That this too will pass and make you stronger (our new mantra!)
My worries have all but gone - my scar is just a reminder; it hurt but I didn't suffer; I feel closer to Dom who is growing into a fine young man; I feel all-woman even if my tummy is as round as a Christmas pudding but will wait for Pilates later to tone it; I have enjoyed and appreciated being spoiled and some time-off; I love my special people even more!
But most importantly I feel the mission statement from Postpartum Support International is just as valid post-hysterectomy as it is for those suffering mental illness after childbirth -
* You are not to blame
* You are not alone
* You will get better.
I know I still have a way to go towards a full recovery and I still need to take care of myself and be gentle. I have had some wonderful support from many people in many different ways - I have appreciated it all. Thank you so much. When Clive speaks www.clivegott.com he stresses the need for support to help you through life. I agree entirely.
Now if you'll excuse me I have a new baby to visit!
Advice for those considering another baby after suffering from postnatal illness
I want another baby but suffered badly from PND with my first child. Am I more likely to suffer from it second time around?
Sadly statistics show us that there is a 50% risk as opposed to 15 – 20% of developing a mental health problem after pregnancy if you have suffered one before. However, please bear in mind that every pregnancy is different and just because it happened first time is not an automatic assumption it will happen again. Yet there are ways to minimise the risk and give you more control and confidence you will be well next time as you will have less fear and far more knowledge.
It is vital to get your support team in place and ensure that in the early days after giving birth all systems are in place to allow you maximum time for rest, for yourself and your baby. Even before you get pregnant reconnect with the health professionals and family and friends involved the first time and review what worked, what didn’t and what could have been better, e.g. medication, talking therapy. Recall the early signs from last time and warn everyone to look out for them and to respond accordingly thus meaning a faster recovery. Try to plan to give birth at a different time of year to make it ‘different’ from first time. Have discussed and written plans in place for the birth and early days, for example, who will help to look after the first child. Avoid any major stressors, such as moving house. Ensure you keep physically well by eating properly, by taking gentle exercise. Make your plans to feel reassured and in control, have the support structures ready, think positively and visualise the happy pregnancy and motherhood that can be yours.
I also recommend you read 'When Baby Brings the Blues' by Dr. A Dalfern as she has some great tips and advice.