Real birth stories

“I suffered a fourth-degree tear when giving birth”

6 min read

Claire’s fourth degree tear caused her to experience complications for more than a year after the birth. Here she shares what happened during labour and how physiotherapy, diet and exercise have all helped her get better.

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“After being induced,  I had a very fast labour”

I had a very straightforward pregnancy with my second child, but I was advised to be induced before my due date because of my age. That proved to be trickier than we first thought, as the hospital was very busy and there were no available beds.

I was having to go to the hospital every day for monitoring, but never actually being induced. I was finally told they had a place available for us, the day before my son was due.

I still wasn’t sure if it would actually happen, but when we got to the hospital I was shown to a delivery room and I realised that I would actually be giving birth soon.

My waters were broken at 3 pm, and since nothing was happening straight away I was soon put on the hormone drip. I ended up having a very fast labour after that – my son, Bradley, was born at 8.36pm the same evening.

“I was given an anaesthetic injection while pushing”

I was hooked up to machines during the induction and had to stay lying down on the bed. I would have liked to be able to move around more and get into different positions, but that didn’t happen.

The labour got really intense towards the end and I started to feel a bit panicked. I asked for an epidural, but because my labour was progressing so fast and there was an emergency going on in another delivery room, there wasn’t any time to have one.

After I’d been pushing for a while the midwife gave me a local anaesthetic injection, saying it seemed likely that I would tear during the birth. I don’t know if that injection made any difference to the pain I felt – it certainly didn’t seem that way, but of course I don’t know how bad it would have felt otherwise.

“I’d had a fourth-degree tear and needed to go to theatre”

Bradley was born quickly after I had the injection and I got to have some skin-to-skin contact with him straight away. I felt really calm and happy to finally have my baby.

After an examination, I was told that I’d had a fourth-degree tear, which meant that I’d torn up my anal sphincter and would have to go to theatre to be stitched up straight away.

I’d wanted to breastfeed Bradley but there was no time before I was wheeled off. Instead, he had to stay with his dad and have formula while I was in surgery.

When I came down to the theatre there were around 20 people in the room which felt a bit crazy. I didn’t have anyone I knew there and it was scary to be on my own. But the staff were really good about explaining what was happening and the anaesthetist was lovely and kept me informed and calm.

I had a spinal block which left me numb from the waist down and I was told that if I could feel anything at all, they could give me more anaesthetic. The whole surgery took around 50 minutes, and while it was a little bit scary it was mostly ok.

“I had to stay in hospital to make sure I could go to the toilet”

After the surgery, I was taken to a recovery area and my husband came down with Bradley. Although it was lovely to see my baby again, I wasn’t feeling too great and couldn’t hold him.

We had to stay in the hospital for two nights after the birth to make sure I could go to the toilet. It was quite a difficult time. The postnatal ward was a really big bay and the midwives were so stretched – I just wanted to go home.

It was a very different experience from when I’d had my daughter 17 years earlier. I had a very straightforward birth with her, but I still got my own private room afterwards. This time around, I’d had surgery and had trouble getting out of bed, yet I was made to stay on a busy ward with other women.

“I could barely move and felt really drained from the whole experience”

A physiotherapist visited me on the postnatal ward and explained a bit more about the tear I’d suffered, and exercises I could do to feel better. Although that advice was very helpful later on, during those days in the hospital I could barely move so doing exercises was completely out of the question.

When we were discharged two days later, I was happy to come home but also really drained from the birth experience, blood loss and time staying on the postnatal ward. My partner had two weeks paternity leave, but I really could have done with him having a bit more time off.

I was taking ibuprofen, paracetamol and stool softeners to help with the pain and going to the toilet. I was very sore, and could only walk very slowly, but I’m not sure the people around me understood what I was going through.

“I got advice on diet and exercise, to avoid further surgery”

While I was in pain during the first few days, I started feeling even worse a couple of months after the birth as it became clear my bowels weren’t working as they should be after the severe tear I’d suffered.

Before giving birth, I didn’t know that it was possible to tear to the extent that I did and experience symptoms of anal incontinence.

As my symptoms worsened, I went back to the hospital for help. They referred me for a scan of my bowels to see what damage had been done and what would be the best treatment.

After the scan, it was decided that my symptoms would be best managed through physiotherapy, so I had a referral sent through for that.

Around eight to nine months after the birth, I started seeing the physiotherapist, who gave me advice on diet and exercises to do which would hopefully improve my symptoms so I wouldn’t have to have further surgery.

“I never thought I’d still be having problems a year after the birth”

The physiotherapy appointments were really helpful and did keep my symptoms under control. Eventually, I started to feel a lot better and experience less incontinence, but it was a long journey to get there.

Bradley is now 17 months old, and I feel ok, but mainly because I’ve done so many pelvic floor exercises and learnt what I can and can’t eat.

In the first few months after the birth, I never thought I’d still be having problems a year down the line. If I eat the wrong foods, I still experience the odd bout of incontinence, so the issues caused by the tear during birth are an ongoing part of my life. I can control it through diet and exercise, but that’s not the same as saying I’ve recovered.

However, I am happy with the aftercare I received from the physiotherapist and I know that I can go back again if I need more help, which is a big comfort.

I just wish I’d known more about the possibility of tearing before birth to feel more prepared, even if it wouldn’t have prevented it from happening.

More from Which?

  • Tearing during labour: Perineal tearing is very common during vaginal births – find out more about how likely you are to tear and what to expect when recovering.
  • Your guide to birth statistics: Statistics can show you how women give birth in different maternity units.
  • Pay, leave and employment rights: Employed and expecting a baby? We explain your key rights both during pregnancy and once your baby’s arrived.
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