How pregnancy and childbirth affected my pouch
Knowing that many pouch owners have trouble conceiving, I feel almost guilty that my baby began more by chance than design, his existence more the result of a romantic weekend in Rome than of concerted effort.
However, once I discovered that I was pregnant, all sorts of questions began to worry me: would my pouch, created three years ago, be squashed by the growing baby? Would my absence of colon limit the baby’s nourishment? Might the pouch be damaged during childbirth? If I opted for a caesarean section, would the incision hit adhesions, and the wound heal properly given my already extensive scarring?
These worries might sound silly now, but they were pretty real to me at the time, so I decided to see a private specialist obstetrician for ante-natal care. My anxiety about being treated as a ‘normal’ mother-to-be on the NHS was heightened when I attended an ante-natal clinic at my local hospital. At each visit, I was seen by a different junior doctor, none of whom seemed to know about pouches, let alone any pouch problems associated with pregnancy.
In the end, the cost of private care was too high, and actually proved unnecessary. I asked to be put on the books of a consultant obstetrician at the local hospital, who reassured me with his knowledge of my situation, helped by an informative letter from my pouch surgeon.
The hospital consultant explained that one risk of having a caesarean was that an adhesion might accidentally be cut (the pouch itself is too far behind to be in the way), perhaps making swift additional surgery necessary to fix my digestive plumbing. However, an advantage of being at a large NHS hospital was that surgeons would be on standby in case that happened. I still preferred this option to the risk of rupturing an adhesion during labour.
Pregnancy had no effect whatsoever on my pouch, certainly in the early months. The baby settled to the left of my central scar, perhaps because adhesions to the right (where the stoma had once been) left him too little space to manoeuvre. This meant that my belly looked a little odd, and the scars didn’t stretch as much as the skin, but it felt fine.
I had to go to the loo (pouch) a little more frequently during the last month or so of pregnancy, but the consolation was that I did not suffer from constipation, which is otherwise common during pregnancy. My diet remained the same, with the addition of multi-vitamins and more fluid, and I put on weight as normal.
I must admit to feeling great relief when my pouch surgeon recommended an elective caesarean, although I could have opted for natural childbirth had I really wanted to. Somehow I felt unperturbed by the prospect of an operation – I was after all an old hand at abdominal surgery. But the rumoured agonies of natural childbirth were utterly horrifying to the uninitiated. Stitches in my tummy I can cope with, but there – no thank you! Better the devil you know…
I was fully conscious during the birth, although numbed from the diaphragm downwards by an epidural. Giddy with hope and anticipation, I giggled all the way through the operation, and was able to welcome Raphael as soon as he made his grand, if undignified, exit (or should I say entrance?). The epidural also meant that I did not have to recover from a general anaesthetic, which was a blessing.
I then spent five days in hospital, standard for post-caesarean recovery, during which I learned the basics of baby care under the much appreciated supervision of the nursing staff.
A close eye was kept on the wound, and the transition from drip to fluids to solid food was made slowly, because this had been problematic after pouch surgery.
The point where the caesarean scar crossed the long central scar took a little longer to heal than elsewhere, but six months on is almost invisible. Because of the scar tissue, I may only be able to have one, or at most two more caesareans, but a hat-trick will be quite sufficient.
My life now is unrecognisable from my ‘pre-Raphaelite’ period, but the pouch has remained efficient and trouble-free. Obviously, women must make their own decisions about pregnancy and childbirth, guided by medical expertise, but I hope that my experience will help to reassure and encourage. My journey from Rome to Raphael was not a difficult one, and now I am thoroughly enjoying the fruit of my (lack of) labour.