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Lisa Patel: Birth Trauma

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Up to a third of women report that giving birth was traumatic because they feared their babies would not survive or suffered internal injury themselves. The birth of Dr. Lisa Patel’s son was one such case.

For Mother’s Day last year, I met my son for the first time, and almost never saw him again.

Right after giving birth, I started bleeding briskly and was whisked out of the delivery room into the operating room. I’m a physician. I know that the severity of a clinical situation can be gauged by the rhythm in the room. The doctors and nurses moved calmly and deliberately in the beginning as the OBGYNs tried to repair my shredded cervix. But 45 minutes later, as I had started to go in and out of consciousness, I noticed the pace was more harried. I heard “call the blood bank again” in the angry tone I have used to exert my control in a situation about to turn bad.

I looked up at my monitor and evaluated my vitals. Stable. I closed my eyes. I heard more stern voices, saw more people in the room, glanced again at the monitor and saw my heart rate was ticking up–a sign of hypovolemia due to my bleed. Where was the blood?

I willed myself to look not at the monitor but at the operating light above me—staring at its glow, refusing to close my eyes and give in to the sleep I so longed for. I let the light fill me with hope that I would get to see my son again.


Several hours, several transfusions, and another procedure later, the doctors were able to stop the bleed, saving my life. I held my son that evening in the intensive care unit trying to reconcile experiencing his peaceful and beautiful face to the chaos and terror of the prior hours. I couldn’t.

Birth trauma can result in a wild and debilitating range of emotions that leave you crying in gratitude one minute, fuming with rage the next. I had a wonderful family medicine doctor who recognized my psychological wounds, and referred me early to a therapist to process my emotions in a healthy way. I am grateful that I can recognize this in other mothers I work with and help them get the support they need to process their trauma without sacrificing the joy of welcoming a new baby to the world.

With a Perspective, I’m Lisa Patel.

Lisa Patel is a pediatrician. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children.

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