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'I wanted to cut my own leg off': Sydney mum's life shattered after rare birth complication

By Cindy Lever|

As a midwife, Sharon Stoliar had rocked hundreds of new mum's babies to sleep on her chest, but longed for the time when she'd be holding her own against her chest.

Sadly, a rare complication in her leg, ignored by doctors, following the birth of her son via caesarean section robbed her of that opportunity.

Ten years on the 37-year-old still weeps as she recalls "lying on the loungeroom floor of her parent's house" while they took over her role.

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Mum and midwife Sharon Stoliar had a very traumatic birth resulting in a rare complication. (Supplied)

"All I could do was breastfeed him. I couldn't do anything else for him, and that was soul-crushing for me," she shares, before opening up about the devastating impact the delayed diagnosis had on her life.

'My leg blew up, I was screaming and crying in pain'?

It was almost immediately after the birth that Sharon sensed something was wrong; feeling a pain in her right leg while the midwife helped her have her first shower.

"As a midwife, I knew something wasn't right. Swelling is normal after a caesarean but it's normally in both legs," she explains. "The resident doctor said I must have bumped it in labour or on the way to the operating theatre, but I was sure I hadn't.

"My frustration grew. My leg was worsening, blowing up and I couldn't bear weight on it; but no one was doing anything about it."

When the compression stocking she was wearing was taken off her leg swelled up to double the size.

"It was like an elephant leg. I was screaming and crying in pain," the Sydney mum says. "The doctor couldn't even touch it because it was so sore. If I'd had a knife, I'd have cut my leg off."

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Within hours of giving birth, Sharon developed an 'acute compartment syndrome' in her leg which remained undiagnosed for 10 days. (Supplied)

A neurosurgeon came in on day two and suggested it could be the rare condition 'Acute Compartment Syndrome (ACS)', which is when pressure in the muscle swells up and crushes the nerves and blood vessels, killing the muscle.

Despite the neurosurgeon's concerns and his calls for an MRI to be done, the obstetric team refused to listen to him or Sharon.

Finally, on day 10, they agreed to do an MRI which confirmed compartment syndrome.

In the middle of the night a registrar came in and said: 'you're nurse trained aren't you? You have compartment syndrome, but you probably know more about it than me'.

"I remember asking her, 'will my leg burst open between now and when they come to see me?' and she responded, 'I sure hope not!'," Sharon recalls.

"I was left crying and freaking out I'd lose my leg."

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Sharon says her complaints of agonising pain were not taken seriously by maternity care staff (Supplied)

To prevent permanent damage or amputation a cut into the fascia of the muscle should have been done within the first few days of developing it.

Instead, massive needles were inserted into her leg to check the pressure and eminent trauma surgeons around the country were called for advice.

They concluded it was too late to operate because the pressure had already crushed the nerves and muscles.

Sharon was given little hope of ever walking without a foot drop splint.

With her prognosis for the future uncertain, 15 days after the birth, Sharon hobbled out of the hospital aided by a walking frame and a foot drop to prevent her foot dropping. Her tiny newborn son, Jeremy, in the arms of his father.

Six weeks later doctors discovered the nerve running from her knee to her big toe was dead which caused her big toe to drop and large parts of muscle were thick with scar tissue.

Needing 24-hour care and with her husband back at work, Sharon was unable to live at home. She moved into the loungeroom of her parent's house and camped out on a mattress on the floor, where she ended up spending four years.

"Because of how severe the deficits were in my leg, I wasn't able to stand up and hold my baby, or walk safely with him in my arms, or even get up and go to the bathroom myself," Sharon explains.

"I'd fall a lot C five or six times a day."

Not being able to care for her new baby during this precious period is something that still wrenches at Sharon's heart.

"When he cried it would be someone else's face he saw and their chest and arms he'd settle to sleep in, not mine."

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Sharon Stoliar, with her son, now 10, has written a book about her traumatic birth and crippling injuries. (Supplied)

Instead of transitioning together with her husband into parenthood, Sharon felt like she was transitioning back to being a dependent child. Losing her independence came as a real shock.

"I can't begin to explain how this affected my marriage. The pressure was enormous," she laments. "Eventually the pressure from all this significantly contributed to the end of my marriage.

"I never thought that the circumstances and consequences of childbirth could entrench so deeply that they could destroy the relationships that are so dear to you."

The last shift Sharon worked as a midwife before going on maternity leave became her last ever as a midwife. Her lack of balance made it unsafe for her return to work.

The devastating impact of her birth and the delayed diagnosis impacted every facet of her life - permanent physical injury and the loss of her marriage, career, and independence.

Doctors had hoped that the nerve running to her big toe would grow back, but after a year it hadn't improved.

Healthcare providers refused to listen to Sharon, which led to a delay in identifying the syndrome, had also caused the tendons in her toes to contract and pull upwards and surgery was needed to lengthen the tendon.

Two years ago, she had further surgery in her foot and now suffers from arthritis in it.

Every day Sharon continues to live with pain. Each step she takes hurts and driving or standing more than 30 minutes causes pain.

However, she has turned her trauma into a passion for change. Her new book, Scars of Gold: A midwife's personal story of birth trauma and recovery, tells her story and seeks to inspire women to find their voice while encouraging maternity care providers to rethink their approach to maternity care.

"Maternity care providers have so much power over the lives of childbearing women, and it is easy to take that for granted," Sharon says, explaining the importance of listening to women.

"A woman will remember the way they responded to her probably for the rest of her life."

To find out more and purchase Sharon's book go to sharonstoliar.com.
If you or someone you know has suffered from birth trauma, please seek support at
birthtrauma.org.au

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