United Kingdom

‘I had out-of-body experience giving birth and watched as they tried to save me’

Like many first-time mums, I had a difficult labour when my daughter Ava was born. It took 28 hours, with me having gas and air and an epidural, and ended in a ventouse delivery. My husband Ian, 52, and I were overjoyed when Ava finally arrived safely.

My placenta was delivered and Ian, then 36, went back to our home to shower. Returning a few hours later, it was panic stations. I’d started to haemorrhage and my blood pressure was falling fast. I was being wheeled into surgery to have a dilation and curettage procedure.

Parts of the placenta had been left inside, causing the bleeding. One of the nurses later told me the surgeon had been “up to his elbows in me” to stop the haemorrhaging – which was not an image I wanted to visualise.

I was shattered, emotionally and physically. I was a personal trainer who specialised in working with new mums. Yet I felt as though my own body had failed me.

Ava was born in October 2005 and shortly afterwards we moved from Guildford to Cornwall, which was a conscious lifestyle change. We quickly got pregnant again – there’s only 20 months between our two kids.

This time, I was determined I’d “do it right”. I made sure I was as fit and strong as possible, re-read the baby books and had a positive mindset. I was told there was no reason to expect a haemorrhage again.

Wendy with her son Stanley and daughter Ava

I started labour at home with two midwives from the local hospital in Truro by my side. Everything went according to plan, right up until the moment I delivered the baby.

I’d given birth naturally, without painkillers, and Stanley, now 14, instinctively started feeding. There was the joy of him being born safe and sound – then the mood in the room instantly darkened. A searing sensation filled my whole body. It was so vicious, and I was saying, “My back, my back” as I felt this unbelievable pain in my womb.

The previous haemorrhage had been life-threatening but had come on gradually. This time, it was instantaneous. I felt like I was fading. My husband’s face was right in mine and I said, “Take him.” I didn’t know much in that moment but I knew I hadn’t the strength to hold our newborn baby.

Everything was fading

Within minutes, the air ambulance landed in a field behind the house. It was rush hour, about 5pm, and while I was whisked away in the helicopter to the hospital in Treliske, on the other side of town, Ian strapped our newborn into a car seat and raced there, terrified at not knowing if I was alive or dead.

My memories from this moment on are like snapshots but they are so vivid even now. I was strapped in before the helicopter took off and can still see the paramedic’s face so clearly in my mind – he was wearing a helmet and he had sweat running down his face while he urged me, “Don’t close your eyes, Wendy, stay with us. Open your eyes, open your eyes.” That’s when I first experienced the sensation of being outside of my body.

I was watching him from above, as if I had departed and was separate from my physical form. People who have had near-death experiences sometimes talk about seeing their life flash before their eyes, but it was quite the opposite for me. There were no hallucinations or even a sense of darkness descending. There was no sense of rushing or urgency. Just this feeling of everything fading out.

Wendy with Ian and the kids

My one thought was, “Just be quiet so I can fade away and it won’t hurt.” It was as if the paramedic was interrupting that process of me fading away.

I don’t remember feeling the pain any more. A calm had descended, but it certainly wasn’t peaceful. It was more like some part of me had accepted that this was easier. I didn’t think, “I’m going to die.” It was more, “This is where it all just… goes.”

I had the same out-of-body sensation after the air ambulance landed at the hospital. I could see myself being rushed on the gurney to theatre, panic all around me.

I heard people shouting instructions but the noise seemed far away, like I was underwater. I wanted it to stop so I could be still. And then they put me under. When I came round, there was no debrief with a surgeon. I still don’t know why my body haemorrhaged. But one nurse explained my body wouldn’t stop bleeding and my back pain was the weight of the womb pumping full of blood.

She popped by before finishing her shift, saying, “We really thought we’d lost you there, so I needed to see you.”

I’ll never know exactly how close I was to dying in terms of minutes, but her words shook me. Even though I hadn’t been afraid during my out-of-body experience, afterwards I felt pure terror about what had happened. For months, I had flashbacks to those moments in the helicopter and in the hospital. Recovery took a long time, mentally and physically. I felt weak, fragile and vulnerable – but grateful I’d survived, thanks to the quick response of the midwives, paramedics and the hospital staff. I’d been given another chance.

Wendy is the founder of the MUTU System pregnancy and post-partum digital exercise and support programme

Coming so close to death gave me a real sense of clarity about my future and
a deeper sense of purpose. Being a PT was a great job, but I wanted to dig much deeper beyond the basic understanding of pregnancy fitness.

I wanted to stop other women feeling as broken as I did. I studied bio-mechanics, talked to physios, sex therapists, midwives and pelvic floor specialists, and devised the MUTU system – a specialist core and pelvic floor programme.

It’s now used by 75,000 women in 150 countries and is approved by the NHS Digital Apps library. I don’t think I could have changed the outcome of my labours, but if something like MUTU had been around I’d have come to terms with it better.

Women often describe themselves as feeling like they are broken or they have failed if something went wrong during their labour or they had a C-section. I’m here to change that.

Wendy is the founder of the MUTU System pregnancy and post-partum digital exercise and support programme – a clinically proven antenatal and postpartum programme approved by NHS Digital for the NHS Apps Library, improving symptoms of urinary incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse and painful intercourse. It costs £99 for 12 months’ access. Visit mutusystem.co.uk

Science and near-death experiences

Around 17% of people who come close to death report experiences like being drawn down a tunnel or seeing their life flash before their eyes – while out-of-body episodes account for 45% of cases.

The question of what happens to us as we die has long fascinated scientists, but evidence has remained elusive. However, a recent study suggests there could well be a scientific basis for reports of our lives flashing before our eyes.

In a case documented in journal Frontiers In Ageing Neuroscience and reported widely in the press recently, an 87-year-old man suffered a fatal heart attack during a brain scan – which meant medics in Vancouver, Canada, captured the activity of a dying human brain.

They found that before and after the heart stopped beating, there were changes in brain waves that resembled those involved in dreaming or memory recall.

Dr Ajmal Zemmar, who was working in the hospital at the time, said, “The brain may be playing a last recall of important life events just before we die, similar to the ones reported in near-death experiences.”

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