'She couldn't hold him': Stroke weeks after giving birth

harmaine Pieters is relieved to be home with her children, Matthew, 14, Liam, 6 weeks, Connor, 11...
harmaine Pieters is relieved to be home with her children, Matthew, 14, Liam, 6 weeks, Connor, 11 and Ethan (back) 8, after suffering a stroke. Photo: Supplied via NZME
An Auckland mother who suffered a stroke just three weeks after giving birth was so weak she couldn't even hold her newborn when he was brought to visit her in hospital.

Charmaine Pieters had been adjusting to being a busy mother of four with three school children, Matthew 14, Connor 11, Ethan 8 and her baby Liam, who is just 6 weeks old.

But three weeks after giving birth to Liam, the 38-year-old woke up one morning and told her husband Llewellyn she felt strange and the right side of her body was numb and tingly.

He told her to go back to bed, but when she woke up at midday he knew something was wrong.

"She took one look at me and I saw her eyes were squint - cross-eyed. I said, 'can you try and get up?', and she could not stand at all."

Llewellyn took her to the emergency department and after a few tests the doctor confirmed she had had a stroke. She was taken to North Shore Hospital, where she has been recovering since.

Friends and family were in shock because no one believed the usually healthy mum was old enough to have a stroke.

It was possible an artery may have torn while she was in labour and taken a while for the blood clot to form, or she may have been pushing herself too much.

During the first three days in hospital her throat was swollen and she couldn't eat or drink, but she surprised doctors by making progress every day.

"She started walking with walking aids and she couldn't get out of bed and walk five metres - she had a sense of vertigo and she had weakness and couldn't walk," Llewellyn said.

While she was recovering, Llewellyn had taken leave from work and been running the household single-handedly. He had been ferrying the three older boys to school and sports, while also tending to their newborn and waking up to feed him every couple of hours.

He had also been taking the newborn to the hospital each day.

"She couldn't hold him for the first three or four days."

A week ago, she had enough strength to cuddle their baby again and Llewellyn said it was obvious he had been missing the bond. "When Charmaine held him he just mellowed out completely, just chilled out and just laid there."

She had also started walking again unaided and her eyes were slowly improving although she was still experiencing double vision, had a sense of vertigo and got tired easily.

"She came home today for the first time. She was sitting in the living room and the kids came home and she was sitting on the couch, but just by holding the baby and the kids being all over her and excited you could see within half an hour she felt light headed and had to go lie down."

Doctors have told her it may take up to six months of therapy before she fully recovers and she has been barred from driving until her vision clears, which could be a further two months.

Charmaine's mother arrived from South Africa on Sunday to help the family and Llewellyn will return to work next week as a production manager for a special events company after his stint as a full-time stay-at-home dad.

Llewellyn said the support from their employers and the community had been overwhelming, with his sons' rugby club offering to help with pick-ups and drop-offs and people dropping off meals for them while he tried to juggle everything on his own.

He now had a whole new appreciation for his wife. "It's humbled me a bit."

Charmaine's friend Kerry Stevenson has set up a Givealittle page to help the family get on their feet again. The money will be used to cover the extra costs the family have incurred during Charmaine's hospital stay, her medical expenses, and food and petrol while the couple were unable to work.

A Givealittle page has been set up to help the family.

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