Today, we’re hosting a guest post by a very brave lady who was completely let down by the Irish Medical System and most of the maternity staff who were present during her labour. Sadly, here at Maternity Matters, we hear stories like this one all too often, which is part of the reason we started this site, to give women a voice.
At forty one weeks I started leaking on Portmarnock beach on the Friday of the June bank holiday in 2011.
It was just little gushes. I had already got them about two months before and I told my midwife.I told her that it wasn’t urine- it was coming from my vagina not my urethra.
She laughed at me.
‘How would you even know that?’, she queried, looking at me like I was an idiot.
‘It’s just incontinence due to the pressure. Do your kegels’
I knew she was wrong, deep down, but I accepted what she said and told my body to shut up.
Issue No1: Some maternity staff do not respect that a woman might actually know her body better than anyone else in the world.
When I leaked on Portmarnock beach I assumed it was further incontinence seen as it was the same sensation as before but just more fluid. After two days of this sensation, I rang the hospital.They brought me in to the antenatal ward and I was registered by the day shift midwife.
She noticed that I had gestational diabetes on my form and asked me ‘do you have gestational diabetes?’. I said no. I told her that they rang me with my results and as my blood sugars was 7.1 the midwife said, casually, that I was only on the cusp and that reducing sugar in my diet would help.I had a missed call from the diabetic clinic the next day. I left two messages over two days and never got a call back. I left one message a week for three weeks until I gave up calling.I was under the impression that I hadn’t really been diagnosed based on the casual conversation over the phone and that adjustments to my diet would suffice.
The day shift midwife, leafing through my file, paused and slowly rolled her eyes up toward me and through pierced lips snapped “You have gestational diabetes”.
“First time I’ve been diagnosed”, thought I, instantly feeling very vulnerable and not safe with this midwife, who as it turns out would be the one to ‘care’ for me in my pre-labour state the next day.
Issue No2: Maternity staff do not always agree on everything and therefore the patient gets conflicted advice.
Issue No3: Some maternity staff are unnecessarily harsh, firm and old fashioned in their approach. Their approach is one of ‘I have power over your wellbeing’.
Many first time mothers do not realise that they have rights or a voice when confronted with staff like this, especially in their vulnerable state. That evening at shift change the air changed with it and a breezy, bright and wonderfully maternal voice sang through the ward. Fiona was her name. I will never forget her name. She introduced herself to everyone on the ward, individually.
Issue No4: In my whole ten months visiting the hospital, only two members of staff (excluding the obstetrician being introduced by his assistant) ever told me their name. I had to read people’s names off my chart or a name badge if I wanted to know it.
Fiona was like an angel. Her voice was soothing, caring and I could feel my body relax instantly.When she checked to see how dilated I was I felt nothing- she was that gentle and I was that trusting of her.
Issue No5: There are some staff who actually want to be there. They could be stuck sitting in an office or on a post-labour ward. The antenatal ward needs staff like this as women are at their most vulnerable pre-labour.
The next morning the obstetrician came around to break my waters.
I cried and took deep breaths. I felt so invaded and rushed. I felt like an animal or a test subject.Afterward, he tapped my knee, looked me in the eye and said ‘sorry’. I instantly relaxed.
Issue No6: It is a rarity for staff to take the time to give you your integrity back after having their hands and tools up your vagina, fiddling with an internal organ.
Within twenty minutes of having my waters broke I started getting contractions and instantly felt the heavy pressure down below. It wasn’t anything to shout home about for six more hours and so the day shift midwife slapped on some of the gel around 3pm with a sour look on her face that could only be translated as ‘your body is so disgusting, I can’t believe I have to do this. You are incredibly hideous’
For fifteen hours I ‘laboured’.
I leave that word in inverted commas because the day shift midwife kept telling me ‘you’re not even in labour yet’ after clawing with what felt like two inch nails through my adamantly shut cervix. At about eight hours in, my pains intensified in frequency and duration so I received an exam every thirty minutes. At one stage she slapped off the glove and snarled at me that I wasn’t even dilated yet.
Issue No7: When women are not respected and nurtured in any stage of their labour they shut down.
In my case, my cervix never opened. Sure why would it? I never felt safe, emotionally or mentally- not even physically, with this woman. I remember the exact moment I had a panic attack- it was just before shift change. I had endured this midwife for twelve hours. She was rolling on her glove and things went black.
I woke up moments later and I was freaking out and screaming whilst being pinned to the bed by four midwives and my husband was shouting my name, trying to get my attention.
At that moment, Fiona ran in to the cubicle. I calmed down once I heard her voice.Everyone else left the cubicle and Fiona asked me, asked me, if she could give me an exam to see how far dilated I was. I didn’t feel a thing.
Issue No8: Psychological and emotional care seems to be on the bottom of the list in the maternity care plan.
I still was not dilated but Fiona decided it was time to send me to the labour ward and get me on the drip.
My new midwife was just lovely. She was young, sweet and soft. I warmed to her immediately but was still full of terror and violation.The sister spent a lot of time with us too. I guess I had become a problem labour. They organised an epi for me straight away and put me on the oxytocin. My babies heart rate immediately dropped in half. She couldn’t take it.
They took me off the oxytocin. They wanted to get a sample from my babies head to measure her level of stress. The gave me the gas. It wasn’t plugged in. I told the midwife that nothing was happening and she refused to believe me.
Issue No9: Pregnant women often are rarely seen as equals in regards to pain management in the labour ward
I had another freak out when the obstetrician tried to stick a foot long needle into my vagina to take a sample from my babies head. He had to pull out and was getting frustrated with me. The sister told me that if I didn’t let him do this I could end up with a c-section. I told her at this stage I would rather go through the surgery than keep my baby in this state of stress. The obs told me that the procedure wouldn’t cause the baby any stress. I told him I meant the emotional state that I was in.
He looked at me quizzically.
Repeat issue No8: Psychological and emotional care seems to be on the bottom of the list in the maternity care plan.
The sister told me that I may never be able to have a natural birth again if I have a c-section. I told her I only plan on having one child. She laughed at me and told me that I would want another. The sister and the obs went across the room to chat and my midwife, or maybe an angel, whispered into my ear. She told me that they were going to come back and try to push my into a natural birth. She said ‘this is your decision’, emphasis on your.
This was the first moment, in my entire pregnancy that I realised that I had a choice and a say over my own labour and birth.
Issue No10: Pregnant women are not empowered with the knowledge that every single decision is theirs.
I had a c-section fifteen hours after they burst my water sac. I must say, my anesthetist was like another angel. He chatted to me and my husband genuinely during my operation. He was so kind, caring and brotherly.When my baby was born I listened out for the cry but I couldn’t hear anything. Then, out of no where, she let out this loud announcing cry- ‘I am here!’
Afterward I was brought up to the recovery room while my husband took our daughter and had skin on skin contact. I lay there for an hour looking at my feet whispering, ‘move your big toe’, like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Eventually I managed to convince the midwife that I could move my legs. She had watched me for the last hour and kindly brought me down. I was lifted into my bed and finally reunited with my baby. She attached to me straight away.
The next morning I woke up with a little alien face opening her eyes and peering over at me. I could feel her seeking me out. I lifted her, still numb inside but knowing that I loved her immediately, even if I couldn’t feel it.
Over the next day or two I would see the psychiatric nurse, who I will convince that I am perfectly fine. Even though I was lying to myself. I had flash backs and nightmares of my experience for months after. It took me a year to even consider making a complaint about the day-shift midwife but by then I felt it was too late. It took me two years to write this and even now when I talk about it I break down.
I am still not healed.
I want a home birth for my next one but I can’t because I had a c-section.
I am dreading another hospital experience but at least this time around at the very least I will know that I actually have a voice. That is the trouble with first-time mothers- thay don’t know that they actually have choices and as far as I can see the IMS has no interest in changing. It seems to me that they are holding pieces of a broken system together and if they were to take one hand away to make changes the current system will fall apart.
Change is greatly needed, though, even if that means tearing the whole system apart and re-piecing it back together.
Thanks so much to Laura for allowing us to share her story with you.