Me: (almost in tears) “Um, what did you just put down the sink?”
Horrible Midwife: (haughtily) “Got rid of the left over milk from the feed, why?”
Me: (crying uncontrollably) “That was the colostrum I just expressed for his next feed.”
Horrible Midwife: “Oh.” (and abruptly leaves the SCN)
It was 3 days after the birth of our LM and we were not in a good way. That morning, our gorgeous baby boy had been diagnosed with severe jaundice as a result of the bruising and hematoma he experienced during birth and now required phototherapy for a minimum of 24 hours in the Special Care Nursery (SCN). After that time, more blood tests would be done to determine if his TcB level (the level of bilirubens in his blood) was low enough for him to be discharged with me. I was a wreck! Whilst I could hold him every 3 hours to feed (expressed bottles of colostrum, then top-ups of formula, as he was too weak to breastfeed), he was otherwise left in the phototherapy crib with a little blindfold over his eyes and all I could do was watch him or sit alone in my room. I was suffering the normal “baby blues” hormonal impact and could rationalise everything that was happening in my mind, however it didn’t stop the tears or the intense guilt I was experiencing with regard to his condition. I wasn’t coping, I knew that… but this woman… I just could NOT believe she was doing this to me again!
Perhaps let me start at the very beginning…
It was not a good birth. Indeed, I will go as far as to say it was a horrible, very traumatic birth. People ask me “Was it a natural delivery?” and my response is usually, “Well… it was a vaginal delivery, but not what I’d particularly call natural”. It was a truly challenging and intense 72 hours of pre-labour and labour that I most definitely could have done without. The end result, of course, was our gorgeous little boy, but honestly… the getting there was something I would never want to repeat in my lifetime – not physically or emotionally. And the whole experience was made even worse by one particular midwife I was unfortunate enough to have “care” for me from the mid-morning shift (I was admitted to hospital at 8am) until 11pm, half an hour before my LM’s birth. I will be eternally grateful I did NOT have that woman present at the actual birth of my baby. The lovely midwife who replaced her literally at the 11th hour will go down forever as the one saving grace in this terrible story, and I am so incredibly thankful every day for her gentleness, support, and empathy. She was everything I had hoped all midwives would be, however the scars had already been administered and they were deep… so deep they continued to hurt me right up until the birth of my little girl a year ago.
It’s been 3 and a half years since I came face-to-face with THAT woman, yet I still remember her name, her face, her accent, the colour of her hair, the indifference in her eyes, the tone of her voice. I remember EVERY single thing about her. After the LM’s birth, I did my best to move on from the worst of my feelings, but when I fell pregnant again I started having recurring nightmares sparked from my previous experience. In my dreams I was screaming at Dr B, yelling at him to “get her away from me”, “don’t let her near me”, “get her hands off my baby”! My anxiety was real. My intense fear was real. The feelings of worthlessness, powerlessness, and helplessness were REAL. I would wake with a heaving chest, breathless, and crying. It soon became apparent I had not moved passed these feelings at all. Just before I was diagnosed with PND (when LM was 8 months old), I had attended a counselling session and we had discussed my birthing experience in great detail. I had never cried so much in my life. Whilst sharing my thoughts with Mrs D at the time was a huge relief, my feelings had remained unresolved. Hidden from view, I simply hoped they would slowly fade over time… Clearly, they had not.
In hindsight, I honestly don’t think my expectations around the quality of midwifery care I would receive were unreasonable. The majority of what we see and hear from family and friends about their personal care during birth is warm, kind, giving, and supportive. Indeed, our private hospitals and specialists pride themselves on the quality of their midwifery care. And really, whilst I had “ideas” around what I would “like” for my birth experience, I certainly was not inflexible to the advice of midwives and specialists. I ask questions. I do. I like to know what my options are and be informed before making a decision. So was it unreasonable to expect this woman to speak gently, inform me of my options, and generally treat me with compassion and understanding? Surely not. I had been having contractions for over 24 hours, and with no sleep was downright exhausted. Perhaps I could understand if her attitude progressively worsened with her shift as she became tired and run-down due to the over-burden of care required of midwives these days. But she walked into her shift with me that morning projecting a coldness I had never before experienced. To have to endure 10 hours of such blatant indifference and patronsing behaviour left me feeling beyond powerless. In my time of need, I had been let down by the very person I had hoped would simply hold my hand, put my fears at bay, and provide me the strength and information I would need to get me through until the end. It was instead a nightmare. I could go into so many examples of her behaviour that day, but instead I think I’ll leave it with the one I began with at the start…
So there we were, my HF and I, sitting in the SCN nursery doing what we had to do to ensure the health of our baby and in the awful midwife from my labour walks. Straight away, as the regular SCN nurse left to take her break, she began telling me how it was my own expectations that had let me down as “they were way too high”… Of myself, my birth, my general experience. And all the while she was nursing our LM instead of placing him in the arms of my HF as the regular nurse would have done. That’s right. That’s what she said whilst refusing to let my HF feed our tiny boy (which he would do whilst I sat and expressed for the next feed) because “this is the only chance I get to cuddle babies on my break”. That’s what she said as she ignored the advice from the SCN nurse as to which teat our LM was to use on his bottle (“Oh, don’t be stupid, he’ll be fine. He’ll take this from me.”). And again it was this arrogant, condescending tone of voice that was ringing in my ears as she threw the 30mls of colostrum I had just pain-stakingly spent half an hour expressing down the sink. By accident, of course. You see, she had been so busy patronising my perceived high expectations, she hadn’t realised it was my colostrum (not left-over milk) she was throwing away.
She did apologise as I sat sobbing hysterically, trying to deal with the reality of my baby being in the SCN, hormonal “baby blues”, the pain in my breasts from pumping, in addition to her abhorrent treatment. But in hindsight, even her apology left me cold. After she had walked out of the SCN upon realising her mistake, I remember my HF holding me in his arms shaking with anger as the regular SCN nurse came back into the nursery to comfort me, saying how awful the other midwife felt and how sometimes these things “just happen”. Then SHE reappeared. That horrible woman walked back into the nursery, came over to where we were sitting and awkwardly tapped me on the shoulder in what I can only assume was an attempt at comfort. But it was the haughtily addressed “I’m sorry.. but you know it’s not the end of the world if he has to be formula fed” that finally broke me. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t lift my head to even look at her. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I was done. And with that she simply walked away and I didn’t see her again. It was a moment in time both my HF and I will never forget… for all the wrong reasons.
Her behaviour was atrocious. Her actions were unfathomable. Her overall impact on my birth experience was devastating. And I hope to goodness no other mother EVER has to experience such helplessness and powerlessness at the hands of such an awful person. Maybe she was just having a bad day. Maybe she had her own things going on that I didn’t know about. Maybe… maybe… maybe! I have tried so hard to be understanding of her behaviour, but nothing seems to justify nor will ever take away how she made me feel. I know they say we choose how we feel about any given situation, but giving birth is such a vulnerable experience. It doesn’t matter your personality, your age, your profession. You are at your most vulnerable! And that is the power of midwifery care… a power I know the majority of midwives would use only for the absolute good of their patients, not to their detriment. Unfortunately, I was one of the unlucky ones that time around.
I can say though without any hesitation that Dr B ensured my second birthing experience was the best it could possibly be… and the quality of midwifery care I received was amazingly warm and still makes me smile when I think back to my time in hospital with MH. A very stark contrast, and one for which I will be forever thankful! It’s incredible how healing a good experience can be on the back of something so traumatic and unexpected. It’s been a huge relief to finally get this experience all down in writing! I am always surprised at how much “feeling” I still have with regard to this issue and want to thank-you for allowing me to feel safe enough to share it with you here.
Thanks for reading as always and really hope everyone is doing well.