My Sub-Par Experience In The Maternity Ward

They withheld my discharge papers!

Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash

If anyone’s seen Outlander where Jamie’s sister gives birth and the next day she jumps on her horse to go looking for the kidnapped men, this is exactly my approach to life, my philosophy and how I tackle challenges.

I fully expected to walk into the hospital, give birth quickly and smoothly to my baby boy (my second child) and walk out of the hospital within 24 hours to go home to recover in more comfortable settings.

The hospital had other ideas.

I should preempt this by saying I’m 42 years old and I’ve already given birth and have a healthy 13-year-old daughter. I should also qualify that I am merely recounting my own opinions and expectations and do not project these things on others. All women have their own unique needs and perceptions. My area of concern in sharing this post is that women are not being allowed or encouraged to trust their intuition, do what feels right to them, and are being forced to conform to strict societal pressures.

Let’s start from the beginning. At around 2 pm on Monday August 14, 2017, I checked into the Hospital with mild contractions; my water that had broken earlier that morning. I was greeted by welcoming nurses and everyone was very friendly, happy, and positive. The energy of the place was warm and I felt safe and looked after.

Although my own doctor was not present, the delivery team was topnotch and everything proceeded quite quickly. I delivered to a healthy baby boy at 10:57 pm that night. I should note he was a healthy weight at 8 lbs 8 ounces.

The delivery team helped me get cleaned up and have a shower and I was absolutely glowing with joy and love. What a perfect moment in time and I was able to share it with the baby’s daddy. It was so beautiful.

Little did I know, this is where the trouble started. I was set into a wheelchair, holding my new little bundle of joy, and transferred to the neighbouring postpartum ward. A nurse greeted me and orientated us to our shared rather cramped room. Luckily - it being a Monday (who has a baby on a Monday?), we did not have to share with roommates.

The nurse seemed okay at this point.

I told my boyfriend to try and get some sleep... on a chair... and I enjoyed some precious first moments with my son, absolutely enamoured with him.

At 5 am the nurse came by and told me that the baby’s blood sugar would be checked at the 12-hour mark and if not above an acceptable level, they would be giving him formula.

Now at this point in my journey I hadn’t spent any time worrying about breast feeding. My entire focus before giving birth was on the giving birth part. I had some friends who had been instructed to express milk pre-birth and freeze it to take to the hospital with them, but this seemed unnecessary to me. As well, my doctor had not mentioned a thing about it.

So my response to the nurse was, "My baby will be breastfeed, no one is giving him formula."

Well that was it. I can pinpoint the negative turn my relationship took with the night nurse to this moment. I disagreed with her assertion (or it was probably just part of this hospital’s procedure). Unfortunately for me, not only did I disagree with the idea of giving my newborn formula, but I vehemently disagreed with it. It touched on a subject I had strong opinions on, and I was prepared to defend my position to the death. My hands wrapped around my baby a little firmer, feeling threatened. Any hope of a positive relationship with this nurse was thrown out the window. She repeated herself, saying that the doctors would not accept that answer and they would indeed be giving him formula.

I repeated myself, "No, my baby will be breastfed. I have numerous food allergies and I will not be exposing my brand new baby to formula so early in his life." (Having to repeat yourself is energy sucking. Especially when you find yourself hitting heads with someone used to barking out orders and having them followed without question.)

So the nurse told me I had but one other option and that was to express my own milk into two little cups and we could feed it to the baby via syringe. She then wheeled in (at 5 am!) a video cart with an instructional video on how to self express my milk. She gave me a bag of minicups and syringes and told me to get started.

I happily watched the video, despite the unreasonable time and the fact that I hadn’t slept in hours. Following, I reiterated to the nurse the fact that I would not be accepting formula, nor would I be expressing milk. To keep things natural and simple, I would be breastfeeding my new infant.

This solidified a very bad start with the night-shift nurse and I’m positive she put me on a "difficult patient" list to get "extra special" treatment.

I want to make a note about the conditions of this particular maternity ward. It is not set up for new mom’s and baby’s comforts, and looks identical to every other ward in the hospital. The beds are ill-made for breastfeeding, and even for eating meals. There’s not a single chair fit for breastfeeding, nor any breastfeeding pillows. I must say, after giving birth, and undergoing an epidural, my back was in no condition to spend hours satisfying some nurse’s breastfeeding expectations. What baby and I needed was to rest, recover, and get to know each other.

All the more reason to make a quick escape. Little did I know it would be comparable to attempting to break out of a full-security prison. At what point had I relinquished my rights and freedoms and checked myself in so that I was not able to leave when I wanted — with my baby.

So now let’s talk about the nurse’s list of feedings, pees and poos.
Firstly, they clearly mark out whether the feeding was supervised by a nurse and if it was successful. If the mom did the feeding by herself and wrote it in the list, they clearly marked "by mom" down on the list. In hindsight, they did not trust mom on multiple levels. They did not trust me to feed my baby, to feed my baby properly, to feed my baby enough.

The hospital did not trust mom on multiple levels. They did not trust me to feed my baby, to feed my baby properly, to feed my baby enough.

I needed to satisfy the acceptable number of feedings, and since my own feedings didn’t count, my boyfriend and I were forced to press the button to get a nurse to "witness" the feeding and judge whether it was successful.

I cannot tell you how much pressure this puts on a new mom. Breastfeeding is hard enough. It’s even harder when a nurse’s face is 2 inches from my breast and baby’s face, who was watching with tiny skeptical eyes, for many minutes on end. I’ll never forget baby’s little eyes peering out from my breast, clearly my discomfort was affecting him too. There was one point the nurse sat there for over 10 minutes watching and them stated "he is not feeding properly, in fact he’s only been fed once (according to the skewed tracking sheet) I cannot let you leave the hospital.”

What do you mean I’m not allowed to leave the hospital????

What kind of a place is this?

To add injury to insult, the nurse added "Also, I have no confidence you know how many pees and poos your baby needs to have when he gets home."

Ummm... how to respond without punching this woman...

I calmly repeated the paediatrician's instructions from the afternoon. Clearly this isn’t rocket science and clearly I have a brain.

What did I do? I prayed. I prayed for help. I prayed to get let out of the hospital. I remained absolutely calm (on the outside) and continued to reason with the nurse. She finally signed our release papers at 9 pm.

To make matters worse, the public nurse would be paying us a visit the next day. We came home at 11 pm at night, I was up all night with my screaming newborn, and I got a phone call at 9 am from the public health nurse saying she’d be coming over at 12:30. WTF. The house was a mess because we’d left in a state of dealing with contractions and the anticipation of the birth. In a paranoid and zombie-like state (from lack of sleep) I ran around the house cleaning and ensuring baby’s stuff was a put in order for an obvious assessment of whether we could take care of our own baby.

To complicate matters, it appears the public nursing system isn’t set to handle “early-release” babies. Her measurements for jaundice and weight was completely off for a baby less than two days old. She was reading the charts wrong and spent a long time attempting to recalculate the jaundice timeline.

My closing thoughts…

My two experiences giving birth in Canada’s hospitals have left a lot to be desired. There is a lack of compassion for new moms and new parents. There is an exclusion of the dads where they are barely tolerated as observers, let alone participants. Imagine my surprise when I went into a breastfeeding room at one of Calgary’s shopping malls and found it to be a relaxing oasis, with large comfortable chairs and sofas and pillows, soft music playing, and bright happy colours. Such a contrast to the medical ward, which are greeting society’s newborns. There is definitely a problem with the health care system when I go into give birth in 2017, and the wards are the same as they were in the 1960’s. And probably the same beds too.