Tuesday, 23 July 2013

My Experience of Maternity Care in Ireland.

Courtesy of  irishtimes.com

On the day of the manic media frenzy that was the royal birth a new Irish Twitter account came to be. @MaternityIre was set up by Jane Travers following an Irish Independent column by Carol Hunt. The aim is simple, to give a voice to the women of Ireland regarding their maternity care and to put to the test the Pro-Life (Anti-Choice) assertion that ‘Ireland has the world’s best maternity care' for our women.  

Not inclined to share my story and hog timelines in 140 character snippets I thought a post might be in order, to open the discussion here on the blog too and add my voice to the topic. This is a change from the norm here at CherrySue but usual beauty/hilarity will resume shortly - promise.

As we all know by now I’m the proud Momma to two teen lads, very close in age and born here in Dublin. I was a young Mum and had the boys in two separate hospitals with experiences that couldn’t be any more polar opposite if they tried.

Aaron was born in Dublin Rotunda hospital in January of 1996, when I was just shy of 18 years of age. I can still recall the hours of waiting, often heavily pregnant and standing while husbands and partners sat in the waiting rooms. The appointments system was a farce, though me, being me at the time, never once asked for a seat. I didn’t kick up and didn’t make a fuss.

Aaron’s birth, however, was a different story entirely, from the moment I entered the lobby in the early stages of labour, nothing was too much trouble for the nurses on hand. I spent 36 hours in labour (with the aid of a prompt and topped up epidural) under the careful, attentive and fully supportive care of a most wonderful midwife. She split her shift and returned to see him born because we were faffing about so long. 

When his heartbeat could no longer be detected she talked me through every step of the plan. He was to be delivered by vacuum and forceps. I was young and terrified but felt comforted by my midwife who never left my side. I couldn’t fault a moment of our care while in the Rotunda and I naively believed that the situation would be similar when Adam was born 18 months later.

To avoid the appointment melee of the Rotunda, I registered with Holles St. Each and every hospital check happened on time. The admin staff and corresponding doctors were on the ball every single time, which meant little or no waiting around (less than pleasant heavily pregnant in the Summer heat)

Having spoken to my Doctor, the plan was to attend the Rotunda for the birth so I was given my medical chart to bring home. Because labour came on so fast and so ferociously though we went to the closest hospital for fear of delivering in the car, arriving at Holles St at 2.50am. 

The midwife assigned to me got into the elevator with a wheelchair so I could be whisked to the delivery suite. Because I refused to sit down she became irate very quickly, understandable in a heated situation. ‘Sit down FOR CHRIST’S SAKE’ she said, at which point I pulled the waist band of my leggings to show her the baby had already crowned.

When my brother was told to take a seat outside, I was wheeled into the delivery suite alone. I’m not sure if the midwife and I had just gotten off on a bad foot but it was very clear she didn’t want to be taking care of us. Heavy breathing and exhaling ‘For Christ sake’s at every opportunity. I asked for gas or air, for something, anything to ease the overwhelming, searing pain I was in. I was refused any and all. I fully believed I’d pass out from the pain but it didn’t happen. When I told the midwife I was feeling sick again I was told ‘Don’t you dare be sick on that floor’, when losing my reason with pain was told ‘Oh shut your mouth and push!’.

It was only when my partner arrived, (with the doctor and second nurse) moments before Adam’s arrival, that her demeanor changed 180. Smiling and comforting, she was humming a song and wiping my brow – it took all my strength not to bite her. From door to cutting the cord Adam’s birth took 36 minutes. It was 3.30am and I told his Dad that nothing more could be done, to head on home for a sleep – I was in ‘good hands’.

Once he had left I asked what weight the baby was, ‘They’ll check upstairs’. I asked if he could be cleaned off, ‘that’ll happen later. I asked if I would need stitches ‘Don’t be so ridiculous’. I’d had 39 stitches on Aaron’s birth and having just given birth to a large baby boy with no assistance, knew I needed something.

While the room was cleaned, Adam was wrapped in the corner of my sheet and put to my breast. The midwife proceeded to wrap me in the sheet that I’d just given birth on and ordered me down into a wheelchair. We were wheeled naked and bloodied into the corridor, wrapped in just those sheets, where we sat, crying, for 55 minutes with staff and patients passing us, until someone remembered we were there.

Catching the midwife’s sleeve as she passed, I asked for some formula to feed the screaming baby ‘What’s wrong with your breasts?’ I explained that I felt faint (stunned from producing another human being in 30 minutes presumably) and that I needed to lie down – ‘Oh did your pals tell you this’d be easy?’. Even typing this I’m furious for 19 year old me. She had no idea that Adam was my second son, that I’d seen what maternity care should look like.

I was brought up to the ward and was sick as soon as I stood from the chair, the nurse behind said ‘We’re going to wash your child, I’ll bring back something for you to clear that up’ – it was then that I snapped, found my voice and my outrage and completely lost it. How dare she speak to me or anyone else that way. I made my way to the shower alone and was sick for 30 minutes, in severe pain and complete shock.

Returning to the bed, I saw Adam had been returned, still crying, to his cot in a nappy and left with a bottle of formula and two tablets on the dresser. I dressed him, fed him, cradled him until he slept and cried myself to unconsciousness. Signing us out first thing the following morning.

There is no doubt in my mind that that barbaric experience shaped me, that it added to the fog of post natal depression/post traumatic stress that followed. Cattle calving in fields are treated with more care and dignity than was afforded us in Holles St in 1997. Thankfully though, that’s a lifetime ago for us. With the help of my own GP and the healing power of time, I’ve moved on. 

It doesn’t stop me being angry though, angry at that midwife for her atrocious behaviour, angry at myself for believing I deserved it, angry I didn't complain and, more than anything else, angry reading the #maternityire hashtag that cases like this and worse are still happening in Ireland in 2013.

My aim is not to frighten anyone, horror stories are not my forte. I only want to let people know that we have far from consistency of care in this country. If you’re pregnant right now, don’t be afraid to ask for proper treatment, to question practices when you know something is wrong. Your experience can (and will) depend on the staff and the situation but dignity and compassion while under medical supervision should be a given.

You can add your voice to the hashtag #maternityire and share your stories and reactions good or bad. I will tweet a link to this post to that hashtag so you can also comment here should you prefer. We’re living in a first world country but our maternity care, at times, is far from first world standards. We are the women of this country and our experiences matter. We matter.

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