There’s no “perfect” experience when giving birth. I knew that going in to deliver my son in August, but I didn’t expect so many extraneous hassles.
Call it a typical hospital stay, but I didn’t expect to be interrupted at all hours of the day and night — and awoken during the few moments when I did catch some sleep. Then there was the lactation team, who came to my room two hours after birth to review all the materials in their folder. After a 30-hour fast during labor and delivery, I could finally eat… but meal delivery didn’t show up. My pain medication never showed up on time despite every nurse insisting she would remember so it didn’t wear off leaving me in postoperative pain hell. My birth plan was literally laughed off and rested on my windowsill as I labored.
The daily lactation team visits were never announced, meaning that I was awoken minutes after finally getting the rest that the nurses insisted I get. Meanwhile, there was my husband trying to help out after my surgery… just as frustrated and exhausted as I was. It didn’t seem like the hospital had my best interests at heart. If they really wanted me to be well and recover, couldn’t they have better coordinated the experience?
Overall, all of these little hassles made me ready to bust out of the door on day five when I was finally allowed to leave.
Again, while women shouldn’t expect an ideal experience no matter how wonderful the arrival of our little ones can be, there are a few things that can be done to improve the hospital experience. After all, hospitals claim to go above and beyond to prioritize patient health. So why isn’t there a more coordinated experience?
Niki Sawyers, a Philadelphia-based mom, insisted that she did not want her son circumcised — but he was subjected to the operation anyway.
“The day the baby was born, the doctor and nurse really pressured me to circumcise him,” recalls Sawyers. “I kept telling them no, I did not want him circumcised. But the doctor came back the next day and woke me up at 7 a.m. with a consent form in his hand."
Sawyers says that she had been up all night nursing her baby and felt disoriented. The doctor told her it would be better for the baby, and the baby wouldn’t feel a thing because he would be given anesthesia. The doctor persisted, even after she said no.
“I later found out that the doctor gave my baby only a sugar pacifier for the pain," she recalls. "When they returned my son to me, he was pale and his eyes were red. He didn’t want to nurse. His voice was hoarse and he had a hernia from the screaming.”
Sawyers got productive with her frustration, joining Intact America, a group that promotes families’ choices in whether or not to circumcise boys.
Jenifer Gay, a mother from Florida, recalls having painful afterbirth contractions after the birth of her three children.
“Each time, the nursing staff acted like I was exaggerating my pain and tried to massage my abdomen to encourage the afterbirth to come out. This was excruciating for me,” she explained.
She insisted that the nurses not touch her, and says they argued with her over the massage.
“However, at all three hospitals, I was refused any options to help me deal with the pain and was treated like a drama queen,” she says. “I’m certain I’m not the only woman out there whose body does this, so for future moms who may go through this, don’t let the nurses push on your abdomen if you are in terrible pain. Let your body take care of itself.”
Bailey Gaddis, a mother, doula and childbirth preparation educator from Los Angeles, said nurses and doctors insisted on leaving her door open at all hours.
“This was especially frustrating after checks in the middle of the night because it was usually bright and noisy in the hallway,” Gaddis says. “I would have to get out of bed while trying to recover and half asleep to shut the door. One night, I had to get up five different times to close the door.”
Even when she asked the staff to close the door, they often forgot. This made her recovery — and the slim opportunities for much-needed rest — difficult to say the least.
According to a 2014 study, hospital noise and interruptions can be stressful for both new mothers and staff, which can lead to sleep deprivation and negative impacts on heart health.
These aren’t the only stories of women who have been told that the hospital prioritizes their care only to experience the opposite. Their stories highlight an ever-present problem that I am sure many moms face — you seek tailored care at a hospital that promises it and then leave with a frustrating experience at a time when your infant needs the most care and you are most vulnerable.
A 2017 report in Nurses Outlook reports that the U.S. spends about $70 billion a year on maternity and newborn care in hospitals. And 98 percent of women give birth in hospitals.
What will it take to change? Does completing your post-stay survey really make a difference? Should we write letters of recommendation detailing what exceptional doctors and nurses do to prioritize our care and preferences? Do we push more for birth centers? Should hospitals re-examine their workplace organization to perhaps better coordinate (or at least time) patient care — if that’s even possible considering how overworked most nurses are to begin with? Maybe rooming in isn’t the best alternative. Or is this one more way that the health system is failing patients?
We need to find a way to make positive changes so families can recover during such an important time.
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