A recent study published this week reveals that most hospitals, maternity care staff and physicians are insensitive in dealing with women experiencing pregnancy loss – probably not an unexpected finding to anyone who has lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or perinatal death. The study was conducted by the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services – Ireland (AIMSI) and focused on women having miscarriages. Those surveyed reported receiving care for their miscarriage on the labor and delivery floor, right next to women at the end of a long pregnancy about to give birth to a living child, God willing. One of the respondents reported being traumatized by hearing the sounds of a busy delivery room as she was dealt the news she would lose her tiny baby to miscarriage.
Although the subject of the article centers on the mishandling of miscarriages, it brings back nightmarish memories of my own labor and delivery story – the silent birth of my first child, Nicolas, one week after his due date. After waiting patiently for 41 weeks, convinced we were out of the “danger zone,” i.e., the first trimester (oh, how naïve I was then), we went to the hospital on February 28, 2006, excited that labor had finally started, only to be told our son had “no heartbeat.” Lying next to me in the same room were two other laboring women, hooked up to Dopplers, the strong swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of their babies’ heartbeats echoing along with my sobs. I was finally taken to a private room and given Pitocin as my labor slowed. I was told my contractions stopped because usually babies help progress labor, but in my case… I wanted to tell them Nicolas wasn’t being difficult – he was dead.
I labored for about 23 hours, thankfully much of that time lost in a fog of pain and shock. But every now and then, from another room down the hall, the sweet, mocking sound of a newborn cry and the cheers of nurses would creep into my consciousness. Every now and then I would hear that strong swoosh next door and realize my nurses didn’t even bother to put a heartbeat monitor on me. The following day, in my recovery room, a nursing assistant came in with an sunny smile on his face and told me it was time to take my prenatal vitamin. I had just given my son’s body back to the nurse for the final time and was in no mood for false cheer. As he left the room with that damn pill still in the little Dixie cup, I glimpsed just outside my door a new mom and dad with their breathing baby bundled in an infant carrier, ready to go home. I could take no more and demanded to be released. I was given a prescription for Motrin for the physical pain and two anxiety pills for the emotional trauma that lie ahead (they were concerned I would take all the pills at once, so I only got two). The pharmacist congratulated me on the birth of my baby as she handed me my prescriptions, and all I could choke out was, “thank you.” My husband pulled the car around, and I climbed in, Nicolas’ empty car seat in the back. We went home and shut the door to Nicolas’ waiting nursery.
I wonder now if my experience would have been better if I were quietly taken to a room far enough away from the “normal” labor and delivery floor so I wouldn’t have heard those Doppler heartbeats and newborn cries, so I wouldn’t have seen living babies next to my dead son. I wonder if it’s asking too much to be treated respectfully but separately from other laboring women, to be handled a bit more sensitively and to be spared those painful reminders of what I would never have with Nicolas.