The birth of my daughter went smoothly. I cannot fault the team of doctors and nurses it took to deliver her. That was probably the easiest part of the whole pregnancy – after all, all I did was lie there! (Little Miss was born by caesarian). However, the next 24hours were ones I’d rather not repeat.
Stanley Milgram has conducted some of the most famous research into how people will follow the instructions of authority figures, even when it conflicts with their own conscience. In a similar way, it seems that people often accept what authority figures tell them without question.I never thought I would be one of those people. I thought that my sharp, critically thinking mind would analyse and question things that didn’t seem right… But the reality was quite different. One day I know I will move past this. But for now I think it speaks to the impact one singular (stupid) person can have on you, when you are vulnerable.
I’m writing this partly to alleviate my own annoyance at myself for not doing anything and partly because I know many others have experienced similar situations and it might be useful for others to read if you’re about to have a baby. I wish I’d heard some of the stories I’ve heard since, so I could’ve been prepared. I’d never dreamt midwives could be so unfeeling… I didn’t think it was the kind of profession that had those kind of people. However, I can gladly say that these two midwives were the exceptions, not the rule.
Little Miss was born just before 5pm. About an hour later my husband and I, together with Little Miss who was snuggled up in my arms, were celebrating her birth with our parents. By 10pm it was time for everyone to leave… I was quite nauseous and sore, so was looking forward to some sleep. Shortly after they left, Little Miss began to cry. It was then I realised that, hooked up to an IV and on heavy pain killers, I wasn’t really able to get out of bed to lift her out of her bassinet. So I buzzed for the midwife who strongly suggested I put her into the nursery and they would bring her back when she needed to be fed. Reluctantly I agreed. I kind of got the feeling that she wasn’t too keen on coming back every time my daughter cried. I knew I couldn’t cuddle her all night long, as much as I might have wanted to – I needed sleep. Little Miss was brought back at 1am for her first feed. The same midwife brought her in and, rather abruptly, asked me how I would like to feed her… I was a little stumped. I’d never breastfed before – it wasn’t really something you could practice after all! Long story short, twenty minutes later Little Miss was whisked backed to the nursery and I was blissfully unaware (still on morphine) of the ‘love bites’ she had left just above my nipples… She hadn’t attached properly.
The next morning I woke at 5am and, feeling much better, buzzed the midwife to bring my daughter back. She refused. She told me that the nursery midwife would bring her back when it was time to feed her. They were busy. I should’ve demanded that she bring her. Every baby/parenting book tells you that you need to feed your newborn every 3-4hours. But before I could realise I should be demanding Little Miss be brought back to me, she was my daughter after all, the midwife had left. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get out of bed so I couldn’t exactly get her for myself. It was 5am so I couldn’t call downstairs to my obstetrician. Even if I called my husband and got him to come in, it would take him at least thirty minutes to arrive. Feeling like a child who’d just been reprimanded, I decided to wait an hour and try again, hoping they’d be ‘less busy’. An hour later I buzzed again. But the midwife didn’t come. Now I really had no idea what to do. About 20minutes later the nursery midwife came in with Little Miss and admonished me for not asking for her to be brought in sooner. Didn’t I know she needed to be feed?? Wasn’t I aware that she was the last baby left in the nursery?? I felt terrible!! My husband arrived shortly after… and thankfully (I thought at the time) so did my day midwife.
The day midwife entered my room and asked me if I’d been told about breastfeeding. My husband and I weren’t quite sure how to respond… What was there that we needed to be told? Don’t you just add baby + breast which makes breast feeding? Perhaps noticing our confused looks, she went on to say that I’d never be able to breast feed because my nipples weren’t the right shape. Apparently she’d been informed about the 1am feed. Makes sense now why the night midwife avoided me and didn’t want to help me breastfeed again. She went on to explain how, when she wasn’t working as a midwife, she was a theatre nurse for a plastic surgeon so she knew all about breasts – yes, she really said that. I was told that I’d have to use a pump. Before we could really process what she’d said, she left the room to go and get the pump.
Now, as a teacher I know that you never make such a broad judgement after one assessment. I should’ve told this woman she was an idiot and to get me another midwife who was more supportive… But instead I burst into tears, blindly believing what she’d said. When she returned, my husband went into bat for me as I was too upset. He explained to the midwife how we really wanted to breastfeed and surely we could try again. She laughed at his use of ‘we’ because he certainly wasn’t going to be breastfeeding. Inside I objected to this. Without his support I wouldn’t be doing anything much, so in my mind it was a ‘we’ thing. Research even shows that a husband’s support and encouragement is crucial to the success of breastfeeding. Research she obviously hasn’t read. The day got better. At one point, when my husband was out, I asked her to show me how to swaddle Little Miss because, up until this point, I’d been unable to get out of bed so my husband had done all the swaddling. Her response to me was, “I thought you teachers were like doctors, don’t you guys know everything?” … again I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I should’ve told her where to go. But instead I kept quiet and resolved not to press that buzzer again until her shift ended. A little later Olivia was crying and I couldn’t calm her down. So, against my better judgement, I pressed the buzzer to ask for some advice. She walked in and I asked for some help. To which I was told that she was busy and couldn’t come in every time my daughter cried and that I should work out what to do now because there wouldn’t be anybody to help me when I got home… and with that she flew out of the room. I looked at my husband in amazement. I was more resolved that, come what may, I wasn’t going to buzz for her again. Unfortunately I needed pain medication re-dosed before her shift ended. I ‘buzzed’ her several times… But she kept popping in saying that she was busy and would be back shortly – hell lady I’d come out of major surgery less that 24hours before – I needed that pain relief… Eventually her shift ended. The new night midwife came on. Just as I was about to ask her for pain relief, the day midwife pranced in with the magic pills, hours late by now, and nonchalantly said that she couldn’t understand why she forgot to give me mine because she remembered everybody else’s – she must’ve just got caught up…. Oh, well that’s alright then… Are you kidding me?!?
This story does have a happy-ish ending. The night midwife who’d just arrived, and who seemed a little ‘rough’ and smelt of cigarettes, asked if I’d like to breast feed. Holding back tears, I told her that I was unable to breastfeed and relayed what the earlier midwife had told me. To which I was told, “Bullshit. If a baby wants to feed they can suck a nipple out six ways from Sunday.” I instantly knew this midwife and I were going to get along famously. And we did. Little Miss attached fine and I successfully breastfed her every four hours all through the night. This midwife also explained to me that the two previous midwives were not employees of the hospital but contracted in to help cope with the overflow of new mums… Busy week for having children apparently. She insisted I tell the nursing manager my story. My Obstetrician was mortified, incredibly apologetic and also put in a complaint on my behalf. The hospital rallied to the cause, arranging free visits with the lactation consultant, both during my stay and after, told me that I wouldn’t have that midwife again during my stay, and offered me another nights stay at the hospital to ensure everything went smoothly with breastfeeding.
Moral to the story: Stand up for yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do something. You can always ask to have another midwife – you don’t have to just accept the one that gets assigned to your room. Ask to see the manager – even in midwives, there are managers.