This post is part of a series we are doing for our local community with focus on Obstetric Violence at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. Some of the responses were given privately in direct message and some were posted in the comments thread of a post calling for stories. Last names have been protected and permission was granted to use first names or initials prior to posting. The image shown below is from Birth Monopoly and depicts the degrees and levels that define Obstetric Violence.
On Friday, March 6, 2020 a doula got in touch with me after one of the conference calls/Zoom Meetings I have been attending as a way to learn what is going on in the birth community and make connections with birth workers and birth enthusiasts. She asked me to collect stories from people in my community who had experienced obstetric violence at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
It’s no secret that Fraser Health doesn’t like me, and the truth is that if they don’t like me it’s because I’m not letting them intimidate me. I can say what I like, as long as what I am saying is the truth. And it is. Everything I am saying is based in fact and echoed by many people in the birth community who are AFRAID to come forward. I will not expose them, but I will say that it’s a LOT of people who are afraid.
I also will not expose the clients who were traumatized by the system or on a lesser scale, felt they were mistreated or disrespected. Obstetric violence comes in all forms, and you can see that by Birth Monopoly’s hierarchical chart. It is happening everywhere, not just at ARH, and not just in Fraser Health. I intend to share EVERY STORY that comes to me, protecting the client whose story it is in the process.
I have received criticism from a few people for focusing on these “negative” stories instead of balancing out with positive ones. To that criticism I will point out that this is OUR #MeToo.
I refuse to diminish the stories of mothers and birthing people who come forward by including a “nice” story in the same post. That would be the equivalent of what Brock Turner’s asshole family and friends did when his victim came forward. Just because it didn’t happen to YOU does not mean it didn’t happen to many, many other people. So please sit down and listen, or please leave this space. But these stories WILL be told, because exposing a violation of human rights is how we END it. Consider already how there is pushback to #MeToo, but those voices are being drowned out now by the huge echo of stories that many women were afraid to speak about for far too long.
I put up a post asking for stories, thinking I would get a handful, and the response has been OVERWHELMING. Messages flood my inboxes, my comments threads, and I am trying my best to keep track of them all while also trying to recover from a nasty cold virus, so if I haven’t posted your story yet please be patient. I have a long list to go through, and it grows every day. Additionally, if you have a story to tell you can message me on my Facebook page or email EmpoweringMomsCanada@gmail.com.
This is one story of MANY that are from people who experienced obstetric violence. The experience, feelings, and conclusions reached by this individual are theirs and therefore not up for criticism. There is no “other side to the story” in this case, because there is NO EXCUSE FOR OBSTETRIC VIOLENCE just as there is no excuse for a man to beat his partner or rape someone. I don’t care if someone was overwhelmed, overtired, or “just following orders”. That doesn’t excuse what happened. If there is minimizing of the issue in which a mother/birthing person was wronged after they come forward (and so many people DON’T come forward) then that is a problem. If there is justification for what they did, that is a problem. “I’m sorry, I screwed up, I was wrong and will make an effort not to ever do it again” does NOT include any excuses, justifications, or words of apology where you know there will be no meaningful actions to change. Passing the buck will NOT fly anymore. Some information has been edited to protect the person sharing. This particular story was shared as a private conversation with me in a direct message. I have done my best to capture her story accurately.
Megan* responded on a local mom group post where I had shared my post requesting for stories. In her original comment, prior to my messaging her, she stated:
“I had a bad one in 2011. I tried to do something about it. My records were blacked up.”
By “blacked up” she means they were unable to be read and possibly censored before the hospital decided to return them to her. She also tried to file a complaint, but was ultimately unsuccessful and the doctor who harmed her is still practicing. This is, sadly, a very common occurrence in maternity care.
EM: Hello, Megan,
EM: I am sorry your records were blacked out. That to me tells me they have something to hide. 😦 I wish I was surprised.
Megan: They said it was being photocopied too much.
I then explained what I was doing with the stories and why the news contact wanted them, as well as their contact information. After the formalities were out of the way, she told me her story:
“I was young when I had my first. It’s hard to remember back. I had been raped 9 months prior. They knew this. The nurse forced her hands in me, while I was screaming NO. She said she “had to check”. I was horrified, and they did this when my mom was out of the room. I was like a 4 [cm dilated] I guess, so I went in. They gave me stuff, I don’t know what, for the pain and [I] curled up in the corner of the bed. The nurse pulled me [so I was lying] flat [on it], joking that I was renting the whole bed. I was scared of her at this point and didn’t want her touching me. They wouldn’t let me have an epidural. I was scared, and the room was full of people I didn’t want there. I was single and without a support person.”
“At the end I ripped quite bad. They stitched me up too tight and told me to go shower. I passed out in the shower. No one checked on me. I came out and everyone had held my son. The mean nurse wouldn’t leave until I said she made the right call about the epidural thing. I have this written down somewhere if it needs to be more in-depth. I agreed [with] her to make her leave, but she [had] bruised my arm.”
“I tried to [file a complaint] but they gave me a whole run around about needing to take time to get my hormones in control. Almost 5 years later I got a hold of my file. It’s been 8.5 years now.”
“The doctor was fine, but the authority I felt hurt by was the nurse. Her name is under a black smudge on [my] file, which is what I wanted to know when I requested it. My doctor was quite nice. [I have] no issues other than [the] too-tight stitching (which ripped later) and making me get up right away. If I [had known] about the Golden Hour at the time, I would have pushed for it, but I was just doing what I was told at the time.”
Megan has had more birth experiences since her first. She told me of her second birth, where she transferred care from ARH to Chilliwack. Chilliwack General is still under the Fraser Health authority, which is important to take note of.
“My second [child] I almost gave birth there.”
“I had planned a homebirth and the day I went into the labor the midwife flat out refused [to attend me at home]. We met her at the hospital while I was pushing…and they only had one bed. I heard my midwife say I didn’t need it and could go to Chilliwack.”
“[My partner] offered to take me home, but with J as my midwife, I wanted witnesses. We were not transferred, [my partner] had to drive! I waited at the hospital entrance, screaming while he got the car, and I had no drugs to ease the pain. I explained the situation to anyone who asked [what was wrong] hoping to form a mob, maybe, and fix the situation–but no luck”
“[I] got in the van and [we] headed to Chilliwack. My labour stalled and we got mildly lost [on the way there]. Eventually we found [the hospital] and had to ask a man in the parking lot where the main entrance was. [My partner] dropped me off while he tried to figure out where to park. The place was a ghost town! I stood at the entrance screaming and I almost birthed [my baby] alone in the doorway while my husband was parking [the van]. A random woman was just leaving and she offered to help me. She held me up and helped me [inside]. Where is my midwife, you wonder? I dunno. Anyways, the kind woman signaled some other people, they brought me a chair and [my partner] showed up.”
“After baby was born and the cord cut, and [he was] taken, I sat up and my placenta plopped out. I had a shot to stop the bleeding and I nursed [my baby]. My dad picked up my mom and I got to hold [my son] all by myself. I continued to bleed. The nurse was concerned, but [my midwife] said [that] I had the shot, so I would be fine. No one was monitoring me at all. I kept bleeding through the night really bad. No one checked on me. I took a shower–that was horrible! I was struggling to breathe. I was winded and sore, and bleeding everywhere. I was embarrassed because while I was showering my midwife opened the door without knocking. I get that she was just keeping an eye on me, because I had passed out at my last birth, and I get that she has seen me give birth; but still, it felt weird being completely naked and bleeding and trying to clean blood up, and then having someone just walk in, fully clothed, to talk about what [was] going to happen. The midwife left to go to Abbotsford right away after that. I changed rooms at this point and went to sleep. The staff taking over didn’t know how long I had bled, but in the morning I had soaked through my pad, onto the blanket, and blood was dripping onto the floor. They estimated after weighing the blanket that over 2 L had soaked into it. I had lost so much blood that they had to do transfusions.”
“They catheterized me…which hurts a lot. They say it doesn’t. They didn’t deflate the balloon when they pulled it out. I have PTSD from that birth…but it wasn’t at ARH. ‘Cause they didn’t have room. I know that they messed up with the balloon deflation, but I’m not upset about that. Yes, it sucked and I was injured by it, but the nurse immediately apologized for it and told me what had happened. I really appreciated the apology. I know they are probably told not to say when they mess up, but she told me and I appreciated that. The nurses were really great at Chilliwack, as was the doctor who pulled the clots out and saved my life, I’m sure. I didn’t love the whole room full of people watching the doctor pull clots out of me, but hopefully they learned how to do it in the future. I’m upset that it happened, but I think it happened because the system is flooded.”
Not wishing to subject herself to anymore trauma (and who can blame her), Megan chose a homebirth for her third child. Unfortunately, due to the way her last two births went, Megan was labelled “high risk”. They didn’t even bother to get her NAME right.
“My third [child] was a home birth. I, however, am now considered high risk. So after she was born I was transferred to ARH. They labelled me as Aimee (last name redacted). I am not Aimee. I had to tell this to the lady standing over me there to take my blood.”
I expressed my sadness for all that Megan has gone through and the disrespectful care she hadn’t deserved, that I feel is inexcusable. There was NO REASON to force a vaginal exam on an unconsenting client; ESPECIALLY one with a history of sexual trauma THAT WAS IN HER RECORDS. I wish to also point out that not every survivor of rape or sexual assault comes forward and not everyone will report to their care provider of such trauma. Therefore, care providers should be mindful that ANY of their clients could have this trauma and NOT stick their hands in their vaginas without permission! They also should NOT be insisting that the client agree with them that what they did was “for their own good”. Nothing about Megan’s treatment is okay here. There is no excuse for it, regardless of the problems in the facility she birthed her child. She also should have been informed as to medications available and been OFFERED them, NOT had them given without her knowledge or consent. Being a young mother also does not give care providers the right to overrule their client.
Megan attempted a home birth with her second child, trying to avoid a second trauma. For whatever reason, her midwife refused to attend to her. Whether that was due to a lack of coverage within the practice, it also should not have happened. Forcing a mother to return to a hospital that abused her is cruelty, but nonetheless Megan decided to give it one more shot and wound up being turned away. She had to be driven, in labor, to Chilliwack. Having experienced active labor in a car I can attest that it is NOT fun and NOT what a mother should be forced to endure. Finally, the understaffing or lack of communication that led to her nearly bleeding out might have been preventable with proper funding and scheduling. We cannot just keep throwing our hands up in the air and shrugging about the lack of funding and overworked staff in our hospitals.
But despite these issues, I do wish to point out that the small kindness of that one nurse at Chilliwack General, who made a mistake, admitted it, and apologized, was something that EVERYONE should be doing to help ease the trauma. Sometimes, a simple “I screwed up, I’m sorry” is all that’s needed. That said, the disrespect that Megan endured in the hospitals has understandably led to her mistrusting the medical system. NOBODY should have to hire a doula just to “stop them from hurting” them.
“I’m more traumatized each time I go to the doctor for anything medical related. Talking about it’s not a problem. I could write it better if I wasn’t sleep deprived. :p”
“I had a doula for my last birth. That helped a lot having someone stop them from hurting me”.
Sadly, even when she does summon her courage to see a healthcare provider about serious issues, she is not getting the help she needs.
“I prolapsed my cervix at my last birth 10 months ago. No one other than my midwife has seen me about it. I’m on a wait list and I’m told it’s over a year still to be seen at all.”
Megan deserved better. We ALL deserve better. It’s time to break the silence and speak out.