At the end of December in 2016 I gave birth to my son in a planned c-section at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Ontario.
My pregnancy was certainly not a typical one; because of an issue with the placenta and multiple bleeds I spent most of my time as an inpatient on the high risk floor from the end of September until my son was born.
Although this may not be what readers of this project may be expecting at this point, my treatment was almost all exemplary during my time on the high risk floor. My ob-gyn was incredibly supportive, kind, and helped me to make informed choices.
Spending so much time on the floor meant that I made real connections with many of the nurses and support staff. When I expressed concern about my mental health I was put in touch with the floor’s social worker who guided me through this time that was incredibly difficult for me and my family.
The actual process of the c-section was frightening but I felt respected and informed at every point. However, I entered this hospital environment after having had multiple miscarriages and a complete fertility work up. I had already gained fluency in many things pertaining to a complicated pregnancy even though it is in no way my area of expertise.
I would also like to acknowledge that I am a white, English speaking, married woman with a large support network that includes doctors and nurses. I also had no history of issues with mental health. I bring this up because in addition to forming connections with the staff on the floor, I also had the opportunity to speak to many other patients. As I spoke to them, a trend began to emerge that bothered me. While speaking to women of colour, especially those whose first language was not English, I found that they reported having much less choice in how they were treated by their doctors than I did.
For example, one woman told me that she had found out at 17 weeks that she would have to be on bed rest at home for her pregnancy and would have to check back in at 23 weeks. At that appointment she was told she would not be allowed to leave the hospital and would have to remain as an inpatient. The nurses had been shocked that she hadn’t been told ahead of time that this was what would happen, but her OB had not felt she needed this information. He had not seen it as important for her to know that this would be the next step. She then had to struggle to find childcare for her other child and had no support in place for this hospital stay.
Stories like this, where women were only told part of the story or not allowed to make choices for their own care, came up with alarming frequency among women who did not share my privileged background.
The fact that the system continues to support outdated and offensive attitudes amongst some staff was confirmed to me when a member of support staff asked if I would return to work when my baby was born. When I told her I would, she was relieved but not surprised; she said she could tell I wouldn’t be lazy and on welfare since I did not have dark skin.
I would like to state here that none of these stories were about my ob-gyn and he was consistently respectful of my husband’s culture, which is different to mine. However there were enough stories, about a few different doctors, that the only impression it left was that working within this system not all staff treated all women the same. After my son’s birth when at the breast feeding clinic a thoughtless remark about, “these women with depression” not caring for their babies further demonstrated to me that those who have mental health issues were also dismissed by some members of the staff.
I hesitated before writing this story; as I say, my experience with the staff on both the high risk and birthing floors was primarily positive. Also these are not my stories to tell; they belong to these women who trusted me at a vulnerable time. But I think that if I do not share the contrast that I witnessed there will be no way for it to change. It is my hope that this can serve to amplify the voices of these women so that those who follow can be treated with more sensitivity, equality, and fairness.
Submitted by Jess