Catherine's Story - Montfort Hospital, Ottawa

December 2017 and January 2018 - When my water broke before the beginning of true labour, I was told that the baby had to be delivered within 24 hours or there would be an increased risk of infection. I was also told to be wary of how many vaginal exams I got as these would also increase the risk of infection.

At the 24 hour mark, I was told that I could start pushing. Then, there was an emergency c-section down the hall, so all of the doctors and nurses left the room, except for one nurse. I was told to stop pushing. I was left there for 3-4 hours, not able to push, while the nurse did her booking on the computer. I was feeling very anxious as we had surpassed the 24 hour mark that I was warned against.

Finally, a few hours later, two doctors and a nurse arrived to deliver the baby. The nurse gave me an internal exam which confirmed the location of the baby. A doctor then gave me the same exam to reconfirm the location of the baby. Then, a third doctor gave me the same exam yet again, this time without requesting my consent. She was examining me for what seemed like a long time, even joking around with her colleagues while inside of me. I was getting more and more anxious, knowing that this was increasing the risk of infection. I said, “Excuse me, are we finished with this exam yet?” I then felt guilty, apologized, and was worried about the feelings of the doctor while my son was being delivered.

I then had to decide whether to use the vacuum. The benefits and risks were difficult to decipher with my increased anxiety.

Our beautiful son was born, but I got an infection. We then had to stay in the hospital for five days.

The hospital stay felt like a nightmare. While attached to an IV, I was learning to breastfeed. At this point, I was receiving very little assistance on breastfeeding. I was told not to worry because my son’s stomach was the size of a pea. So, I thought that the amount of colostrum that I was producing was sufficient. Suddenly, I was told that my son was losing too much weight. I was instructed by a nurse to supplement with formula. This is a hospital that advertises the importance of breastfeeding. For months leading up to the birth, I was told about the benefits of breast milk. I was never informed that formula might be an option and certainly never made to feel safe about this option. So, naturally, I was very worried about my son’s weight and about supplementing with formula. I was so worried that this would undermine my ability to breastfeed and about all the important vitamins/nutrients he might lose. I asked if I could please speak with the paediatrician to get a better understanding and to consider alternatives to formula. The nurse responded, “This is the time to put the health of your baby first.” This comment upset me so much. It made me feel like a bad mother when my entire concern was for the well-being of my son.

From this moment, nurses would regularly come into our room and grab my breasts without asking. I felt violated. This, along with the non-consensual vaginal exam, made me feel sexually assaulted, all by female doctors and nurses. We were in a so-called private room, covered only partially by insurance, where nurses would leave the door open, come in without knocking and just grab me without any respect for my dignity.

There seemed to be such a lack of care for my well-being. This is despite that my file would have indicated me as a candidate for postpartum depression. I was told, “We’re not concerned that you have an infection – we’re concerned about it being passed to your son.” I also felt very little compassion for my concerns on having to supplement with formula. Instead of compassion, I was made to feel like a bad and irresponsible mother. When I had a moment of pride and excitement at having pumped a syringe worth of colostrum, which took a long and uncomfortable time with it being my first try at pumping, the nurse just stared at me blankly and said, “You need to pump more.” Due to all the stress of labour, feeling violated, being exhausted by no sleep, feeling anxious for my son, I cried. Upon my tears, the nurse said to me, “You’re showing signs of postpartum depression.” I thought this was completely unreasonable. First, I didn’t feel it was her place to diagnose me. Second, any person in their right mind would find themselves in tears under these circumstances. I also think that the way I was treated has increased the possibility of me experiencing postpartum depression.

My feelings of having received malpractice and being violated were affirmed when on the last day of our stay, the doctor who delivered our son apologized for the non-consensual vaginal examination, without me raising the issue.

A few weeks after this five-day hospital stay, I ended up back in the hospital. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance due to severe pain in my chest. I ended up needing to get my gall bladder removed. I was in the hospital for six days. I was told that I shouldn’t bring my son to the hospital due to the flu season, to which I of course agreed. Being away from my son was agony. I was so worried this would undermine our bonding, his well-being, and, again, our breastfeeding, which we had worked so hard to establish after the formula supplementation.

Again, I received very little compassion from nurses and doctors. I think that the treatment I received was despicable. I would ring the bell and receive no response. I was given only one Jello a day. This was my 9 p.m. treat. That is all I ate all week long, one Jello a day, except for the attached IV. I hardly received any kindness or sympathy, even though I was crying from being away from my son and from feeling so hungry. I was pumping every few hours, fortunate that family members were able to bring milk and bottles back-and-forth from home and the hospital. Finally, on the 4th day, I asked if I could shower. I had never been informed of that possibility. The shower provided some relief. On the 5th day, I had a visit from the Manager of Operations who exclaimed, “I’ve just had a look at your file. I’m surprised you’ve been in here for this long! I would have sent you home and had you return for the surgery”. I was told the same thing when I first arrived at Emergency, that I could probably go home before my surgery to be with my son. But, my “doctor” strongly advised against me going home. She also showed very little compassion for my concern for the welfare of my son or the fact that I was hungry. I have since read that a gall bladder surgery is typically a one-day event and that fasting is only required for 8 hours.

When I could finally leave the hospital, I needed to go to the pharmacy for a prescription. My health card was missing from my wallet. After making a trip back to the hospital and a few phone calls, I found out that the hospital staff had given my mother my health card without informing me.

It was a nightmare. Since my experience, I’ve literally had nightmares of prying nurses, dingy showers, even that my son was being kidnapped. Now, three months after the birth, I am falling into a depression. My anxiety has greatly increased. I'm having to go on medication and am seeing a psychologist. I owe this in part to the lack of care I received at the hospital. I would expect more from our health care system in Canada. While I understand that my treatment is probably due in part to systemic issues, like a lack of funding and shortage of staff, I think that it is incumbent on all qualified medical staff to offer compassion and to receive consent from patients. I also think that some sympathy, gentle treatment and kind words could go a long way in helping to prevent postpartum depression.

I would also like to mention that when I received a phone call prior to labour to discuss rooming possibilities, I was never informed that there was a possibility of staying at the hospital for five days. I was told that the longest would be 48 hours. We are not wealthy, but we decided to stretch our funds for a private room with the understanding of a two-day maximum. Had I known that complications could result in a longer stay, I would have opted for a semi-private room. I think being upfront about this possibility is important. Everyone should be informed about the possibility of a lengthy stay. People, particularly those in a lower-income bracket, should also be informed if there’s a possibility of giving birth somewhere free of charge, say in a ward.

I haven't reported my experience because I haven't wanted to deal with the hospital again. That said, writing on this forum has helped me take the time to write out my story which would make reporting that much easier.

My story isn't as horrific as other people's stories - but that's what makes it telling, that even mine felt like a nightmare.

Submitted by Catherine P