I’ve been rather quiet for a few weeks. I have been a bit preoccupied … I’m actually pregnant with our third baby, and I’ve been contending with morning sickness, tiredness, and grumpy children!
I’m now 19 weeks and through the worst of the sickness (though it still comes in panic-inducing waves) and being pregnant again has made me reflect a bit more on my other delivery experiences.
My first son was born at 30 weeks gestation, and spent the first five weeks of his life in hospital, fed by tubes and kept alive (for a week or so at least) by machines. He did really well, but nothing can quite prepare you for that experience of having your helpless newborn isolated from you in a plastic box, wearing an arterial line, and having to leave them there every night.
I try to suppress the memories, but if I’m honest with myself, I’m terrified it’s going to happen again.
My second son was born naturally at almost full term. I had no pre-eclamsia, or other complications. But that’s no guarantee that it won’t happen again.
This time around the medical professionals seem quite unconcerned. I’m basically being left to cook. I’ll be scanned regularly from next week to make sure the baby is growing well, and like all pregnant women I’ll have my blood pressure and urine checked routinely, but today I’m feeling very uncared for. I think what has struck me most lately is the massive difference that a single medical professional can make to their patients.
I suppose what I want to do here is appeal to medical staff caring for pregnant mothers who’ve had traumatic deliveries in the past. It doesn’t matter if right now she is ok. That mother will be haunted by the terror of having her own life and the life of her fragile baby hanging in the balance. She remembers the bleeping machines, the tubes of blood, the wires, the alarms, and the fear. She remembers the smell of the hand gel on the ward, and just a whiff of it now makes her feel sick. She remembers the feeling of empty arms, and the ache of coming home to an empty cot, once full of expectation, now overflowing with anxiety.
Be gentle with her. If she is worried, acknowledge her fears instead of just dismissing them.
“I understand why you’re worried,” would be enough. With a little gentle reassurance: “But we’re going to take good care of you.”
Listen to her fears, even if you think they are unfounded. Chances are she’s been researching online whatever landed her baby in the NICU, and has come across the many exceptions to the rule that exist. Besides, even if her risk factor of it happening again is only 1%, to a mother that is 1% too high.
Don’t tell her that the slight rise in her blood pressure over the last few appointments is due to her anxiety. This is not going to help her relax in the slightest.
Don’t tell her that you have no idea why she feels breathless and nauseous because her iron levels are fine. At least suggest further investigation.
When she says that actually, she’s not felt very well through the whole pregnancy and sometimes feels as she did when she had complications, listen and acknowledge, and show some concern.
Do make eye contact and be patient. I know you are under time pressure, and probably have a list of patients the length of your arm. I know you may not have had a cup of tea for a few hours, and perhaps you had to skip lunch today. I know the pressures that rest on medical staff these days.
But this woman might have been waiting desperately for this five minutes of your time to be reassured and listened to. She might have fears that she cannot express to anyone else because they do not have the expertise to help her. Just giving her time to express those fears can help her massively.
You could be the difference between a mother feeling confident and safe, and sobbing in the car park because she feels all alone and that no one is listening to her.