Pregnancy Loss Meets the Medical Profession

August 24, 2017

When I found out I was pregnant, I was in shock. After four years of infertility, we conceived naturally two weeks before an appointment to begin fertility treatment and schedule an IUI.

The test was positive. It was a miracle. And then, things began to go wrong. I was sick. I ran a temperature for almost the entire first trimester.

My blood pressure just kept going up. I was so exhausted I could barely get out of bed. I had some abnormal kidney labs. I had an infection that needed antibiotics. Through all of this, my doctors seemed relatively unconcerned. They never scheduled anything but routine check-ups and acted as though my every concern was a normal overreaction by a worried first-time mom.

Two days before my stillbirth, I had an anatomy scan. Cory wasn’t “cooperating,” so the ultrasound tech shifted me back and forth, side-to-side, so hard that the entire metal bed shook. It hurt and I told her so. She blew off my concerns and continued pushing and prodding and trying to get him to turn over. I squeezed the bed so tightly that my knuckles were white, but she insisted in a patronizing tone that I would be fine, so I held my breath and my tongue.

The day of my stillbirth I went to the closest hospital to our home, which was not where my doctors delivered. They actually had no idea I had lost the baby until the day after, when they called to berate me for missing my twenty-week check-up.

It took me seven or eight minutes to get the nurse to stop scolding me and tell her my son was dead. She scheduled a follow-up appointment for six weeks and hung up.

When I arrived at the follow-up appointment to make sure I was healing properly, a very pregnant nurse took my husband and me to a room. She handed me a survey. It was the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Symptoms Quiz and Score Tool. She left the room and I began to fill it out. The more I read, the angrier I got. The Edinburgh Quiz is for normal postpartum. “Are you sad?” “Have you been able to see the happy side of things?” “Are you looking forward to the future?” “Have you blamed yourself when things went wrong?” These questions are meant for a woman with a baby at home, not a woman who just came from picking up her tiny baby’s ashes. When the nurse came back, I lashed out. “ I am not filling out this form.

My baby is dead. I am severely depressed.

You can put that in the file.” She acted like I was being ridiculous. “Ma’am. We have everyone fill this out. It’s a normal postpartum form.” I glared, “I am not going to fill it out. I’m not ‘normal postpartum.’ I’m not filling it out.”

Recently, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. Six months after the stillbirth, I was still having severe panic attacks frequently. The therapist I have been seeing recommended something to control my anxiety in the short term, so I needed to see my primary care doctor for a prescription. The nurse who took my weight and blood pressure asked why I was seeing the doctor. I told him I had been having panic attacks and wanted to discuss anti-anxiety medication. He asked, “And do you have any idea what’s been causing your anxiety?”

This is a nurse I have seen five times in the past three months. He has taken down my medical history numerous times. He has heard the short version of my story, “A stillbirth in January and a miscarriage in May,” more often than some of my friends. But he’s curious why I might be anxious. I’m not asking that he remember my face or my story out of the many patients he sees every day, but he could at least make a note: “Prickly woman has lost two pregnancies. Don’t ask her why she’s depressed.”

Not all of my experiences have been negative. I’ve had doctors that cared deeply, explained patiently, and held my hand. I’ve had nurses that were seemingly as invested in our pregnancy as we were. We had a nurse that went to the store while I was in labor to buy a stuffed animal with our son’s name. We had nurses that stroked my forehead and prayed with us. I’ve had a nurse that gave me her phone number and told me to call her day or night. We had a therapist add us on Facebook and beg us to keep in contact. I had a doctor who cried huge tears while listening to our story.

We’ve had a doctor be frank and open with us during our miscarriage, while maintaining a compassionate and caring demeanor.

Certainly, there are quiet heroes working in medicine today and I do not want to negate their service and dedication.

I want to be clear that not one of the medical professionals in my stories hold the blame for my stillbirth. My placenta had a “freak infection” that caused my body to go into labor at twenty weeks and four days. However, in the months since, I had been frustrated and angry enough to blame them for many things, especially causing me pain and hurt with their careless words and actions.

There is no doubt in the loss community that the medical profession needs serious training when it comes to pregnancy loss. My story is not uncommon.

I have met couples whose tragic stories do have a villain, they know exactly who is to blame for their loss. A doctor who didn’t take bleeding seriously and a nurse who didn’t wash their hands before handling a premature baby are just two of such stories that make me shudder. With the numerous studies recently released concerning maternal care in America, I’m frankly not surprised anymore when I hear such horror stories. Stillbirth, miscarriage, and neonatal loss – these things happen far too often for anyone who works with pregnant women to be insensitive, calloused, and patronizing.

What has your experience with the medical profession been? Were your doctors helpful and caring? Did a nurse go out of their way to make your experience as bearable as possible? Or did you find yourself disappointed with your care?

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