Dear ACOG, Moms Have Been Speaking Up.
You Just Don’t Believe Us.
When I was a week postpartum suffering from violent, full body-shaking chills and spiking fevers, I wandered into the OB triage/ED at my local hospital. I knew something wasn’t right, but didn’t have specific symptoms other than the chills and fever. The OB on call came into my room and told me what I was experiencing was simply the hormone surges that happen after birth.
I thought that was a strange explanation — this was my second baby and I never experienced this with my first, and all my friends who have had babies never reported this happening to them — but since my fever was gone, they sent me home.
At home my fever spiked and stayed high, so I called my OB’s on call line and told the doctor what the triage staff told me. He said what I thought from the beginning — this was not hormones. It was an infection. When I went to see my usual OB the next day, he looked at me, looked at my vitals, and declared my fever must be from my milk coming in. Are. You. Kidding Me?
It was only after I asked about the possibility of an infection did they test my urine, which revealed a pretty bad one. If I hadn’t asked about that, they would have sent me home with the infection still raging.
Stories like mine are freakishly common among postpartum and pregnant people in this country, because too few are checking on moms. Too few are talking to moms. Too few are listening to moms. Too few are stopping to ask #IsMomOK. As long as we have a heartbeat, we’re going to get sent on our way.
We have a problem, something doesn’t feel right, we’re worried, and our doctors dismiss us. Sometimes they dismiss us until we’re dying, and sometimes they can’t save us. We speak up. Our loved ones speak up. But, we aren’t believed.
So imagine my surprise when I saw the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) launched a “Preventable Maternal Mortality” initiative. The initiative’s tagline is, “Every Mom. Every Time.” And it makes me really, really angry. What is happening in maternity and postpartum care in this country is so far from “Every Mom. Every Time.” It’s laughable.
Was “Every Mom. Every Time” in play when providers brushed off Serena Williams after she declared she urgently needed a CT scan to check for a pulmonary embolism after the birth of her daughter?
Or what about Kira Johnson? Were doctors thinking “Every Mom. Every Time” when they ignored Kira’s deteriorating condition and the pleas from her loved ones to take action before she died from c-section complications?
Was “Every Mom. Every Time” on the minds of doctors when they sent YoLanda Mention home with dangerously high blood pressure and later made her wait for hours in an ER waiting room, causing her to have a fatal stroke?
Were medical staff thinking “Every Mom. Every Time” when they flipped Caroline Malatesta onto her back during labor and held her crowning baby inside her vagina for six minutes causing a painful, permanent nerve injury and PTSD?
And I’m sure Kimberly Turbin’s doctor was thinking “Every Mom. Every Time” when he angrily gave her 12 lacerations as she loudly objected to an episiotomy.
It’s long overdue to turn the focus to the people giving birth. We are not just vehicles used to grow and expel babies. It’s time to take pause and ask, “Is Mom OK?” You might be surprised by what you hear.
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This blog post is part of the #IsMomOK initiative. The time is now to share our stories and appeal to the medical community to take pause and listen, really listen.
To have the impact that we envision, we need your participation. Here’s how:
DONATE: By donating, you are insuring that your voice is represented as a consumer, as a mother, as a birthing person. If you have ever felt dismissed please donate.
GET A SHIRT: See yourself as an ambassador of improving birth. Help us expand and grow this message. that we deserve better, by wearing your t-shirt with pride.
SHARE YOUR STORY: The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Sharing your story can inspire others and quite possibly, drive real change.
GET INVOLVED: All of us have important work to do – each with something to contribute, because if we don’t, the work will not be done. We need your drive and dedication
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Part 1 of a 2-Part Series
About the author: Casey Newman is on the board of ImprovingBirth and a PR/marketing professional with a passion for maternal issues. She enjoys spending time with her family, supporting various causes, and angrily tweeting about baseball @caseybnewman.