I gave birth to my baby girl on December 23rd. Luckily, things went well (UNLIKE LAST TIME, AMIRITE?) and I was discharged the next day, just in time to help my five-year-old hang his stocking for Santa.
So my stay on the maternity floor of the Health Sciences lasted the 24-hour minimum, almost to the minute. And since I was placed on a ward instead of in a private room, 24 hours was more than enough.
Below is the commentary I shared on CBC radio yesterday. Beneath that is a transcript of it, with one important addition highlighted in red. I don’t think I was being insensitive by this omission, given the anonymity of my ward-mate (I don’t know her name, I never saw her face). But I was most definitely unclear. As you should know, especially if you’ve seen the video I made a few weeks back (scroll down for Ward in a State), I’m advocating for privacy on the maternity floor largely because of the pain felt by mothers forced to share a space with other mothers and their healthy babies, while their babies receive care in the intensive care unit. I’m sorry I did not communicate that well on the air. Perhaps I can blame my baby brain for my toolishness.
When I was admitted in the case room, I put my name on the list for a private room in case one miraculously became available. The nurses chuckled, knowing how difficult securing a private room would be. I had heard the rooms set aside for gynaecology patients were vacant for the holidays, but apparently the doors were all shut – unavailable to obstetrics patients, like new mothers. I’m not sure why.
Sure enough, once I had my baby girl, I was transported to a ward. I was relieved to discover just one other patient in the room, and three empty beds. Small victories. Instead of a noisy, jam-packed ward of mothers, their partners, and their crying babies (which is precisely what I experienced when I had my first child five years ago), I’d be sharing a room with just one woman. I had no idea who she was, but within moments there were no secrets between us. Not because we talked, but because we both had ears. The nurse greeted me and gave me the standard postpartum rundown: “Keep an eye out for blood clots when you use the bathroom,” she said, among other things. And there it was. I had ‘revealed all’ in the case room downstairs (no time for modesty there!) and it was no different here now. Whatever was happening in my “land down under,” anyone within earshot would know about it. My roommate and I each occupied a corner of the room away from the door, our cramped quarters surrounded by thin, bluish-green curtains. I didn’t see her face, but I could hear everything about her situation, and she mine. Her baby was in the NICU, so every three hours a nurse clamoured in – not with her baby, but with a breast pump on wheels. I listened to the sound of her pumping milk every couple of hours, and I presume she listened to me soothe my baby as I struggled to get reacquainted with changing diapers and breastfeeding. I thought about how awful she must feel, to hear me feeding my baby in my arms while she was not yet holding hers.
The noise from the hall was much more disruptive than the noise from my roommate’s bedside. When you’re on a ward, the door to the room is always open. The floor is noisy, with new patients arriving, and babies and medical equipment being wheeled about. It’s like living next to the train tracks. Not great if you have high blood pressure, or if you desperately need rest because you’re being induced in the morning and about to face 20+ hours of labour. Unless you can trick an anesthesiologist into slipping you something, sleep may be a distant dream.
The next day, my roommate and I both had a handful of visitors, but at different times, so the room was never overcrowded. Still, the space inside my curtain was so limited, my mother and aunt could barely find a place to sit comfortably and hold the baby. The truth is, the ward is cramped even when only half occupied. Once the curtain is drawn, you have a couple feet of space around your bed. Add a food tray and a chair and a baby in a plastic crib bassinet and you’re going to have a tough time moving around safely. And don’t forget, you’re pregnant or still look like you are, so chances are your belly is going to reduce that space even more. You probably also have painful stitches which makes moving around uncomfortable in the roomiest of spaces. It’s not safe for you. It’s especially not safe for you to be handling an infant there.
Speaking of small spaces: the bathroom. Hard to believe it was built to be shared by up to four obstetrics patients. Wow. There was a small shelf above the sink on which to lay my things, and having just given birth, boy did I have things. I had things I wish I didn’t. I bled a little on the bathroom floor, so I had to bend down and clean it up for fear my ward-mate or her partner would see it, or, worse, slip on it. I could have notified the staff but I really didn’t want to draw more attention to it than necessary. I shudder at the thought of sharing that bathroom with three other women and their vaginas and their visitors for those 24 hours, let alone several days.
I took a walk down the hall, past the room I had stayed in when my son was born in 2009. The door of the room across from it was sealed off and had a caution sign that read “MOLD.” I wasn’t sure if I should feel grossed out by it, or relieved that they were fixing it. There was something super creepy about seeing a MOLD sign just a few feet from a room full of brand new humans, that’s for sure.
So how was my experience on the maternity ward, in a nutshell? The ward was noisy and cramped, even with just two occupants. Privacy was truly impossible. But it was clean, and the Registered Nurses and doctors were excellent. In fact, I imagine they could deliver an even higher level of care if they had rooms they could actually move around in properly. Rooms in which they could feel proud to care for new mothers and their babies.
Overall my experience on the maternity ward at the Health Sciences was good. Good, because it was brief.