I have a friend who is studying to become a mid-wife. She was working the other day in a maternity ward and helped a patient out and was afterwards spoken to her by the supervising nurse who said that there was ‘no time for kindness’ and she needed to get on with her job.
As she told her story over a coffee, she said, quite rhetorically, what is nursing without kindness? Is there ever a time we don’t have time to be kind? We agreed that she was right, nursing requires kindness.
It turns out that that conversation was quite triggering for me. It has made me furious.
Quite frankly, her supervising nurse shouldn’t be nursing. Especially in a maternity ward.
When I had my first daughter, I was diagnosed with complete placenta previa early on in my pregnancy. I had two scans and they told me I would have to have a caesarean before my due date because if I went into natural labour and the placenta ruptured it would be bad news for the baby and me.
It wasn’t what I had wanted but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. During that pregnancy, every time something unexpected happened I was hauled in to check on the baby and make sure there was no rupturing etc. It was a stressful time. I finished work two weeks before my scheduled c-section, turned up the day before for the scan to confirm where the placenta was.
It was then the doctor told me that whoops, a mistake had been made, I didn’t have this, and in fact, looking at the early scans I didn’t have it then either. It was a misdiagnosis. I should go home and come back when she was ready to be born ‘vaginally’.
So being a good patient. I did. Despite having spent the last 4 months mentally preparing to have a c-section when I had wanted to give birth ‘naturally’. Accepting that sometimes the way we end up doing something is not what we had hoped.
I went in at once stage shortly after my due date because my waters were slowly leaking out of me, but was told I didn’t know what I was talking about and sent home.
I was finally induced two weeks after my due date. Over the next 55 hours, I would be poked, stretched, swept, moved from my bed in the middle of the night to make way for ‘somebody who needed it’, ignored, talked over, poked, prodded, squeezed, stabbed and so on. I had failed inductions, a couple of failed epidurals and by the time I had been doing this for almost 48 hours they hooked me up to a drip, gave me some gas and put the induction up to maximum. The pain kicked in like a steel boot to the vagina. My midwife told me not to suck on the gas until I was properly in pain. When I asked her if she had ever had a baby she said no. I felt bad for feeling pain. So much pain. While I was giving birth. Get your head around that.
I was not only in pain, but I was tired. I hadn’t slept since Sunday night and it was now Tuesday night. I had had my private parts looked at by so many nurses and doctors I had lost count. Despite the inductions and all the rest of it, I was still not even half way dilated. My daughter went into distress shortly after midnight on the Wednesday morning and was born by emergency c-section four and a half weeks after my scheduled c-section. During that time I was told off by the surgeon for chatting to my husband – yes, a woman who had just been paralysed from the chest down, after 55 hours trying to give birth, who had an extreme reaction to the anaesthetic and couldn’t stop shaking, whose child’s heart beat had plummeted and who was understandably really worried, was told to stop trying to distract herself by the person cutting her open.
My baby girl was born safely shortly after, with scratches on her head from some of the instruments used to examine me and they concluded I was right, my waters had broken some time before I gave birth. However, the main thing was that she was okay. Yay team. And I told myself that they were right. That was the main thing.
Eventually, I was moved to a maternity ward. I finally drifted off to sleep when she started to cry. I tried to sit up to get her but couldn’t move. Not because of the stitches but because I felt like I was tied to the bed. I rang the bell and a nurse came in and when I asked her to hand me my baby, she said no. She then launched into a diatribe accusing me of being lazy, and saying it was a hospital and not a hotel and I might as well get used to getting up to get my baby now.
About twenty minutes later she returned and said ‘sorry – I didn’t realise you were the c-section’, and I felt FUCKING grateful can you believe it? She then checked me over and realised that my catheter was wrapped around the winding mechanism so I was literally pinned to the bed. She fixed that up, handed me my baby and left.
In hindsight, I was able to see how many ways the professional staff – both doctors and nurses let me down during that whole experience, but particularly after I was admitted for induction. But that hindsight wasn’t to come for some time.
It is a hospital and not a hotel. But nurses can’t not be medically competent and unkind. People in hospital are vulnerable, particularly mothers who are going through something that is profoundly physical whether or not the birth is vaginal or otherwise.
Following the birth of my eldest daughter and before the birth of my second daughter 19 months later, I was diagnosed with PTSD and PND. I felt like a complete failure as both a mother and a person. Before those diagnoses I thought about killing myself and I wept for days for the life my daughters were going to have without a mother. I kept telling myself that the main thing was she was okay, but if I had got it so wrong the first time, what could go wrong the second.
It was hell. It took me a long time to recognise that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I had trusted my instincts. I had done what I was supposed to do. It was the medical professionals that turned what I had hoped to be one of the best experiences of my life into one of the worst.
I had my second daughter via an elective c-section. The experience was quite different, but due to some complications with her breathing she had to go to NICU. They were great. She came out a few days later and we went home. But by then I was on anti-depressants, and I worried constantly through the whole experience. There was no relaxing for me. Another experience transformed because the of the unkindness shown to me during the first.
So, dear supervising nurse, if you can no longer find time in your day to be kind – you need to quit. My story is but one in a myriad of stories both positive and negative. But it is our ability to be kind and empathise which makes good humans.
And if you don’t have time to be one of those, nursing is not for you.