I’ll be delivering our third baby at the same location I delivered Charlie and Eve – Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD, right on the DC border. My babies and I have received excellent medical care at Holy Cross through two births and one health emergency and hospital stay for Eve when she was 11 months old. And so I feel like having our third baby here too will be a sort of homecoming.
I was especially happy with our second birth and recovery experience at Holy Cross, which occurred in 2006, after the large maternity ward expansion which now offers private labor, delivery and recovery rooms for every single patient and her child. The entire experience was full of excellent care.
My first recovery experience at Holy Cross, however, was definitely an experience. I learned a great deal. I learned that it’s possible that patient care may sometimes be drastically different if the mother is perceived as having little money, is single, is young or is without insurance.
I was none of those things, but I was perceived as being all of them, mainly marked by the fact I did not snag a private room on a crowded night at the hospital.
Back in December of 2003, when our first child Charlie was born, private recovery rooms were available only to patients who had reserved them in advance for a $100 fee, subject to availability. I reserved such a room and paid the fee, but by the time Charlie was delivered and he and I were both deemed ready for a recovery room, it was 1 am and none were available.
I didn’t mind the roommate aspect of sharing a room that much. We each kept to ourselves. The other woman and I did not speak the same language, and I felt self-conscious infringing on her established territory and turning her single into a double in the middle of the night. And in the midst of such huge private events in our lives, there was no room to engage with each other, as we were both wrapped up in the business of feeding and changing our newborns, calling our families and shuffling to the shared bathroom to attend to our own healing and hygiene. (Of course, these bathroom visits took twice as long, since we both were extremely self-conscious of leaving any drop of um, evidence, of each visit out of courtesy for the other.)
Both of our babies cried. Both of us spoke to our families on the phone and she entertained visitors. So we didn’t sleep at all. But again, that was all really no big deal. It’s a hospital, not a hotel.
It was how I was treated (and I assume, we both were treated) by my day nurse the next day that was surprising.
The nurse assigned to me and Charlie, as well as my roommate and her baby, did not always come when I rang. I was in pain from my episiotomy and birth and so requested Tylenol, which did not come even after three requests. I was still wearing my stained gown from the delivery, and was not given a new one even though I requested one. I ran out of baby wipes from removing the extremely sticky meconium from Charlie’s bottom, and was told that I had wasted the wipes and used up all that I was allotted. I could moisten cloths in the bathroom and wipe him using that, or send someone out to buy more. Chris was sent home to grab more newborn baby wipes and plain OTC Tylenol for me.
Although I had opted out of being visited by people I knew until coming home, I was visited by a steady stream of vendor-type visitors who constantly came in, moved the curtain aside without asking first and tried to recruit me to purchase photos, purchase special commemorative copies of The Washington Post, participate in mother and child studies…all whilst I was half-naked and trying to breatfeed for the very first time.
I’d never had a baby before, or ever stayed in a hospital, so I accepted all of this as the normal practice.
However, a few details of my outward appearance may have contributed to this treatment.
- Spouses/partners were not allowed to stay overnight in shared rooms, and my husband Chris was not able to be with me for a few hours that morning, as his mother was having very serious heart surgery at another hospital and he went to see her.
- I did not have any hospital visitors, as my family is in California and Chris’s family were all at the hospital with their mother, as well they should have been! But maybe a fancy-looking grandparent in a chic ensemble would have garnered some respect?
- I was not wearing my wedding rings, leaving them at home for safe-keeping.
- I had chosen a pediatrician sole practitioner who performed rounds at Holy Cross, but she was out on vacation. Thus, a staff physician at Holy Cross was assigned to perform all of Charlie’s pediatric examinations. (I have since switched to a larger pediatric practice that will always have a doctor on-call.)
The nurse commented on a few things when she came to the room.
- “Are you SURE you don’t want to circumcise? That’s what all the good families do. Think about it!”
- “You know, you are going to need to find a pediatrician! That is what mommies do!”
- “You look so young.” (Gee thanks, but I was 28. Definitely not a teen mom. And my birthdate/age were written all over my chart.)
- “Is that guy your boyfriend?” (referring to Chris when he returned.) At the time Charlie was born I was married, had legally changed my name in most forums of my life, but had not changed my name at work or through my work’s health insurance. So Chris and Charlie had one last name, I had another, and Charlie was referred to as “Baby Slovak” in order to match mom to baby. But um, last time I checked, lots of women keep their names.
- The nurse also treated my roommate similarly, while speaking twice as loudly to her, since she spoke an African language and therefore, could clearly understand English better when the volume increased. I imagine that my roommate’s experience with this nurse was much worse than mine, due to the language barrier.
After these eye-opening comments and assumptions, I decided to buzz the nurse every couple hours and remind her that I had reserved and paid for a private room if one opened up, mainly for the chance to be moved to another floor that was outside her assign…and also in the hopes that the room would again become a private room for my roommate.
OK, this was one bad apple. She may have been a temp, and not a staff nurse at Holy Cross. She could have been very over-worked for a variety of reasons. And I was a very healthy patient, with a healthy baby, and so if triage were in place, I should have been at the bottom of the list. I was also very comfortable taking care of my baby, nursing exclusively and not wanting him out of my care, so I didn’t really need her for the main part of her job – making sure baby is doing well.
Her assumptions and lack of care only reflect poorly on her, and not on the hospital as a whole. Most of the other nurses I have experienced at Holy Cross have been INCREDIBLE, caring and proactive.
Including the nurses I met once Charlie and I were moved to our own room for the second evening of our stay.
I was assigned one nurse.
And another nurse was assigned to Charlie!
My nurse took one look at my gown and gasped at the gore, and brought me two clean ones.
I was brought tons of personal sanitary and soothing products not yet offered to me, to make my below-the-belt healing from the 9 and a half pound baby delivery and episiotomy more comfortable.
I was asked about how well Charlie was nursing and eliminating waste.
Charlie was given as many wipes as his little butt desired.
I was offered a lactation consultant, either via a group class or private consult.
I was offered various pain medications and urged to take them so my body could heal and rest.
I was given a menu from which to order meals of my choice, rather than simply a delivery of whatever was available.
I was given the option of having my husband stay overnight with me, if I wished. However, no one asked us about our marital status, as this truly should not be a factor in a mother’s health care post-baby.
I was given the option of stating that I would prefer no outside vendor-type visitors.
I was treated with dignity and tenderness and professionalism…and asked questions only related to my and my baby’s health!
Of course this is all very dramatic because I was assigned such a ditz the first time.
And I am blessed to be able to obsess about these details because I had a healthy baby, and a healthy birth. That’s all that really matters.
But it was mind-blowing to me the difference of care a woman could receive, just by the chance of having an extra $100 for a private room!
Thankfully, this is now the care that EVERY woman who delivers a baby at Holy Cross Hospital receives since the hospital’s Maternity Center expansion. All women and babies receive private rooms, and I assume, the same standard of care.
This fine level of care existed when I had my second child, and I am confident that it will occur when I have my third.
I also am much more comfortable being my own advocate. And I probably radiate more experience and authority. And since I’ve been through births before, I know now the type of care I should expect, and if necessary, demand next time.
I know that at several other hospitals in the area, private rooms are not available or must be reserved.
So I’d love to hear from you guys:
- Did you have a private room hospital room when you had your baby? Do you feel it mattered?
- Do you guys think private rooms and perceived income or health insurance situation have a bearing on a patient’s birth and recovery experience?
- Do you believe some women are treated differently than others at hospitals when they have a baby? Do you think experience, confidence or other external factors contribute to better care?
- Did any of you opt for a birthing center or a home birth after a experiencing a hospital birth? Why?
I’d love to hear your experiences!