Most of my interactions with health care providers and professionals have been gentle and tailored for my needs following Piper's death in July. There are certain professionals that I encounter and hope not to explain the details of my child's passing. I only had to correct a nurse at my new OB/GYN's office once that my kid was not a "fetal demise". She was a baby and her name is Piper so go ahead and write that in my chart. I can already tell you our specialty clinic has ANGRY MAMA BEAR:BEWARE or maybe nervous turtle scribbled on the front of my chart. I also don't want to explain to a my PCP or the nurse practitioner I typically see on my lunch break how I have, yes had one pregnancy. No, no live births. The first time I met my counselor, I didn't really say anything just sobbed for our hour session.
I went shopping for new Doctors. Did you know you can just meet a doctor and vet them like a political candidate? I vividly remember telling my counselor how my husband said I don't have to come back like a small child tattling. She handed it like the pro she is. No, I don't blame my former OB for Piper's death. Not even a little. I needed a change. I did not need to be reminded of how my daughter died every time I had a pap smear for the rest. of. my. life. The anxiety that the building incited was off the charts. I was already on my way out when I received a phone call on December 8th asking "How the baby girl was doing?" Go ahead and pick your jaw from the floor. I am a fairly rational person but the follow up phone call to that statement was just shy of insane. Once I had calmed down, several days later, I drafted and sent a letter to both my physician and the office manager. I have kept that message on my phone in case I need the strength to move a car off someone. I have included the letter below:
I hope this letter will assist your office staff during their interactions with families who have experienced child loss.
My name is Natalie and I have been a long standing patient with your practice, nearly 12 years, with Dr. M. heading my care. Following a happy, uncomplicated pregnancy; our girl, Piper Kai Bennett, was born still on July 13, 2016. This was my first pregnancy and I was just over 9 months along. She was a beauty, 6lbs 4ounces, 20 inches long and blonde like her momma. I hope you are not privy to the anguish that follows a stillbirth and I do not think the letter could adequately express the grief my family has endured nor the hole in which I have crawled out of in order to participate fully in life.
On December 8, 2016, I received a voicemail from your front office staff inquiring “how you and the baby girl are doing” and to remind me of my annual appointment. I became upset to the point it was necessary to pull over my vehicle. I called your front desk staff immediately and through heavy tears attempted to explain my child’s death and that messages, such as these, are traumatizing. I was too emotional to fully explain the magnitude of this oversight. I am concerned, how in the year 2016, with electronic medical charting that my trauma is not listed in bold, red letters to allow for some careful handling.
I realize people make mistakes. I choose to believe that people are mostly good, kind hearted and had this been the first incident I would have been willing to overlook it; however this event is not isolated. On July 11, 2016 I called around 0900 to speak with a nurse, with concerns about lack of fetal movement. At 0945, I drove myself to L&D where her death was confirmed. I realize that she had passed prior to that 45 minute lapse in time. What I am fearful about is the lack of consistency and protocol for dealing with patient concerns.
On July 14, 2016 your office called to remind me of my prenatal appointment scheduled for the following day. Now working in a hospital, I can understand that your computers had not been updated as Piper had died earlier that week but we called to lodge a complaint. Again on a helpful note, when we came in for my postpartum check-up being handed the postpartum paperwork and enduring the lobby was difficult. I could imagine this being the case for most mothers’ experiencing child loss. I would have found it helpful had the paperwork been previewed and perhaps allowing my husband and me to wait for Dr. M. in a different room.
I live in this world without my daughter permanently and a 30 second chart review could have easily avoided these patterns of negligence. As a mother of a child that does not walk the earth, I hope that this letter can help educate your office staff.
So I switched. I also never heard from them again. My best friend's Mom, recommended a nice, lady doctor who handles high risk (read, crazy) moms. My former OB did not want to examine me at my 6 week follow-up for fear of traumatizing me. At the time, much appreciated but then a few months later, OK October, I thought hm, better get all that checked out. I scheduled an appointment which my sweet mother attended. They had all my records ahead of time.
The first thing the nurse said to me was "You don't have to tell me anything. I know why you are here and I am so sorry" and the proceeded to hug me. Sob, sob, sob went the mama bear. The doctor answered my questions for nearly an hour and said almost exactly what my past OB had said. Umbilical cord accidents are rare. Did it make me feel better? Yes. I had every test done under the sun and a set of fresh eyes to review Piper and my hospital records.
I had to see her again after that initial visit because there was fear of an ovarian cyst. Turned out to be a kidney stone. Oh the joy. I had to have an internal ultrasound and let me tell you how anxiety inducing that can be for a woman who has experienced child loss or anyone with an ounce of anxiety. I told the nurse I thought I was about to faint. She offered me a water and let me sit in the chair with the door open and rubbed my back, ya'll. Rubbed my back. That little bit of humanity goes a looong way.
Doctor visits are traumatic for me, now. I am thankful for our new care team and modern medicine. Yet I continue to be wrecked with anxiety at each appointment. Squeak is a high risk pregnancy, requiring loads of extra monitoring. On one hand it's soothing to see my baby more frequently, and on the other requires I live at the doctors. Specifically the high risk clinic. It's a serious place and I'm fortunate to be under their care but the waiting and hour long ultrasounds are hard. Luckily, I know these visits are not solely the byproduct of my own anxiety or grief. Recently I have encountered some brave moms who have survived the quiet, dark rooms at the specialty hospital.
If you work or know someone who works in a hospital setting, share away. Patients are people. People have problems, stories and boo-boos. Be nice and read your charts.
Rest easy my darling Piper Kai. Everyday my babe, everyday.