Bedside Manners

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to bag the medical profession! It is a record of some of my experiences. I HAVE met some lovely people in the hospital system too, who have done their best to provide comfort … but I still carry the scars from the unnecessarily nasty comments made.

Up until I became a parent I did not have much to do with doctors and hospitals – apart from the occasional bout of asthma I’ve been pretty healthy and have always preferred the advice of naturopaths and other alternative health practitioners because I appreciate the way they tend to look at the broader perspective of the body as a whole functioning organism, rather than just looking at symptoms of an illness and ‘fixing’ it. I have also found such people who work this way to be very caring: interested in who I am, interested in helping me reach my health potential and interested in my emotional health as well as my physical health. My naturopath is an incredibly busy woman, she meets clients all day and out of hours too, and yet always makes me feel like I am the most important person in the room. She has made home visits, and hospital visits, and when it counted she took up the care of my son as her personal mission to return him to health. I have a lovely doctor I now visit when I absolutely have to, who is equally as busy, softly spoken and open-minded, and although I don’t think he is interested in me personally, he is polite and non-judgemental. It has been quite search to find him, as over the years, my particular view of health has not matched up with various other doctors that I have encountered. I really do appreciate good manners, and those who take the time to use them.

I’ve had quite a few more encounters with doctors and the hospital since I’ve had children, most of them very positive but there have been a few comments dropped in along on this journey that have left me quite shocked with the impersonal, judgemental and just plain rude treatment I’ve received. I am quite aware that when one sees patients every day, that perhaps you could possibly just fall in to the manner of treating symptom after symptom, and perhaps lose the idea that there is a person involved too … I don’t really know how or why it happens, but these few incidents have definitely over shadowed my whole experience with the medical profession.

Having said that, I can’t fault the actual service we have received. On more than one occasion I have been utterly grateful to have had such knowledgeable and experienced staff ready to pull us out of danger and to help us back on the road to health. When it comes to it I am willing to accept what needs to be done, provided I feel fully informed. I just wish that sometimes it could happen without judgement. Never have I put my or my family’s life at risk, and yet certainly I have been made to feel like I have.

I know there are medical professionals out there who do make an effort to  make patients feel comfortable and comforted. I have had hugs from random nurses, kind aneasthetists who have held my hand, and a rather funny experience with a nurse who had to climb over  my bed when I passed out due to blood loss from a miscarriage and knocked my bed into the door in the process … well it was funny retrospectively 🙂

But I HAVE to get it out of my system. These comments over the years continue to come back and make me angry because they were made to make me feel guilty about my choices, and I don’t see that as the role of a medical practitioner – so I’m going to list them.

Her child will die

First there is the obstetrician who wouldn’t listen to my midwife and frightened me into getting a scan during my late pregnancy with Kaelan. She was convinced I had placenta praevia – it turned out I did not, but then scan results indicated he would almost 9 pounds 10 and she very kindly phoned me at home to tell me that I would not be able to birth him. She also phoned my midwife and told her that I or the baby would die if I were to continue with a home birth. Kaelan was 8 pounds 8, and I still wonder if this horrible phone call contributed to his eventual emergency cesear.

This is what you get for using herbal hippy homeopathic hocus pocus

This comment made to David and I after we had to wait five hours in the A & E at hospital for our 13 month old son to be seen, diagnosed and treated for acute meningitis. Needless to say we were quite distressed and the last thing we needed to hear was her opinion that the homeopathics we were using to treat his chest infection may have contributed to the onset of his illness, which actually wasn’t the case. Bad choice of words and bad timing.

Your child is very malnourished

Well! What could I say to that? Actually it was partly true because he’d been sick for so long that he was off food and practically fully breastfed. At 13 months I was still ok with this although I knew it wasn’t enough. How do you feed a child who won’t eat or who is too sick to eat? The implication in the following discussion never once suggested that we were doing the best we could to manage his diet and his illness, never acknowledged the treatments we’d sought out for him … I felt like a bad mother every time we had to do the monthly visit to the hospital nutritionist (who had a different understanding of nutrition to me!).

Your child can’t wait in here. He is not immunised and may infect the other patients

This comment was made when I brought Kaelan in to a doctor to be seen for a repeat chest infection a month after he had been discharged from the hospital for his meningitis. I was very worried and afraid it would happen again. I thought I was doing the right thing. The nurse was asking me to wait outside with a sick baby in a cold and windy corridor. The thought that I might infect other patients with some terrible disease when all he had was a chest infection was ridiculous. I was more afraid of what the other patients might give him, as his immune system was shot to pieces. I wrote several angry letters at this discrimination and received no reply from the clinic – ever.

You don’t need to see it, it is just a bunch of cells

This comment made to me after my miscarriage. The doctor who did the D & C told me that they had found the (10 week old) foetus and cleared it from my womb. I was in shock but still asking questions the whole time. I asked to see it, and he made the above comment. I don’t know why I wanted to see it, but having my baby and my whole experience dismissed in that manner was very crushing.

This is not about YOU. It is about what is right for your baby

Ok. This one did actually bring me back to earth when it came to making the decision about Linden’s cesarean .. but it was unnecessary and quite rude at the time. I felt David and my midwives stiffen with anger when the hospital midwife said it to me. All I was asking for was a moment to shift my thinking from home birth to surgical birth, there was no question of insisting on a natural birth when my baby was distressed. I’d been asking questions the whole time and instead of crediting me with some intelligence I felt dismissed as a silly home birth fanatic.

I’m glad she chose a cesarean. It is a much more dignified way of giving birth, don’t you think?

I am so glad that I did not actually hear this comment! David overheard this one while they were stitching me up from Linden’s birth, and wisely did not tell me until much later. I felt, as my cousin so aptly put it, like a cadaver. There is nothing like knowing that at least 10 people in the room can see you naked from the waist down, flipping my legs about like bits of rubber, my tummy slit open and turned inside out, my baby on the other side of the room crying … yeah that is dignified. And to top it off these same surgeons then applied a piece of sticky tape over my wound to hold it together, without taking care to shave or smooth my pubic hair away. It has taken me two days to get that tape off.

You are doing it all wrong! This is how you latch her on …

It wasn’t so much what she said that was insulting – it was the way she did things. I had called in the lactation consultant to talk about some concerns I had with breastfeeding. I wanted to stop things from going wrong again from the beginning. She declared we needed skin-to-skin contact for every feed and promptly (and roughly) stripped Linden bare. Linden started crying. She grabbed my (sore) breast and Linden’s head, stuffed my nipple into Linden’s nose and then tried to join mouth and nipple like they were bits of Lego. Then when that clearly didn’t work, she looked into Linden’s mouth and declared she had a terrible tongue tie that couldn’t be fixed for another five days and that I would just have to express milk until then. Then she left the room. I was a little bit upset (well, a lot, actually).

The next day a different lactation consultant came in (knocking and asking first), sat on the edge of the bed, asked politely and quietly if she could look into Linden’s mouth and talked to me softly about what she saw. The tongue tie wasn’t so bad, could easily be fixed, and she’d be pleased to answer any questions I had. She totally supported me in my method of baby-led attachment and invited me to a breastfeeding class that day. My faith was restored! Manners make such a difference!!

You may not care about your child – but I do!

This was the one that broke me. Out of everything that has been said to me I have never got angry at the person speaking to me. I have never responded with anything but good manners, usually ignoring the comments made and trying to see behind the words as they are spoken.

But this time I was so angry my body shook and I practically spat at the man. I had no words at all, but picked up my children, left the clinic and sat in the car and cried and cried. I’d just had enough.

All I wanted was a form signed to exempt Rosella from immunisation so that one day she could go to kindy without jumping through hoops. He didn’t sign the form, but he did offer to introduce me to another doctor who had polio.


That was the only remark made that involved Rosella. Kaelan and Linden were born in hospital, and Kaelan spent a good year and a half visiting hospital for follow-up treatments for the meningitis and another mystery illness that set him back. Rosella was my little one born at home (with no troubles!) with the care of a midwife who knocks before she enters a room, and opens a door quietly – even when I was birthing. She sits next to me and doesn’t stand above me when she tells me important things. She says “May I?” when she needs to touch me or adjust my clothes to look at my belly. She has done one vaginal exam, on me, which wasn’t a fun experience for either of us, but completed with respect, rather than the hospital midwife who dug and pushed around as if she has lost something inside my womb. Painful and Embarrassing.

She tries to warm her hands before she touches my skin. She wipes the gel off my body the few times she uses the doppler, rather than tossing me a cloth. She asks my babies if it is ok for her to pick them up. She tells my days-old infants what she is about to do when she has to weigh them, check them, do the heel-prick test, look in their mouth. She holds them like the precious cargo, and the little people, that they are.

When it is time to make decisions she presents us with the information we need to know, and then waits without further comment. She makes me feel safe and cared for.

It isn’t difficult to use good manners and it makes such a difference to a person’s experience of their treatment. It makes a difference to the way a person perceives and processes their experience. With her support my experiences with my three very different births have not been traumatic. I have felt nurtured and loved and I am very grateful to had the opportunity to experience this.

Best of all, my midwife trains other midwives and is active within the professional midwifery community as an advocate for birth choice. Think of all the wonderful midwives who are fortunate to learn the craft with someone like this. Think of all the birthing mothers and babies who are going to benefit.

People are admiring me for the way I have coped with my cesareans, and adventures with my children’s health. I think the quality of care you receive in situations like this make ALL the difference in the world.

Thank you Lianne.


14 thoughts on “Bedside Manners

  1. Wow. I hear you! I can give you infinite more hideous OB comments. I think there is even a website devoted to the subject. (And my disclaimer is that I have many OB friends, peers, and consultants — and I am grateful for their ability to help in high-risk surgical situations). But yes, ultrasounds late in pregnancy are entirely inaccurate at assessing fetal weight, and sadly they are used to justify inductions and scare women into believing their bodies won’t work and that they cannot birth their babies. The good news is that even though many of these women will have unnecessary surgeries, many do go on to birth even bigger babies next time around with supportive midwives.

      • Our birth journeys are such a potent places for us to begin our motherhood journeys. While my heart aches when I read your stories I love posts like what you have written here — posts that can reach out to so many women, letting them know they are not alone in their experiences with the “experts.” Mothers are the true experts.

  2. “You’re doing it all wrong…this is how you latch her on”…”You’re childs malnourished”

    Oh Jen…I am hearing you. When Ayla was 1 day old we discovered that she was having trouble latching on (now of course we know why!), my MIL ( a hospital midwife) snatched her from my arms and literally SHOVED a teaspoon down her throat with my milk on it! I was scarred forever….hopefully Ayla was not! And yes, I have been told over and over that she is underweight and malnourished! I know you have seen how much she eats!

    But it is very damaging. Even now, 5 years later, if someone (including my husband) even so much as questions my choices….I’m right back there feeling like the bad mother that I honestly thought I was back then.

    You’re a beautiful Mum, Jen and I have learnt so much from you. We all love you and your choices.

    • Yes Ayla is definitely not malnourished 🙂 Quite the opposite I would say, and you can credit her wonderful progress through development with your effort to provide her with THE BEST nutrition.

      And yes – once you’ve had the ‘bad mother’ experience it never really goes away does it? That is one deep hurt.

  3. Jen, I remember watching you with Rosella when she was a very small baby and hoping, wishing I Mother as you do.
    I agree totally with what you are saying, I have just spent 3 nights in hospital with baby M. He had to have an IV for abx. It was the most traumatic experience of my life, I had to help hold my baby down whilst he was stuck with needles. When the time came to have it removed the nurse sat with us on the bed and gently chatted to him and me, she sang little nursery rhymes to M as she quietly took out the IV. He didn’t even notice what she was doing until she had to pull the cannula out. Her manner was amazing!
    Sending you love, and healing vibes .
    Jen xxx

    • Yes there is nothing like hearing your baby scream in pain is there? When the doctor was accusing us of poisoning our child with homeopathic remedies we were in the waiting room of the emergency ward while Kaelan was being given an whopping great needle to extract his spinal fluid. Imagine being told you’ve damaged your child while you are listening to him scream!

  4. Hi Jen,

    So glad I have finally found your beautiful website.
    This last blog brought me to tears, all the comments but especially the comment ‘it’s just a bunch of cells’.
    I also loved reading that Lianne always asks your babies permission before handling them…I LOVE this and will try and incorporate it into my practice. Yes, we students are so lucky to learn from lianne.
    Reading this blog also makes me feel so sad as I look back on my own practice and think ‘have I made these comments?’ The system I work in sometimes leads me to do things i hate (like giving appropriate repect to mother and baby bonding after birth, or being hands on for the first feed because we ‘need the room’).
    Thanks again for the blog. See you soon. xxx

    • hi Laura!
      It has been wonderful to have you as part of our journey too. Always have I found you to be helpful and informative and friendly. I love the space you create around you and the patience you work with. You have a wonderful mentor it is true … but what I have enjoyed most is clearly your natural way of communicating and making women feel comfortable. If you are thick skinned enough the profession needs more people like you!! love jen xx

  5. Okay, so it’s not a birth story, but when I woke up in hospital after my umbilical hernia operation I remember the nurse looking at my wound and saying “Is that all?!” It was my first time under general , waking up in a strange place and feeling very vulnerable, coping with the idea that my body had just been opened up by a knife. Not exactly the kind the thing you want to be hearing. But I think a lot has to do with becoming immune to the system when you’re in it every day.
    Something I notice a lot at Melbourne IVF. While everyone is nice, it is very clearly a place of BUSINESS. They shuttle you from one office to another, very efficient and clinical, not stopping to think that this world might be very strange to you indeed. Last time we went there I thought to myself “I just want to give every woman here a big hug”. No matter what you’re there for, it’s bound to be something unfamiliar and mind-spinny. They should have a wandering counsellor, like a clown at a hospital, offering a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, and giving free hugs to all the women in the waiting room.

  6. Pingback: Happy World Breastfeeding Week « LAVENDILLY

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