Tonight I was cleaning out my file cabinet and found a large hanging file titled, "Nursing & Midwifery BS." One would think that my own son's death would be sufficient enough to motivate me to create change for women, but I was already on that path when he demised. It really was the stories of other women that created a fierce advocate in me and kept me on fire for more than two decades.
While peeking through my files for example, I was reminded of a case in Houston, Texas in 2008, a year after I opened my midwifery practice. "In a confrontation captured on videotape," printed in an abcNEWS article, "a hospital security guard fired a stun gun to stop a defiant father from taking home his newborn, sending both man and child crashing to the floor. Now William Lewis says his baby girl suffers from head trauma because she was dropped."
Why was this man labeled defiant? This was his child. Sure he was resisting opposition, but why exactly did pediatricians believe they were the ultimate authority over this child? Why can he not decide to take his child from the hospital on his own terms? Was this child's life in danger?
Nope. Lewis and his wife shared that they felt mistreated by staff at the Woman's Hospital of Texas and they decided to leave. Hospital employees told him doctors "would not allow it," but Lewis picked up his child and walked to the elevators anyway. How brazen of him, right? I mean this is what any one of us would do if we were improperly treated in any other establishment. Why wouldn't a man want to protect the two most important people to him if he felt they were unsafe?
Like prior officer George Kirkham shares though, "I've got to wonder what kind of moron would tase an adult holding a baby. It doesn't take rocket science to realize the baby is going to fall."
Unfortunately, the elevators would not move because wristband sensors on each baby shuts them off if anyone takes an infant without permission. The article shares that "it was not clear whether the baby received any electrical jolt."
Admittedly, there very well may be more to this story and I am not privy to that, but I have been witness to similar cases, and have experienced a very similar scenario more than once myself. In fact, when Child Protective Services becomes your advocate against a hospital system who tries to use CPS as their bulldogs against parents who seek informed consent and don't always blindly permit unnecessary interventions in childbirth or at any point in their child's care, then it is quite clear that hospital staff are abusing their authority.
When I was working as a nurse, we had a nurse practitioner birth in our hospital-based birthing center and as many do, she declined the routine eye medication for her newborn, administered to treat gonorrhea. Per hospital protocol, if mom and baby were both stable at four hours postpartum, per very specific criteria, the nurse could discharge them home. The pediatrician on-call however, once making rounds and reviewing the discharged paperwork after their release called the police and child protective services because he was not comfortable with their release, and the newborn being untreated for gonorrhea in spite of negative testing in this mother during her pregnancy.
The police followed the recommendations of this pediatrician and drove to her home, removed the child from her care, and drove it back to the hospital. She was not even permitted to ride in the care with her newborn or to bring it herself. Rather, she had to follow in her own car. The child was admitted to the PICU. Of course, like luck would have it, this nurse practitioner was uninsured and she was paying for her care out of pocket, which is partly why she opted for the birth center and its minimized interventions. She opted to not have the more costly epidural and extended stay.
The hospital administration and pediatric staff met a few days later to discuss the scenario and it was determined, by the hospital administration and physician group, that they felt they were responsible for the newborns until their hospital discharge so if care was not to their expectations, the best course of action would be to report to police.
Another case I witnessed, was with an adoptive parent. This was an open adoption and the parents had been provided a plethora of video tapes to watch in newborn care from the dayshift nurse. She had set them up in a visitor's room anticipating discharge in the morning. This was to be their first child. I was coming on the night shift and almost immediately told the adoptive family could not stay because visiting hours were over. My response was that they aren't simply visiting; they are the newborn's parents and as part of my role, I need to educate them and assure they feel safe taking home their newborn. She reported me for not following hospital protocol. Admittedly, I was working this hospital through an agency so wasn't up to par on their policies, but this incident followed a previous one in which a mother was told by her physician she was not "allowed to go out smoke." Her physician orders clearly stated the same, so when she called me and asked to go out and smoke, I read her the physician orders, but also explained she is a legal adult and I can't hold her there as that would be battery. I did ask however, if she chose to go outside against medical advice, would she please inform me so I could assure her newborn was safe in her absence. She called me several times that night. I was subsequently asked not to return to this facility since I was not capable of following proper procedures. Damn straight. I don't step on the rights of others, and without hesitation, I'll advocate for new parents. Needless to say the nurse and physician in the same hospital who gathered up all the newborns, lined them up and circumcised them all without checking consent, was not fired for circumcising a child whose mother desired her son remain intact.
I am not sure if there was more violation against birthing women or lactating mothers to be honest. The number of babies given artificial breastmilk when they had very clearly indicated they wanted to breastfeed, well, it's almost an exclusive 100 percent in my experience. I was often in outrage about this. One mother in particular expressed her desperate plea, knowing her daughter had received artificial milk, because her stool was different than what it was when just given breastmilk. She was undergoing surgery for necrotizing enterocolitis, and when I reported this to our higher up, she responded that I couldn't prove that artificial breastmilk didn't cause her daughter's bowel disease and I responded, "You can't prove that it didn't, but it did violate both medical orders and this mother's consent."
Just a few years later, a mother sued for battery because her daughter received artificial breastmilk from nursing staff in the hospital that went against her desire to exclusively breastfeed. Her daughter suffered meningitis. I remember the nurses balking at this and arguing that artificial breastmilk was sterile and her breastmilk isn't so it was likely the breastmilk that caused the issue, if either two were to blame. The look on their faces is still very clear to me even today, when I explained that baby formula was no more sterile than a bag of potato chips. That seal is for freshness, not sterility.
A case in Louisville, Kentucky had similar outcomes after the baby went home and was given powdered formula the hospital provided as a "gift." She suffered meningitis and at the age of four, was still unable to walk or talk. These cases aren't an everyday occurrence, but these are known risks and they are catastrophic so why do parents get such backlash when they ask for their requests to be honored?
And do you remember the 2003 case in Texas of the mother, Jacqueline Mercado, who lost custody of her child, for months, because she took a picture of herself breastfeeding her nearly year old infant and took that film to the local drug store who reported her for child nudity. Her child ended up in foster care, along with her other two children, for months and she was charged with sexual performance of a child until the state of Texas, in its all-too-finite wisdom, has bowed to eons of mammalian evolution and decided that breastfeeding your child is not a sign of unfit parenting.