Updated: Nov 27, 2018
Recently I ran into my old friend, Mary, whilst shopping in Sliema. I hadn’t seen Mary in a few years but we followed each other on facebook and Instagram. She stopped and hugged me and congratulated me on my weight loss and blog – she said she had been following my progress. But even though she seemed cheerful I could tell there was pain hidden behind her eyes. I knew she had been pregnant as I had seen photos of her and her partner on facebook but since she did not have her baby with her I decided not to ask if she had had the baby. Working in a pharmacy for so long I have become sensitive to what questions to ask and if she wanted to tell me about her baby she would do so of her own free will. I did however ask her ‘how are you?’ twice … and ‘Is everything ok? ‘Because somehow my gut told me something was wrong.
We eventually sat down at a coffee shop and she told me all about her story. Like me she had been single for a long time. She always felt she wanted a family but it seemed like it was not in the cards for her. She begins her story by telling me that a few years ago at age 31 she went to her gynae for a regular smear test and he half jokingly told her “what are you waiting for to make a baby your uterus isn’t getting any younger you know.” She laughed it off as him making jokes and even though the comment hurt her she pretended it did not but it was a comment that kept echoing in her mind for so long.
Around 6 months after this visit she met a really great guy, John, on a dating app – they connected on facebook and went out a couple of times and she immediately felt like they had a connection. John was smart, open minded and loved that she was independent, strong and a career driven woman. About a year and a half into their relationship they moved in together and discussed the possibility of having a baby as they both wanted a family. They got pregnant about 2 months after they started trying to conceive and they were grateful it was so easy for them when many of their friends were finding it so difficult and a few were even undergoing IVF. She went to her gynae for her first pregnancy visit and he once again jokingly said well it was about time. Once again she brushed this comment off as his inappropriate humour, many Maltese doctors seem to have it, she told me.
The pregnancy progressed and Mary and John thought that once they were past the first trimester the risk of losing the baby was minimal – they would sing to the baby, and put on their favourite bands and dance together and they loved how he would move around every single time they put on Bon Jovi – it was a detail they kept to themselves as their baby was already developing a personality and only they knew these things about him. They had several scans and they saw him clearly so many times and pictured him in their arms. They bought his clothes and prepared his room and decided upon a name – he was to be called Jack. Her friends were planning a baby shower and she felt like the luckiest woman in the world over those 7 months.
But one morning she got a feeling in the pit of her stomach that something was wrong. She told her partner that she hadn’t felt Jack move and she had a bad feeling – they decided to call their gynae. They went to the clinic and thats when their biggest nightmare started unfolding – he could not find a heartbeat. From then on everything is a blur to Mary. She remembers hearing a woman crying and then realising it was her own cries. She heard John’s voice cracking ‘No!’ crumbling, and folding to his knees, and then wrapping himself around her, and they cried together. “I will never forget that ‘No’ from his lips, the sound it made, the heartbroken gasp before he spoke, it split me, struck me to depths, I’ll never be able to reach or remove it from my memory” Mary told me.
She recalls the anguish at being told she must give birth to her stillborn son and she recalls her heart breaking in a million pieces when she held him. She told me she cannot put into words the magnitude of her loss and the feeling of responsibility and overwhelming guilt that she might have done something wrong which has caused her beloved Jack to be stillborn at almost 29 weeks. She felt as if her son never existed and that it was all just one big nightmare.
After the birth the nurses were all amazing and supportive they treated them with the utmost respect and kindness and for this she and her partner are extremely grateful. Their Gynae on the other hand told her to not make such a fuss and if they fell pregnant so quickly the first time round she could easily make another baby in a few months time. She should consider herself lucky as other women spend months trying to get pregnant and sometimes never succeed. She told me she couldn’t believe what she was being told at that moment. They went home empty handed and broken beyond repair. Mary and John haven’t even opened Jack’s room since the day he was born as they cannot face the feelings they will have when walking inside that room.
After around 12 weeks of feeling sad and anxious and lonely and wrapping her arms around her empty belly she decided to speak to their family doctor who first told her that her son is in a better place and then told them how happy he and his wife as they are pregnant and about to have their second baby. So she asked her family doctor do you really think that any place for my son is better than being with his parents? He ignored her question and prescribed an anxiolytic and told her she needs to calm down and speak to a therapist. She and John are speaking to a therapist now as they feel they need help in overcoming this terrible moment but she still feels doctors need to be trained better in dealing with such sensitive situations.
Mary asked me to share her story on my blog as she wanted to point out how important it is to be treated with respect by the person you chose to be your guide in this journey. She says she should have listened to her gut feeling 4 years ago when her gynae joked about her ageing uterus had she done that she might have been treated with more respect during such a terrible time in her and John’s life.
As a healthcare professional myself I know there are some amazing doctors and specialists out there, many of these amazing doctors are my friends and this post is in no way an attack on them. We just want to draw the attention of all women to demand respect at any stage of their care. If you feel this isn’t happening or any jokes or comments bother you convey it to your healthcare provider so he or she can improve their behaviour and/or find someone else who will treat you with the respect you deserve. A small note to any health care professional reading this post in such cases it is important to be empathic with patients who look to up to their doctor/nurse/pharmacist.
The names in this story have been changed as Mary does not want to harm the doctors’ practice but merely draw attention to a misogynistic attitude that needs to stop.