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Helpless in Labour

Andy and Amy Poulsen were overjoyed when Ella, their first child, was born. But, they feel, things could have been made a little easier by maternity staff. By Peter R Walker .

The best thing about this whole (pregnancy and birth) process is having “this awesome little baby” says Andy Poulsen. And he is right. Ella, 11 weeks, is awesome. She’s happy, she’s healthy. And she’s gorgeous.

Unfortunately, Andy and Amy’s journey from conception to bringing their beautiful little bundle home was not as smooth a ride as they, as first time parents, could have hoped for. It started downhill when, early on, their midwife (an “older woman”) told them not to text as she “won’t answer” and “don’t call after 5.30 pm.”

Frighteningly, such similar stories are not uncommon. Andy and Amy decided that perhaps another midwife might be a better bet.

“It’s been a very interesting experience,” says Andy (41). “We’ve learnt a lot from it, some things good, some not so good.”

Becoming parents for the first time, no matter at what age, is a daunting prospect. It’s not like buying your first car, or taking your first overseas trip. It’s bringing a new life into the world; it’s creating a brand new little human; it’s taking on the life-long responsibility of nurturing a beautiful little baby and teaching them the ways of the world (before kicking them out of the nest to make it on their own – in the nicest possible way, of course). Becoming a parent is not to be taken lightly.

We do, however, with the majority of births, hand it over to the experts. And we quite rightly expect that those experts are just that – experts in every aspect of their field. So when, for a second time, Andy and Amy’s Lead Maternity Carer “dropped the ball” – this time too close to the big event to engage another one – these first time parents found themselves feeling very alone and out of their depth when they needed support the most.

Unfortunately the isolation didn’t end there for Andy and Amy as a series of other “experts” let them down. Information was not only lacking, but non-existent; support people simply did not turn up; and in the wake of a difficult labour and birth with epidural, forceps and Kiwi Cup, Andy and Amy felt practically ignored by hospital staff.

There are enough “horror stories” similar to Andy and Amy’s for there to be genuine concern about the services parents-to-be, especially first-time parents, are getting. Or not getting as the case may be.

It is the whirlwind of post-labour, when baby is only a few hours old, that parents are most heavily reliant on the experts. So when hospital midwives are stand-offish; the LMC is in a clinic and cannot be contacted; and people such as doctors and lactation coaches simply don’t turn up, it is understandable that first-time parents feel let down and not a little afraid.

This is the situation in which Andy and Amy found themselves in the hours following Ella’s birth. Leading up to the actual birth, just after 5 pm July 28, everything was “kind of as I expected it to be,” says Andy, but shortly thereafter “everything started to go a bit weird.” Ella, 2.9 kilos and 55cm long seemed a little small and the midwives felt it necessary to keep her in overnight to keep an eye on her. Andy and Amy, however, were “conscious (they) would move to St. Georges as soon as possible.” But they “really didn’t give us any more information (as to why they felt the need to keep Ella overnight).” Assuming the midwives had good reasons, Andy and Amy went with the flow. As first-time parents, in the haze of a 36 hour sleepless ordeal and not knowing what questions to ask, it seemed acceptable.

But that’s when Andy began to feel “like everyone just left us to it.” By 8.30 am the day after Ella’s birth, they were told they would be transferring, but not to their preferred St. Georges Hospital. Apparently they needed to be transferred there within 12 hours of the child’s birth, something nobody told Andy and Amy. Going to Lincoln, Burwood, or Rangiora hospitals didn’t really appeal.

It was in the following eight hours – during which time the doctors, lactation coach and LMC simply did not show up – when information and support was most seriously lacking.
By 5 pm Andy had had enough. With Amy not wanting to bother anyone (“sometimes she can be a little too nice”) and getting increasingly upset herself, Andy “did the dad thing” and started calling and texting, demanding some action.

“For me as a dad,” Andy says, “not knowing things, and not knowing where you can step in or who to speak to when things aren’t going right, was a really frustrating time.”
It was the final straw when he was told their LMC was “too busy at the moment.”

Sadly, that sums up Andy and Amy’s experience: “We felt like the aftercare from both the hospital and our midwife was just atrocious.”
Of course, as any parent knows (and all first-time-parents quickly find out) the hospital experience is only the beginning. Sometimes it doesn’t get much better, but it would be nice to have a positive experience as a launching point.

Andy and Amy have had some good support from family members and their church, the Elim Cathedral of Hope, but have largely had to make their own way through being parents to a wee one. They’ve had to call an ambulance once, and when Ella was a mere six weeks old (and thankfully largely oblivious) her tiny world was rocked by one of the biggest earthquakes New Zealand has ever experienced.
With no water or power, Andy and Amy did what many people did in the early hours of September 4. They scoured shop shelves for bottled water, and even haggled for more in the supermarket parking lot. “Luckily Ella drank cold formula” (Amy had tried to breast-feed but was unable to).

With Andy working odd hours at three different jobs, he and Amy are slowly getting into a routine that many modern parents have adopted, that of juggling work and career paths with the responsibilities and challenges of caring for a newborn baby.

And speaking of whom, in the midst of the whole unfortunate experience let’s not forget little Ella. Andy and Amy are constantly mindful that, despite everything that’s happened, the result is a happy healthy little baby girl. And she’s awesome.

Father & Child News