Where Have They Gone?

Where Have They Gone?

Asian Newborn baby girl 1 day after the birth, in hospital.

By J. Galvin

There is a trend overtaking hospitals and it terrifies me. Hospitals across the nation are taking away nurseries within their maternity wards and, instead, are insisting on twenty hour in-rooming for mothers and their new babies in the name of bonding and breastfeeding.

Why does this terrify me? Because I am pregnant with my second child. It was the hospital nursery that saved my sanity and kicked my maternal instincts into high gear when I had my first child four years ago; not a twenty four hour in-rooming policy.

Four years ago when my daughter decided to enter the world I had no clue. I had no clue how hard labor and delivery would be. I had no clue the sheer physical and emotional exhaustion a new baby came with. I had no clue breastfeeding would not come naturally. I had no clue to ask for help from the nurses and lactation consultants. I had no clue some newborns don’t, and won’t, sleep no matter how much you rock them, feed them, sing to them, and offer up prayers to whatever higher power you believe in.

I had no clue until a doctor making her rounds took one look at my face and suggested I put my daughter in the nursery for a few hours. I still remember she was dressed up as a bumblebee with a padded yellow and black body suit and a light up headband. It was Halloween.

“Put her where?” I stammered.

“Put her in the nursery,” she said with both a concerned and an amused face. “The nurses will take good care of her, they’ll wake you if anything happens, and bring her to you when she needs to feed.”

I felt terror, horrible guilt, and an inkling of hope. Was I a bad mother to leave my new baby in the nursery? Would the nurses really wake me if something was wrong? Would I be able to finally rest?

My husband listened to me weigh every possible option while the hormone-laden tears poured down my face. At this point I had been up three days straight between labor pains and a long, hard delivery. My daughter, who entered the world twelve hours earlier, had yet to fall asleep; a trend that would continue for weeks.

“Put her in the nursery.” My husband said. “It will be fine.”

Happy to relinquish all decision making to him, I agreed and my daughter was whisked away to the nursery. I passed out instantly and woke three hours later. I didn’t feel so bone numbingly exhausted or on the edge of losing my mind. I felt such a pull to see my daughter I knew my maternal instincts had finally kicked in.

Fast forward to the present and the countdown, though still a long ways away, to the birth of my second child begins. I feel calmer, more prepared and happier this time around, but still with such trepidation that should not be necessary. I don’t think someone else, namely a hospital, has the right to decide what is best for myself or my child. I alone, with my husband, have that right.

So for the time being, I will do my homework. I will research hospitals in my area that still offer the option of a nursery and will plan accordingly. I will hope hospitals realize that a mother’s decision to rest is key to both the emotional and physical well being of both baby and mom. I will hope hospitals realize that the decision to decide what is best for mother and baby lies with mother, not hospital staff or hospital policy.

Jamie Chase Galvin works part time as an Academic Advisor and is also a freelance writer. Jamie possesses an undergraduate degree in English and a graduate degree in Counseling Psychology. She loves to write any chance she can and lives in Massachusetts with her husband and very talkative four year old daughter.

A Tale of Two Births

A Tale of Two Births


A Tale of Two Births: How the U.S. Fails to Deliver Adequate Postpartum Healthcare

By Mary Widdicks

My daughter was born on a snowy Saturday morning. We were released from the hospital Monday, and as is the case for most new mothers in the U.S., my husband returned to work the very next day, leaving me alone to care for our newborn daughter and our two- and four-year-old sons. At three days postpartum, my bones ached as I stepped out of the car and onto the frozen pavement of the parking lot at my doctor’s office. My deflated uterus contracted under the strain of the baby’s car seat; I braced myself against the car to keep from slipping on the icy ground. For a moment I thought I might not make it the 25 yards from the parking lot to the door. I remembered the hospital’s recommendation not to lift anything heavy for a few weeks, and almost laughed. If only that were possible.

My labor had been induced due to high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, which hadn’t resolved by the time I left the hospital after the baby was born. Puzzled, the doctor asked me to return to the clinic a few days later to recheck my vitals. When I arrived, my toddler jumped eagerly from the car, beaming with a frenetic energy that my combined six hours of sleep over the last three days couldn’t match. My heart was pounding in my ears as he ran ahead of me in the parking lot of the clinic, my broken body too heavy and tired to keep up with him. I arrived at the nurse’s station gasping and shouting at him between breaths.

Unsurprisingly, my blood pressure had not returned to normal and the nurse asked me to repeat the journey again in two days for yet another checkup. There was talk of bedrest, anti-convulsive medication, and the possibility that I wouldn’t be allowed to continue breastfeeding my three-day-old baby. The nurse looked into my wild, tearful eyes and urged me to get more rest. I laughed out loud this time, hoisted my limp toddler onto one hip, slung the baby carrier over my opposite arm for balance, and dragged our tired bodies out of the exam room so that we didn’t all collapse in a heap on the floor.

I wanted to be angry at my husband for leaving us so soon, angry at the doctors for making me come into the office days after my baby was born, and angry at my own body for betraying me at a time when I needed it to be nothing less than super human. Instead, I sat nursing my squalling infant and watching my son put everything within a ten foot radius in his mouth, and reflected on how different the postpartum experience is in the U.S. compared to the rest of the developed world.

When people find out my first son was born in the United Kingdom, the first question they ask is how was it different giving birth in the UK compared to the United States. While there were a few notable differences in labor and delivery, for me, the most glaring discrepancies are in what happened afterward: the quality and accessibility of postpartum care. Britain’s National Healthcare System provides everyone living in the country with the same level of support, even moms on student visas like I was. Additionally, in the UK and throughout most of Europe, fathers and domestic partners are entitled to at least two weeks of paid parental leave, allowing them time to bond with their newborns and care for their wives as they recover from the harrowing experience of childbirth.

Then again, had my daughter been born in the UK, there would have been no need for me to haul my newborn out in the cold weather, expose her to countless germs, and risk rupturing my own stitches simply to check my blood pressure. For two weeks after my son was born in the UK, he and I were assigned a team of local midwives who would visit us at home whenever we required a checkup. There was no need to book appointments with a pediatrician or schlep a carseat around town every time my son had a rash or a cold. If I had a question about my health or the health of the baby, I could call the midwives 24 hours a day for a phone consultation, or ask them for a home visit during working hours. When I had difficulty breastfeeding my newborn, I simply called the midwives, and a lactation consultant arrived at my home the next morning and stayed for several hours and multiple nursing sessions. I never even had to put on a bra or leave the house.

After two weeks, my husband returned to work and I was discharged from the midwives’ care, but my support system was not entirely disbanded. My son was assigned a specially-trained nurse, called a health visitor, who would look after his well-being for the next five years. At first, his health visitor dropped by our house several times a week, then gradually spaced her visits further apart until she only checked in every few months. However, she was available by phone or text message whenever I had a first-time-mom moment of panic or insecurity.

When my son was six months old, I called her crying because he’d started violently resisting breastfeeding. She knocked on my door two hours later just to check him over and reassure me that he was happy, healthy, and chubby as a cherub. Her words of encouragement put my mind at ease and probably kept me from banging down my pediatrician’s door in a blind panic at 2am. So too studies have shown that when a new mother has adequate support and help during the perinatal period, she is less likely to suffer physical and mental health complications such as postpartum depression.

The stress of trying to “do it all” takes its toll on new mothers, and having a support network built into the medical system relieves some of that pressure. When my daughter was born in the US, the responsibility of caring for three children under five years old, running the household, cooking meals, and getting all four of us to various appointments throughout the week drained me of every ounce of healing energy I had left after labor and delivery. I was drowning, so of course my body was locked in a fight or flight response. I needed help to come to me, and the American healthcare system wasn’t delivering.

Sitting in the waiting room of my OB/GYN’s office that day, surrounded by expecting mothers, I was overwhelmed by the realization that many of them would be forced to return to work after only six weeks or risk losing their jobs. Those who stayed home might wind up so exhausted and isolated from solely caring for their babies that they would succumb to the darkness of postpartum depression. How can we call ourselves a civilized nation if we can’t even do something so basic as to care for mothers after the birth of a child? It’s time for the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the developed world and recognize that it is in everyone’s best interest to raise happy and healthy children, and the first step to achieving that is by giving mothers the time and help they need to heal properly after giving birth.


Once a cognitive psychologist in the field of memory, Mary Widdicks now spends the majority of her time trying to remember if she fed all her children each morning. The irony is not lost on her. Mary’s writing has been featured on sites such as The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and The Huffington Post. In February of 2015 she gave birth to her first daughter and is now happily drowning in a sea of pink. Follow Mary on her blog, Outmanned, or on Facebook.

Intensive Care: The Nurse Who Saw Us Through the Night

Intensive Care: The Nurse Who Saw Us Through the Night

I will realize, eventually, that six-year-old Brennan is her only patient. She is here just for him. And for us.


Machines and monitors whir in the dark, chilly room. It is like stepping into a vacuum. There he is, so small on the hospital bed. Unconscious or simply asleep, I don’t know. A white bandage covers the right side of his head over his ear, where surgeons operated on the fractured skull, the nicked artery that resulted when he fell down the basement stairs at a friend’s house, landing heavily on the concrete floor below.

Brennan’s eyes flicker open; enormous brown eyes in a pale, pale face.

“Brennan. Hey, Brennan,” my husband, John, and I whisper at his side. He turns to look at us. I want to pull him into my arms. I touch his hand. “Hey guy.” His eyes close again.

“He’s still coming out of the anesthesia,” the nurse says. “It will be awhile. He was out a long time.” Then: “Climb right up there, mom.” I stare at her. Tammy, her name tag says. She nods. “Go ahead.” And already I am flooded with gratitude toward her.

I begin pulling off my boots—the stupid red boots I bought a few days ago, a lifetime ago, when I was a person who could have cared about boots. Tammy hands me a set of scrubs to pull on instead of my skirt and sweater. “These will be more comfortable,” she says.

I will realize, eventually, that six-year-old Brennan is her only patient. She is here just for him. And for us.

With John’s help I climb into the bed and lie on my side facing Brennan. The sharp smell of antiseptic masks his familiar, salty, little-boy smell. My tears are still coming; for hours they’ve streamed down my face uninterrupted, but now I try to wipe them away before they seep into the sheets. Breathe, I think. Breathe.

There are conversations. He did well, they stopped the bleeding, cauterized the artery, evacuated the blood pooling in his skull. The CT scan looked good. He’s not out of the woods yet, the surgeon says. Brennan’s brain might swell from the trauma, or not. All we can do is wait. There are phone calls to make. My mother crying. A message left on my sister’s voicemail: Call mom.

My anxiety pulses along with the thrum and beeping of the monitors. The dark has receded. I can breathe. I am still riding this wave of fear, but I do not feel alone.

When you have a newborn, you are at first overwhelmed, and then, suddenly, you know more about him than anyone. The dozens of motions required to care for him become automatic, almost involuntary, like your beating heart and breathing lungs.

This is the way Tammy cares for Brennan. Checking his vital signs, repositioning him on the bed, administering different medications through the IV. A constant quiet vigilance and countless acts of caretaking that are almost invisible because she performs them unselfconsciously. She is young, maybe not even thirty. I don’t know if she has a family, children; she doesn’t talk about herself.

I don’t think I will fall asleep, but I do, at some point late into the night. Then I jerk awake, gasping. “It’s just me,” Tammy’s voice whispers from nearby, “Sorry.”

And later, another sound. Brennan coughing vomit onto the white hospital blanket. I sit up and hold him and Tammy is at his already at his side, supporting him. He does not fully wake up. She mops his face and lays him back down. She tells me to grab the corners of the pad beneath him and together we slide him to one side (“Ready? Lift.”) She effortlessly strips the blankets from around him and remakes the bed, swift and quiet, not even waking John, who is sleeping on a built-in cot behind the hospital bed and monitors. I can’t see him but I know he’s there.

She brings me a clean set of scrubs and I climb back in the bed.

“Is the vomiting from the anesthesia?” I ask.

“The injury,” Tammy says softly, and I close my eyes again.

She pulls a blanket over me. “I’ll be right here.”

Deep into the night there is some activity and conversation outside our room, after which one of the neurosurgical Fellows comes in—the young one, kind, who had stood beside me in the ER handing me tissues. He tells me we’re being moved. The beds are full and there is another patient coming in. He tries to frame this as good news: Brennan is in better shape than anyone on the floor.

Heart pounding, I am on my feet asking questions. Where will they take us? How often will they check on him? There is no step down unit, so Brennan will now be a regular patient. Instead of a nurse assigned to him—instead of Tammy—he will share a nurse who will check his vital signs every four hours. No, I think. No.

Not out of the woods yet. Those were the neurosurgeon’s words and I repeat them back to the Fellow several times. I say I want to hear from the neurosurgeon himself.

He steps out of the room for a minute and, in that moment, Tammy moves beside me, leaning down as she folds something and sets it on a chair.

“You’re doing the right thing,” she says quietly, never looking up. Her voice is a low hum, reaching out to me.  “You need to advocate for him.”

We manage to put the move off, a least for now.

When, hours later, they wake me again to move us to the surgical floor, the young neurosurgeon sits and explains all the reasons they believe Brennan is progressing well. He promises to check on Brennan himself, and says he will camp out in the room across from us for the night, if we need anything.

I don’t want to leave. But as we guide Brennan’s bed carefully through the halls to the surgical floor, Tammy tells me she is taking us to a room directly across from the nurses’ station. “Page them any time you need them,” she says. “For anything at all.”

As a team of people sets Brennan up in our new room I see Tammy speaking intently to the nurses; one meets my eyes and comes toward me to talk.

I look toward Tammy, wanting to say something more than thank you. But she is already moving away, on toward her next patient.

I move close to Brennan, not even considering sleep. I stare at him and listen to his breath sounds. I take in the long eyelashes someone commented on in the ER, the freckles standing out against his pallor. I look out the window of this new room, where it is still dark outside, not quite morning. The sun has not yet come up, but it will.

Karen Dempsey is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. She has written for the New York Times Motherlode blog, Babble, and Brain, Child. She lives in Massachusetts. Read her work at www.kdempseycreative.com. or follow her on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images