*Warning: This article describes a traumatic birth experience*
A couple of days ago I was contacted by 23 year old Asha, a Black Swedish woman who wanted me to share her traumatic story of the negligence surrounding her birth and postpartum period that nearly cost her her life. Asha says she experienced derogatory comments about her ethnicity and that her pains and concerns were not taken seriously.
In Early November last year, first-time mother Asha, 23, arrived at Karolinska Hospital in Solna, Sweden. She was accompanied by her doula and had her birth plan with her in which she had expressed she wanted to have a natural and intervention free birth as possible.
I was looking forward to giving birth even though I was scared. But everything went wrong from start to finish.
Asha said the problems began when she was hooked up to the contraction inducing oxytin drip ( known as syntocinon in he UK and Pitocin in the US) without her consent. She states she was subjected to a number of intimate examinations which she did not want either.
– I do not understand why they chose to run over me and my wishes. It felt uncomfortable. I was in a position where I did not have the strength to protest.
Asha’s baby was born using a vacuum cup also know as a ventouse. After the birth she was assigned a new midwife. She states the placenta was pulled from her aggressively after the baby was born. At this point the situation deteriorated further.
Things got worse
– I got a huge stomach ache right after I gave birth and pointed it out to her. She just said I should rest. But I could not sleep. I said I had chills, dizziness and that it felt like I had a fever. I did not feel well.
Asha, who had swollen legs, was once again advised to rest. But she says the pain was too unbearable. The midwife advised her that the pain in her abdomen may have been due to milk congestion! She did not complain of breast pain but abdominal.
The next day, the symptoms had not passed. Asha received paracetamol and Ibuprofen every few hours to help with the pain to no avail. Two days passed with worsening pain and Asha pleaded with the midwife to refer her because of her discomfort for an examination, but her pleas fell on deaf ears.
– She ignored me, I saw in her body language that she did not care. It felt like she thought I was exaggerating. I complained of pain, but she chose not to examine me or find out what was wrong .
Instead of investigating the cause of Asha’s worsening symptoms she says the midwife went on to make inappropriate comments to her. She asked Asha why she had children so young and mentioned that her daughter was older and had none yet. Asha says the midwife also pointed out to her that women from ‘her country’ have too many children and do nothing more with their lives
– I was shocked. I was in a vulnerable situation and she said so. I think it was weird, you do not do that. I felt sad that she did not take me seriously, she had no right to comment like that about my private life.
Hovered between life and death
The midwife discharged Asha despite knowing she felt unwell, was dizzy and had ongoing pain. She said that Asha would be sent home by taxi which is something that Asha did not want to agree to. She was still unwell. In sheer desperation, Asha told the midwife she was going to scream out for help if she wasn’t going to help her. The midwife didn’t summon a doctor to review her but instead agreed to give her some morphine.
Sadly after taking the morphine, Asha collapsed. She had shouted that she couldn’t breathe and that she was going to die.
– I saw three people in the room, then I collapsed. I then remember waking up from the use of defibrillators and a doctor shouting: Asha, Asha, are you awake?
She had ended up in septic shock, a life-threatening condition, and all her organs were failing. It is believed to be remnants of the placenta that triggered this, causing an infection in the uterus. Asha was given Nine bags of blood and her heart stopped twice.
“The infection reached my heart, I hovered between life and death for eight days. According to the doctor, I would not have lived today if it had taken another minute before I received help, it was awful to hear”
Pic: Asha in a coma
Asha was in a coma. Her medical observations were not looking good and no one knew if she would wake up again.
– During this period, it was not me who experienced a trauma, even my relatives. My mother went to BB (hospital) to get replacement milk for my baby. Then she told the midwife that I was in the intensive care unit and that I was very seriously ill. Then the midwife said that my mother did not have to be sad if I passed away, because she had several children at home and one grandchild. It was as if my life had no value.
Assumed she was circumcised
When Asha finally awoke from her coma, she struggled with speech and simple motor skills. She was unable to take care of herself, even meeting the most basic hygiene needs needed assistance. Her hearing was perfect though and some of the comments she heard made her feel uncomfortable.
– The first time I could hold my child and I walked through the hospital corridor, I was stopped by a gynecologist. He said: What a lovely baby you have. Whenever we see young women coming from countries like yours and we ask if it’s their first baby, usually they say it’s their 5th!
Asha says she received several comments from different members of staff that were based on her skin colour and appearance, even though she was born in Sweden and speaks swedish fluently.
When Asha had problems with her catheter and asked if it was common to have problems to pee after a birth, the response was the most shocking. She was told that the problems were as a result of her circumcision (FGM)
– I’m not circumcised. They only assumed based on my ethnic origin and family roots which are in Somalia. But then I said no, I was very tired of everything. They just apologised and then said nothing more.
Frightened of giving birth again
It has been almost a year since the incident. The recovery has been long. Asha says that she has only been able to carry her son properly without discomfort in the past two months. She suffers from post-traumatic stress, the memories are painful.
– I came there as a 22-year-old healthy woman and came home with major complications and a trauma that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I can not even visit the hospital, especially not where I was, I shake every time I have to. I do not dare to give birth again, I am afraid of not being listened to.
She has reported to the patient board, which did not proceed with any further action. Now she has appealed and will escalate the matter further. She wants the hospital to admit that they made mistakes and to ensure this doesn’t happen to other women.
Asha says her biggest criticism is directed at the midwife who felt it ok to express her negative opinions about people from Asha’s country yet lacked the insight to competently assess her clinical situation that subsequently lead to her collapse.
Asha does not think she is alone in experiencing racism from maternity staff.
– There is a lot of racism that is expressed in healthcare, that you are dismissed and not taken seriously. I hope that in the future you will learn from what happened to me, that is why I’m sharing my story. Nursing staff are welcome to think what they want at home, but when they are at work, I expect you to treat people equally and provide safe care.
This story is incredibly traumatic and sad but I’m glad Asha is still around to tell it. Having a baby should be one of the greatest moments in a persons life, not a traumatic memory that’s filled with incompetence, racial bias, dismissive behaviour from healthcare staff, pain and near death.