Guest post by S. Dorothy Smith from the US. [Trigger warning: baby loss]
The #NotNeurotic series is published in partnership with BetterYou, whose sponsorship enabled me to pay Dorothy, and four other writers from under-represented backgrounds, for their contributions. You can find more information about BetterYou, and their new Madeleine Shaw range of family health supplements, at the end of this post.
In 1993, I gave birth to my first-born child, a daughter. She lived only 17 days. I intuitively knew something was gravely wrong with her by the way she would scream and only like to be held a certain way, how she preferred to sleep in her bassinet propped up at a 45-degree angle. But when I explained these things at several visits to the pediatrician, he could find nothing wrong. He explained to me that, as a new mother, I needed to understand that all babies cry, and that what I needed was support from family members in handling a newborn.
After several complaints and visits to the same doctor, we camped out in his office while he saw other patients, with the hope that our daughter would exhibit the same symptoms I’d described. When ultimately she did, he advised us to rush her to the hospital “for observation”.
She died the same day, at the hospital, of congenital heart disease. It took an autopsy to confirm what my intuition already knew. Had the pediatrician taken the time to explore the symptoms I described, he would have admitted her to the hospital for observation as soon as I first mentioned them. Yet, it was easier just to dismiss me as a hysterical first-time mother who needed emotional support handling a newborn’s screaming. “It’s normal for newborns to cry,” he’d said. “Get some help from friends and family in dealing with this. This is the answer to your problem.”
We paid to get a second opinion, in an attempt to sue the pediatrician for malpractice, but the second doctor found that there was no negligence on the part of her pediatrician. That was in 1993, but the same good ol’ boy networks still exist. At the time, it’s true that I was a young and inexperienced mother. But now, being older and wiser, I understand that a second opinion is just that: a second opinion. It doesn’t mean that the pediatrician didn’t commit malpractice. It was just the opinion of the second doctor that no malpractice took place. Had I had the money to invest in a third and maybe a fourth opinion, I might have gotten justice for Katiana. Sadly, I did not have the resources.
It took five whole years to conceive and deliver a healthy second child. For five years, I suffered depression and wondered what sin I had committed to result in the loss of my first-born child. In a very big way, I was young and dumb at the time. I saw doctors as all-knowing gods who always wanted the best for me; who would order whatever tests were necessary, and who would make sound medical judgments that would heal and cure disease. I had to suffer this loss to learn that this is not always the case.
This heartbreaking experience has served as a hard lesson in being more self-confident and proactive – in all matters, not just medical matters. Now, I do not hesitate to speak up and research things I don’t understand. I no longer consider physicians as omniscient gods. After all, medicine is not an exact science, and medical consultations should be a joint effort between patient and doctor. If one doctor is dismissive of my complaint, I have learned to quickly run from that doctor and seek other advice.
It was too late to save Katiana, but it doesn’t have to be too late to save another child’s life. I urge new mothers to consult and act on their maternal instinct that something isn’t right. Trust your gut. Your gut never lies. You were blessed with a new life; it is your job and your duty to protect it. Run from dismissive doctors before it’s too late. Let Katiana’s story teach us all a valuable lesson.
You can find Dorothy on LinkedIn
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