Manitoba women's health just got worse
How is a reduction in emergency rooms or health services going to resolve systemic problems, Joanne Seiff asks
In 2011, after 36 hours of labour and an emergency C-section, my newborn twins and I were separated in a Winnipeg hospital. Despite good intentions and stated protocol, I didn't get the option of kangaroo care or putting a baby to breast.
One of my twins "roomed in" after a brief stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, but I wasn't well enough to care for him without help from my husband or mother, who was visiting from the U.S.
The other baby remained in the NICU for a week. I only was able to visit him once. My husband commandeered a wheelchair and got me down to the NICU on our own. Nurses didn't volunteer to help me. I was still bleeding heavily. My husband and mother visited the NICU baby once a day, since I couldn't.
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After several well-intentioned (but mostly unhelpful) nurses tried to help, two experienced lactation consultants offered more constructive information for nursing twins. However, I had only one baby with me, and he didn't latch to feed consistently or successfully until he was four months old. The other twin, on a feeding regimen, was eventually more successful at nursing but so underweight that he required extra medical support.
After 8.5 weeks of bleeding after childbirth (which usually ends after six weeks), an ultrasound showed the medical team had left placenta inside me after the C-section. I needed an emergency D and C.
This additional procedure required me to contact everyone we knew in Winnipeg for help, as we have no family in Canada. With a hired postnatal doula for night feedings and friends and colleagues for scheduled three-hour daytime shifts, we had enough help so that I could go back to the hospital.
At 10 weeks, I finally stopped bleeding — and had no followup care aside from an extremely dedicated public health nurse.
Thank goodness for that public health nurse. She provided the only ongoing monitoring I had.
My family doctor left his practice during my pregnancy. Due to the physician shortage, I didn't have a new family doctor or any postnatal care for six months.
Even after I had a doctor, I didn't have enough child care to pursue the medical interventions I needed.
Still dealing with health issues
Six years later, I am still trying to resolve some of the residual health issues.
Although hospitals and health care in the U.S. vary widely, my mother was appalled at some of the overcrowded hospital conditions and the lack of treatment she felt I received.
Compared to the care she'd received after giving birth to three children, or the care my sisters-in-law had received after giving birth more recently (three recent births in three different hospitals), my mom felt I wasn't getting appropriate care.
We joked that at least we wouldn't have to pay for it all — cold comfort considering the serious health issues at stake.
Several months ago, I heard there had been an overhaul of the public health nurse guidelines in the province. Changes made in early 2016 to the public health nursing practice set an important goal: Every new mom should get at least one public health visit in the seven days after childbirth.
New moms who are able to seek more support in the community can do so after that visit. Moms with serious postnatal health concerns (due to C-sections, etc.) or multiple births aren't able to go out into the community to seek prompt care and support — but their health needs should still be addressed. The 2016 goal appears to acknowledge the need to make sure moms are getting the help they need in the weeks after childbirth.
My bad experiences with the medical system weren't unusual. I was lucky — I came out of it alive. Remember the Winnipeg mom with postpartum depression who died and whose two children were killed in 2013?
The baby blues or postpartum depression occur often even when the birth is smooth and the baby is healthy. If a mom has medical concerns, multiple babies and few local supports, well, it's a wonder so many manage at all.
All of this happened before Premier Brian Pallister launched his remake of Manitoba's health system.
- Half of Winnipeg's ERs closing in biggest health-care revamp 'in a generation'
- At least 197 management positions cut at Manitoba health authorities, agencies
No one claimed that our system was perfect. We know the system fails many of us. Long emergency room waits and emergency room patients dying or left in agonizing pain as they wait to see doctors — these aren't signs that things are going well. However, if all the previous evaluations were correct, our hospitals are operating above-capacity as it is. How is a reduction in emergency rooms or health services going to resolve this?
If we believe Pallister's government, Manitobans' main concern is about cutting costs and reducing debt. Let's reflect on that goal. Apparently Manitobans are willing to increase infant mortality rates, lower breastfeeding rates and forego hard-fought health gains because keeping our citizens alive and healthy is not a top priority.
Reducing lactation support, getting rid of a specialty centre that supports women's health as they age and reducing access to quick medical support (QuickCare clinics, urgent care or close proximity to emergency rooms) aren't just ways to reduce the short-term cost of medical care in Manitoba. It's also an attack on our province's health and well-being.
Are current cost-cutting measures a way of setting back women's health in our province?
- Coming cuts to health services for newborns, moms 'staggering,' nurses union says
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Manitoba's population was 50.6 per cent female in 2016, Statistics Canada says, and most of the women are old enough to vote. They are unlikely to support this attack on women's health.
There are also lots of husbands, dads, brothers, sons, uncles and cousins who would prefer to see better outcomes when it comes to health care.
I wouldn't wish my birth and postnatal experience on anybody. I remain hopeful that we can improve things for women in the future.
Perhaps Pallister's willing to demolish our health care because when he retires, he's not going to be living here to see what happens.
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