Letter to Dr. Glenn Posner (and those who may be interested in trying to understand)

To Dr. Glenn Posner
Residency Program Director
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Ottawa, Ontario

By Jennifer Smith
Mother of four
Ottawa, Ontario

In response to Dr. Posner’s facebook post from December 21, 2012 on the We Demand an Apology for “Hospital Parody” Video by U of T Obgyn Residents campaign facebook page:
facebook-post-by-glenn-posner

(Disclaimer: This letter was written with the intention to try to help those interested in understanding. It is not intended to be hostile in tone, so if there are parts that come across that way, I do apologize. I tried hard to make it be a non-confrontational letter, a candid response with an open heart to anyone who wishes to try to understand the perspective I have on the video and why I find it offensive.)

 

Dear Glenn,

I thoroughly appreciate your candid and measured response to our attempts to raise awareness of the reasons why some people were deeply offended by the Gangnam Style “Hospital Parody” video by University of Toronto Obstetrics and Gynecology residents and by the video’s enthusiastic endorsement by Sunnybrook Hospital.

When I watched this video, I shook so incredibly violently that I needed to set the laptop down for fear of dropping it and breaking it.  Apart from maybe the infant resuscitation sequence and the “humorous” C-section bits (quotation marks because I personally find them in very poor taste), you would think there would be no reason for this reaction on my part.  The video simply portrays medical staff in a unit, mentions some of the myriad of things they do, and shows them loving their job.  I “get” all of that at a cerebral level.  I also try to keep in mind that medical staff find they must desensitize somewhat because they can’t take what they see home everyday or they would probably lose their minds.

But in my case, this video caused me to react so intensely because of the way it reminded me of how I felt as though my personhood was robbed away from me during my first birth.  The lack of understanding and compassion from medical staff and my “support” team during that long, traumatic, birth has greatly effected me.

I cried endlessly for months after the birth.  I couldn’t sleep for any length of time; if I did, I had nightmare flashbacks back to the birth or I sleepwalked.  I had waking flashbacks.  I couldn’t drive for nearly 2 years afterwards because I felt that I was obviously incapable of making good decisions (after all, I made the decisions that caused me to end up in a hospital for the birth).  I also didn’t trust that other drivers would follow the rules of the road.

I had and still have incredible rage about that birth.  It has caused me to become a birth advocate.  It caused me to swear off having more children (I have since rescinded that decision for a very different reason than you might assume).

This birth and the tragic trauma it caused me is the point that both my husband and I identify as where our marriage began to fall apart.   It has changed my future professional plans.  It has changed my perspective on life, the universe, and everything.  It has shaken my belief in the inherent good-ness of people and virtually destroyed any belief I have in altruism.  It has affected my ability to trust (it took me four fingers of scotch and a very good friend to get in the passenger seat of the car to go to my last — not pregnancy related — ultrasound).  It weakened me to my knees, although my determination has rebuilt me stronger.

It is not so much the content of the video, in my opinion.  It is not that a bunch of medical staff wanted to lighten up with respect to their profession.  It’s the negative space more than anything for me.  It’s the lack of compassion and respect for the moms and babies (and yes, I realize its a doll!).  It’s the not really noting their presence, treating them as unimportant and subsidiary.  Treating them merely as another file or another problem to be solved.  As though they are there to allow the surgeon and nurses to demonstrate their prowess and expertise while running from one room to another saving them; delivering them.

I realize that this video was not aimed at the moms and babies.  It was for the staff and about having fun with their job.  But for one such as me, who actually has been treated in such a manner, it is hard to separate the two concepts.

Furthermore, the separation highlights the very paradigm shift people like myself wish to enact.  Its not the video itself so much.  Its the paradigm it represents that evokes this need for apology and the bitterness of the ones who have suffered because of the ensuing current ideology in perinatal “care”.

The staff see multiple births (among other things) everyday.  It is routine for them.  For them, its not a big deal.  But for families, it is a big deal.  Its the biggest of deals.  And they only get to do it a few precious times in their life.  What you do, what you say, how you present yourself and your opinions/recommendations/information/bedside manner can have a profound and lasting effect.

I don’t imagine anyone, on any aspect of this debate will advocate that this video is intended as a hallmark of patient-centred care.  It was never  intended as such.  It wasn’t intended to say anything about patient care beyond the expertise of the staff.  But the unfortunate fact is, for lots of us, it does speak about the level of patient care we received.  And that is what we work to change.

I hope you have a good imagination, because I am going to ask you to, if you could for just a moment, take yourself out of your doctor coat.  Put yourself in the hospital robe.

Imagine yourself scared, vulnerable both emotionally and physically, and excited too.  Imagine never having seen a birth except on TV or what you read in books.

Imagine revealing your most intimate physical and emotional self to several random people you’ve never met, letting them look at these parts more closely than you’ll ever see yourself and put their hands and instruments on them under bright lights.

Imagine you’re in pain.  Imagine you’re overwhelmed.  Imagine the adrenaline.  Imagine humbling yourself and putting your faith in their hands.  Imagine them treating you roughly and callously.

Imagine them ignoring your presence altogether.  Imagine people chatting carelessly over your drugged and frightened and exposed self about the ice storm that is coming and that someone left their headlights on in the parking lot while they hurt you (not necessarily intending to hurt you, but even a vaginal “check” hurts).

Imagine them figuratively kicking you while you’re down.  Now imagine its supposed to be the most special day of your adult life.  When you’re in that head space, go and watch the video then.

I don’t know how else to explain the outrage and impact.  If you can’t outright imagine it, or need more ideas how brutal it can be from the mom’s perspective, check out the many birth trauma groups on facebook.  Watch the birth pages that have nothing to do with trauma, you’ll see comments pop up regularly.  It’s all over the place, it’s just not an organized effort yet because we are told by all and sundry to hush up, at least we have a healthy baby!

To this day, I can not watch doctor shows.  When my girlfriends talk about Gray’s, or private practice or whatever the du rigor show is, I have to leave the room.  Not because the blood and guts bother me.  But the memory of being that lump of meat on the table does.

Right now my heart is pounding just writing this letter.  My traumatic birth was 7 years ago.  I have been through counselling.  I have been through treatments.  Heck, I have even been through 3 births since.  I’ll always remember that day.

I am also in Ottawa and all my children were born here. One C-section and three HBAC.  I had 2 trips to hospitals post-partum; one for severe tearing and one for a stuck placenta.  Each hospital was a different one, here in Ottawa.

As I lay there, alone and cold and exposed in the ER for my stuck placenta, the anaesthesiologist (awesome, awesome guy) asked me why I was crying.  I said I was scared.  He sort of snort laughed “Of what?”  I couldn’t even explain.  I just cried more.  I asked him to hold my hand please.  He asked if he could do anything to make me more comfortable.  I said sure, he could switch me places, that I would be much more comfortable then.  We all laughed a bit and went on to discuss what exactly homebirthers do with placentas while I leaked tears.  He probably thinks I am a loon.

Sorry for the long letter, but I felt I had to contextualize my reply to make the point: I do find the video offensive. I do think it was in poor taste.

I have lost esteem for Sunnybrook as a hospital because of this video.  I have watched this video exactly twice: once when this first started up, so that I could see what the hubbub was all about, and another time just before writing this letter to refresh my thoughts.  I won’t be watching it again, as recommended by many.

Leave the video on YouTube if you want my opinion; I don’t endorse censorship.   A trigger warning label would be nice.  I have forewarned my birth trauma groups to not watch it with a trigger label warning.

But should we like things to improve on both sides of the issue, we need to talk about this.  It sounds to me from many of the responses of medical personnel, that some are not feeling the love.  I assure you that some mommas are not either.  Lets change that.

Jennifer Smith
Ottawa, Canada
May 26, 2013

Read Jennifer’s birth story on our Birth Stories collection.

4 Responses to “Letter to Dr. Glenn Posner (and those who may be interested in trying to understand)”

  1. lienjud May 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    thank you Jennifer for your powerful letter! such courage to get in touch with all these memories.

  2. Glenn Posner May 28, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Jennifer, I read your letter with interest. Thank you for your insights.

  3. Erin Walsh June 4, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Glenn, I think the main problem with the video is not that they are blowing off steam but that it illustrates a fundamental lack of respect for patients and their situations. There is a growing perception that hospitals just don’t care about women or their feelings during childbirth. Whether this is true or not at your facility, videos like this one perpetuate this perception. I also had a traumatic birth at the hands of a doctor who was heavy-handed during an instrumental delivery. How do you think it makes me feel to see a doctor joking and waving around a pair of forceps? Like he doesn’t care about women like me, that’s how. I don’t blow off steam about work on Facebook because it would be disrespectful to my employer and the people I work with. Your folks deal with people during the most vulnerable and important times of their lives. They should act like it.

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