my ordeal: part 3

At this point in time the owner, Suzanne Smith, and Ester Werbach sat on the couch opposite me and Ester said that I wasn’t in labor.

excuse me? After making me sign the form that said I was in labor and couldn’t get a refund. I could barely understand what was happening to me because it was so absurd, so divorced from my expectations for dignity and respect during my labor.

Then, to throw some salt on the wound, she told me to go get an epidural. You know, for my non-labor, because that makes sense. I was shocked. Shouldn’t they try to be nice about it? Even just a little? I guess not. I told them I didn’t know what to decide. They wouldn’t let me sit on their couch or use the birthing suite to think on it between my contractions, even though no one else was there. I waited outside for hours in my husbands car. It was uncomfortable but it wasn’t cold like it was outside. We both sat there talking about what to do next for two hours. I wanted Jen to come back like the schedule said, maybe things would be ok then. We decided to call the hotline after 7 to get Jen’s opinion. My husband called and Ester Werbach picked up again. He hung up without saying anything to her. It was settled. I couldn’t deal with this place anymore, the stress of trying to decide something when fear consumed me. We had to leave. My husband backed out of his parking spot and suzanne smith ran outside. “so you’re going?” she said excitedly. I looked at her, being pleasant for the first time today. I hated her intensely at that moment. Maybe she was happy they made a few grand without having to do their jobs. She asked if I wanted her to come with me, as if I hadn’t been treated in a totally repugnant manner by herself and ester. I realized then that she had no empathy for the people who are under her care.

I have since found out that Suzanne is transfer happy (ignore the top review, it is mine). No wonder she started the repugnant refund policy- you can just transfer anyone you don’t want to deal with at that moment. There is a reason they don’t share their statistics on their website, I’m sure.

The hospital treated me very poorly as well, but I more or less expected that. They hadn’t promised me something different like Better Birth had. The OB at the hospital was cruel, too. I have no good memories about the day that my son was born. It ended in a c-section, with me vomiting into a dish, unable to hold my son for hours because I was shaking too hard to do so. The doctor at the hospital inserted a pressure catheter into my uterus without asking me first, this was after she had read the birth plan that said I didn’t want my movement restricted. The staff made insensitive comments about my body. I had to fight with the post partum nurses to establish breastfeeding and take my son home. I ended up at the hospital for most of his first week of life dealing with testing for himself, me walking around trying to recover from surgery.

At one of my son’s doctors visits I got a phone call in the waiting room. I didn’t know it when the phone rang, but it was Ester. “how did it go?” she said, like nothing had happened. Rage welled up inside me. She knew exactly what she did to me and she had the gall to ask me how it went?

“It was HORRIBLE. First you wouldn’t stop an exam when I begged you to stop and then you wouldn’t let me eat unless I had another one and I ended up with a c-section. It was terrible.” My anger was apparent, everyone in the waiting room heard me raise my voice when I talked into the phone.

she replied “you had a c-section? did you have an epidural?” She was so clinical. She asked about the epidural with a “told-you-so” smug tone. She ignored everything I had just said except for “c-section.”

I was appalled. “SO, you have NOTHING to say for yourself about all the PROBLEMS you caused?! You’re just going to sit there and ask clinical questions? You don’t even care about what you’ve done to me!” I said angrily.

She stammered a bit and began “I’m sorry you feel that way….”

I yelled “I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY?”, outraged that someone would give me a non-apology in the face of very real misconduct. My heart was racing.

“everything I did was to give you the best care” she replied. she molested me during my childbirth, she ignored me when I said ‘no’, she denied me food unless I submitted to a vaginal examination, and it was ‘the best care’. My son’s name got called and I had to leave the waiting room and talk to the MA. I said “I think you broke the law, and I’m going to do something about it!” and hung up on her. I had to pull it together to talk with my son’s pediatrician, and it was hard. I was still moving slow and hurting from my surgery, and now this? Why did this have to happen to me? Why on the day my baby was born?

I thought a lot about what to do next. I figured that the clinic might not be at fault, it might just be Ester. Maybe they would do something about her if I reported her actions to the clinic? It was then that I emailed better birth the following email:

There were some very serious issues with the way that my labor was managed at Better Birth recently. Is there someone who is considered the manager of the clinic or any licensing bodies that regulate the birthing centers practices? I need to make sure that what happened to me does not happen to other patients. I would be much more comfortable discussing this in email than in person or over the phone. I urgently want to get this resolved so please email me back as soon as possible.

thank you
(name)
Carrie said she would handle all complaints. So I wrote this email back to them:

Alright then, there were several serious problems with the way I was treated at Better Birth by Esther the midwife.

It is important to know before hand that when I filled out my intake paperwork at Better Birth I indicated that I have a history of being sexually abused. That was a big reason why I went with a birth center instead of a hospital, I felt that my autonomy would be respected and that the midwifery model of care would be followed. I felt a lot of comfort in knowing that my consent would be important.
I came in for my first cervical check and Esther was the midwife on call. During the check I had a contraction and said “I can’t take anymore, stop stop” to Esther indicating that I wanted the exam to end. She did not end the exam. I am fairly certain that what happened constitutes sexual assault because I withdrew consent to have her touch my genitals and she continued to anyway. My husband was in the room  and saw what happened. I was shocked and tried very hard not to let what had happened bother me during the rest of my labor but it proved impossible. Many feelings from previously being abused surfaced and made my labor hard to deal with emotionally.
After that happened my doula Robin showed up. Esther then told me I needed to take tylenol and gave me two of them. I found out later (from Jen) that these were not simply tylenol, these were Tylenol PM (which contain a sedative).  I had no opportunity to discuss the risks or benefits of taking the medicine and was not warned of the side effects at all. Its extremely negligent on Ether’s part because in the event of a transfer it is important that I can give medical staff complete information about what medications I have taken and when. I felt extremely violated and like I had no real decision making power in my care because I was not allowed to give informed consent to treatment. My husband and doula were both there and both thought that I had been given tylenol instead of tylenol PM because Esther never indicated otherwise.
I went home and came back later on where Jen performed a check. She was great and informed me of having taken tylenol PM and offered me more if I wanted and discussed options of what to do next with me because my labor had not progressed enough to warrant admittance to the birth center. I had to go home once again.
The next time I came back to better birth Esther was there again and insisted on another vaginal exam. I told her I didn’t want to and why (because she continued the first exam after I told her to stop). Esther said she had to do that to me to check my cervix during a contraction. The lack of apology was horrifying to me. I had been in labor for many hours by this point and was exhausted and vulnerable. I kept remembering that Better Birth’s paperwork said specifically that there are no “everybody has to…” policies, that it was up to me. I was very hungry and asked for my husband to get a yogurt from the kitchen. Esther said I could not have food unless I consented to another vaginal exam. I agreed because I felt I had no other options and had not eaten in many hours. The exam seemed to me to last much longer than the previous one and much longer than any other check I received during the rest of my labor, which made me feel very uncomfortable when i thought about it later on. Esther suggested I go to the hospital and get an epidural.
My husband and I waited a long time in our car in the parking lot at better birth deciding what to do. I did not feel safe going back to better birth because esther was there. I ended up going to the hospital as a result where I ultimately had a c section, the outcome I was most hoping to avoid by choosing a birth center over the hospital.
Yesterday esther called me to check up on me and I told her my concerns. She didn’t even aknowledge my complaints, she just continued asking clinical questions. I got really upset and asked her why she didn’t care that she had caused me so much pain. She told me that everything she did was needed to provide “the best care” for me and she never apologized. I am extremely concerned for other patients who are receiving care from her if she believes she did nothing wrong in completely bypassing patient consent when performing procedures and dispensing medications. I would appreciate it if you could give me information to report her to whatever bodies license or govern midwifery in the state of utah so that she can be disciplined for her actions.
I also feel its unfair that I should have to pay for the treatment I received at Better Birth. I know that there is a policy of no refunds after labor starts but  I very much doubt that Better Birth’s policy was intended to cover cases such as these (where behavior on the part of staff is egregious/illegal). I am having nightmares about the way I was treated by Esther and increased difficulty sleeping while having to care for my new son as a result.
Let me know what you feel is appropriate to remedy the situation.
-(my name)
I wrote a sentence about her rubbing my clitoris and deleted it before sending. I was so ashamed, and I figured that everything else that had happened was so outside of the expectations of midwifery care that it would be taken seriously. Surely something would be done without them knowing about that part? I didn’t want to have to talk about it with anyone, and honestly I still don’t. I felt like it was somewhat my fault for agreeing to the 2nd check. I know that isn’t true now, but it is a nearly universal response by victims of sexual violence to blame themselves.
I was wrong though. My complaint wasn’t taken seriously. I had to email better birth several weeks later, saying “hey, it has been several weeks, why is there no response?” to get any word about this horrible thing that I paid someone to do to me. Another woman with a bad experience at Better Birth sent a letter about having been traumatized and got no response. They don’t care once they have your money. Suzanne finally sent a reply, and it looked to me like she had not really read my complaint at all, or she was trying to gaslight me. Either way, a totally repugnant way to respond to my situation. Here is Suzanne Smith’s reply, with my comments in bold/caps:

Dear (name),

I am so sorry to hear how you experienced your labor with us.  Of course, we never want someone to feel violated or disempowered, as that is the opposite of everything we stand for and try to provide while caring for our clients.
I read with sad interest your complaints against Ester.  Your description differs markedly from our documented version of events, such that I can only assume the discrepancies resulted from (unknown at the time) failures in communication.  It is possible that some of the communication/perception problems resulted from events being viewed through the emotional filter of triggered sexual abuse memories (I NEVER COMPLAINED ABOUT MEMORIES OF ABUSE BEING TRIGGERED, I NEVER EVEN IMPLIED IT).  It is possible that Ester’s accent or imperfect English are partly to blame.  There may be other reasons also.  Regardless, it is frustrating on both sides, I’m sure, to have your birth experienced marred by it.
It is not possible for us as care providers to know exactly how a client perceives an action or explanation on our part.  We do not know what will trigger sexual abuse memories, or even that something has triggered them unless that is communicated to us.  We are often in the position of having to perform uncomfortable or painful exams or procedures in order to provide good care.  It is often less traumatic to clients, when a contraction occurs mid-cervical exam, to hold still until it ends and resume when it is over, than to withdraw the examining hand only to have to insert it again after the contraction.  Sometimes it is necessary or helpful to see whether the cervix changes during a contraction.  When an exam has been consented to and is in progress, it can be a fine line, (particularly when the exam is painful and when it is with a first-time mom who is unfamiliar with the sensations of both contractions and exams), between when it should be completed and when it should be abandoned without obtaining the information in pursuit of which it was undertaken in the first place.
It is clearly documented in the record that TylenolPM was offered, and that it was explained that this was for the purpose of helping you relax and sleep. (I KNOW WHAT WAS DOCUMENTED, THAT WAS HOW I FOUND OUT I HAD BEEN GIVEN TYLENOL PM)  If that was not understood by you, we would have no way of knowing that unless you asked questions that revealed it.  But I can equally see how if you hear “Tylenol” and not “PM”, that Tylenol is a medication you might be very familiar with and you would see no need to ask questions about it.  In this scenario I can see how neither side would know that the other was not understanding.
In any case, I’m sorry your experience during your labor with us was so negative.  I assure you, no one at BetterBirth ever wants to do anything to make you feel as you did.
As to refund, our refund policy is very clear.  Once labor begins, there is no refund for any reason, and we will stand by the payment agreement you signed.
Suzanne Smith, LDEM
BetterBirth, LLC
Suzanne Smith is a woman who is happy to blame me for being an abuse victim instead of listening to what I actually complained about. She tried pretty hard to tell me that I was imagining things or that I had a mental problem, but my husband was by my side the entire time. Is he imagining things, too? Hardly. This approach might have worked if I had been alone. This is exactly what abusers say when their victims confront them- its all in your head, it never really happened you just think it did, etc. I consider her complicit in the abuse I suffered during my labor. She was also happy to ignore my request that she provide me with licensing board information to make a complaint against ester, too. I know now that she ignored that part because she knew ester wasn’t licensed, despite presenting her as being a licensed midwife to me during my time at Better Birth. She is a repugnant human being with no compassion for what I went through. You will notice that again, she is only sorry for how I reacted, not how anyone treated me. She doesn’t feel that being forced to leave by poor treatment is reason enough to give someones money back. After all, she has the signed agreement- why worry about doing what is right when you can keep someones ill-gotten money without legal consequence? Though she did go on to hire a lawyer after this exchange. You can guess why.
The next part in my series is going to be about what happened when i did reach out to the licensing board and other authorities to try and get something done about this. I know that ester will do this again to someone else unless she is stopped, and suzanne smith will continue to unethically obtain money from women in labor, so I had to keep trying, even through the unrelenting pain of reliving the abuse over and over. I envied my newborn for getting two hour bursts of sleep during the night, I sure as hell couldn’t.

11 comments

  1. I’m just horrified. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    1. Thank you very much. It means a lot to me to read that because of how much gaslighting I have put up with from people.

  2. This is so sickening. I can understand how you feel. Thank you for the warning, I am currently looking for birthing options – and looking into birthing centers. I hate knowing that people like that are out there – and they are, I have had a couple awful encounters in my life. Its hard to forget “the feeling” of knowing something thats happening to you is wrong, shouldn’t be happening – but it is! Who forgets that feeling? I am so sorry you went through that! You are a strong woman – keep moving forward. You are even more aware now – and can help others avoid this place.

  3. My comment may be triggering to sexual abuse survivors…please proceed with caution.

    “When an exam has been consented to and is in progress, it can be a fine line, (particularly when the exam is painful and when it is with a first-time mom who is unfamiliar with the sensations of both contractions and exams), between when it should be completed and when it should be abandoned without obtaining the information in pursuit of which it was undertaken in the first place.”

    Let’s change this quote a little bit and see if Ms. Smith thinks it is acceptable still:

    “When intercourse has been consented to and is in progress, it can be a fine line, (particularly when the penetration is painful and when it is with a first-time woman who is unfamiliar with the sensations of both penetration and thrusting), between when it should be completed and when it should be abandoned without obtaining the sexual satisfaction in pursuit of which it was undertaken in the first place.”

    I just changed 7 words. 7 words out of 69. I hope the horror of what she said would really dawn on Ms. Smith if she read this. Becaue I’ll tell you this…when it was my “first time” sexually, it hurt. And I said “stop.” And my partner stopped. No pleading with me to just bear with it a bit longer, no pushing past my resistance. I said stop, he stopped. As it should be.

  4. When an exam has been consented to and is in progress, it can be a fine line, (particularly when the exam is painful and when it is with a first-time mom who is unfamiliar with the sensations of both contractions and exams), between when it should be completed and when it should be abandoned without obtaining the information in pursuit of which it was undertaken in the first place.

    That’s probably something worth discussing with the expectant mother in advance. The birthing centre seems very ready to blame you as if it’s your fault that they can’t communicate worth shit, and that’s if you give them the benefit of the doubt that this was all just an unfortunate result of miscommunication, and I don’t think I’m prepared to give them that benefit.

    1. You can look at their contract on their website and see that patient decision making is discussed beforehand- they sell you on the idea that YOU get to control what happens during your labor. Its a bait and switch.

      I think the gaslighting would have worked if my husband hadn’t been there, too. I know I didn’t remember things wrong when two of us recall the exact same thing, and both of us have our stomachs tied up in knots thinking about it. Whats really infuriating was that Suzanne wasn’t there at all, so how could she tell me I didn’t communicate effectively?

      This is just Suzanne’s standard response to mothers that she scams out of money- “its your fault, not ours, sorry you feel bad about that”.(if she bothers to give them one at all)

  5. […] facilities). Teachers and doctors are often defended by colleagues when accused of abuse. And yes, midwives, too.  The dynamic can happen in groups as small as individual families, with one parent ignoring […]

  6. Reading this, one thing jumps out to me: a sincere apology, an honest explanation, and a kind word or two, during and after the first exam (assault), was all it would have taken to make you feel respected and heard.
    All you wanted was simple, human, compassion. It’s a shameful thing that such a vital emotion was denied, in such a cold way. You needed a safe place, during a trying experience (birth), and instead had your physical body and space violated. Disgusting.
    That they went on to commit further violations, used coercion, then ended with blatantly mean and inappropriate responses, just shows their nonexistent level of professionalism.

    Pro-tip to maternity and womans care providers- PLEASE don’t accept clients with abuse/rape histories if you are unable, or unwilling, to respect their every request regarding their bodily autonomy, and cannot show kindness and gentleness. You violate these women all over again, which is what they chose you to avoid in the first place!

  7. I don’t think a woman should have to have had a history of sexual abuse before she’s treated utmost respect and permission every step of the treatment, which has been explained prior, but must never be assumed that is some kind of bizarre consent. The best way to have a baby is with as little other interference as possible. Stand-by care, but really women have been having babies without any assistance forever. Poor women, urban women, women of colour, third world women…we’ve been taken over, made to think we need them. Any them. We don’t.

    1. I agree that consent should be central to patient care, my history just makes the violation more egregious.

      Is natural birth the best way? It really depends on what you mean by ‘the best’. It sounds like it was the best way for you.

      As for the rest… women died often from childbirth in the past, and currently in places without modern medicine. It was a common event. Perinatal and infant death are also common occurrences in places without birth attendants.

  8. […] of dealing with complaints. I had to push for any response at all, and when I got an email back Suzanne Smith told me that I was wrong and that I must be lying about my complaints, but they also s…. Then later they put up their “negative review?” page where they said customers who are […]

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