Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Early Childhood Health Centre

During my antenatal classes and while staying in the hospital, the midwives stressed the importance of reporting to the Early Childhood Health Centre (ECHC) as soon as I left the hospital. A midwife would visit me at home, answer my questions and I'd be referred to the local parents' group. This sounded great to me because these services are provided by the government for free and I'm a nervous new parent who can use as much help and support as I can get.

I returned from the hospital on a Saturday, the following Monday was a public holiday so I promptly called the ECHC on Tuesday. I was greeted with a lengthy voicemail message informing me that the office was open two days per week (Wednesday and Thursday) and that a midwife would get back to me then as long as I answered my phone. The message stated that nurses spend a lot of time playing phone tag with new mums who need to answer their phones: "when we call, our number will display as 'private,' so please pick up our call." Jeez, I get it.

Anyway, I didn't want to fail Lachie in the first week of being his mom so I left my phone on full volume during normal business hours awaiting a call from the ECHC nurse. It took them seven days to return my call. The earliest they could see us for my baby's one to four week check was in one month. That seemed a little late, but I said okay. In setting up my home visit, I was asked a series of strange questions which, after the fact, felt like a quest to find something that would impede our meeting:

Nurse: Are there any renovations happening in your building?
Me: (Idiotically answering this question honestly) Oh, all the time!
Nurse: ...Uh... (obviously unaccustomed to hearing the wrong answer given so enthusiastically) Anything that would impact Denise's safety?
Me: No (Did she think I'd bring my baby home to a construction site with asbestos and metallic dust?)
Nurse: Is there abuse in the home?
Me: No (very sorry for the people who respond 'yes' and are in obvious need of support, but are probably denied a visit)
Nurse: Is there parking available where you live?
Me: Oh, yes, we have a car spot in the garage, but no car so she's free to use that.
Nurse: How will she get in?
Me: We leave her name with the concierge and he'll instruct her to go to our spot, number 787.
Nurse: How does the nurse get out of the garage?
Me: ... (Is this really a question?) ... There are doors leading to the lobby.
Nurse: Our staff have gotten trapped in garages before. Can someone meet her?
Me: Yes.

This inane conversation went on longer than it needed to. A friend had a similar experience when they phoned about her home visit. They asked if they'd prefer the midwife to remove her shoes in their home. My friend and her husband usually do this so she said 'sure.' The midwife replied, 'well, she has to leave her shoes on.' Okay...

Again, it felt like they were using any excuse not to do their jobs. When the day of Denise the midwife's visit finally arrived, my mom and I were curious and eager. At the appointed time, Denise rang and said she'd be there in half an hour. One hour later she phoned again from outside the garage. I was feeding Lachlan so I told her my mom would run down and meet her. Ten minutes later the midwife rings and says she can't see my mom and also her mobile doesn't work in the garage before the call dropped. My mom calls me and says she can't find the midwife. I tell her that she just phoned, but the call dropped would she please have a look around the garage. Ten minutes later my mom is back in the apartment saying that she jumped into a car with an old lady she thought was the midwife and rode into the garage with her before learning that she spoke little English and was not in fact the midwife. My mom went back to the garage and hollered for her before noticing a car parked on the second level with its lights on. My mom approached the car and found the midwife sitting in her car. When my mom asked her why she didn't get out of the car she said something about, 'oh, we don't do that. We need you to come to us.' Right.

Once everyone was finally upstairs the midwife asked a number of questions that I'm surprised she didn't have the answers to. When I told her that Lachie was five weeks old, she said, 'we don't usually see babies older than five weeks.' That's when we wanted to tear our hair out, but I calmly tried to explain that their soonest appointment was five weeks after I called.

Nurse: Well, have you booked in your 6 - 8 week check?
Me: No, I thought I had to sort out this visit first. How long does it take to get that appointment?
Nurse: Several weeks so you better arrange that now.
Me: No kidding.

Denise weighed Lachie and said he appeared to be in great health. I walked her back to her car to make sure she wouldn't get trapped in the garage.

I had high hopes that my conversations with the other midwives at the ECHC wouldn't be as nonsensical when I visited the center to attend my first parents' group meeting. During these 2pm meetings, new moms sit around a circle and state their name, baby's name and any issues/questions she has about her baby. The midwife gives a vague, unsatisfying answer and then they move on to the next mom in the circle. I quickly learned to ignore most of the baby advice and just enjoy the time commiserating with the other moms.

Unfortunately, the midwives didn't ignore me. Denise gave her colleauges at the center a heads up that I was suicidal or something (see my previous post on anxiety) so they were always calling me to see how I was doing, referring me to other people who didn't know anything about me and making sure I was attending the next parents' group. At one point they asked if I wanted to attend such and such support group and I agreed because it was helpful to meet other new moms. Yet another midwife then left several messages on my voicemail explaining that there was no room for me in the group that they had referred me to. Great.

During one meeting I made the mistake of telling the group that I was concerned about Lachie's weight gain following his cold and tendency to regurgitate an entire feed. I had seen the doctor about this and he wasn't too concerned. He was confident that Lachie would gain the weight back quickly after his cold and the vomiting subsided. The midwife cornered me after the meeting and lectured me about feeding Lachlan more and waking him up in the night to feed him. She threatened that if I didn't and he didn't gain enough weight, 'his brain wouldn't grow.'

The midwife who replaced her wasn't on my case, but was kind of grumpy and useless. Once I began attending mother's group meetings in the park, I stopped going to the ECHC. Friends and other mothers agreed and had similar stories and bad experiences. One mom said that the midwife yelled at her and made her cry. My friend Meaghan said that though government midwives in Victoria are required to have masters degrees and a certain level of experience, "any old grandma could get this job." Meaghan was right. When I learned that the government didn't trust these midwives enough to allow them internet access in the ECHC offices, I finally wrote them off.

At my last meeting at the ECHC, a midwife complained about potential budget cuts to their program. I felt like raising my hand and asking how I could give the government my feedback about the program. Dear NSW, your attempts to help new moms are admirable, but if the best you can deliver is poor service from lazy, mediocre staff then don't bother.

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