‘They left me for days with my dead baby inside me’
Mom recalls her stillbirth ordeal in which nursing staff refused to let her hold her son's body in a final farewell
For three days, Waldo Maritz lived on a wooden bench, reticent to leave the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital where his pregnant wife, Anche, went through a harrowing 72 hours to deliver their stillborn son.
“They said there was nothing they could do for me and they just left me for days with my dead baby inside me,” she told Times Select.
And when the stillborn baby was finally delivered, she was not allowed to hold him.
To make matters worse, her husband could not be by her side to support her through the anguished hours.
“Even though I was in a private room and I was being ignored by the doctors and nurses, my family couldn’t be by my side but for one hour a day of visiting time. My husband spent four days on a bench in case something happened.”
Her ordeal has drawn back the veil on what she claims was flagrant and endemic apathy, accusing the West-Johannesburg hospital staff of casting her aside because her child was already dead.
“Every mother dreams of having their newborn baby swaddled and put on their chest, and the nurses took that from me. I wasn’t allowed to hold him and that is something I will never get back,” the 22-year-old said.
“If he was alive or stillborn it doesn’t matter, you still need to treat my baby with dignity. I was lying there, and I watched a nurse come in and just manhandle Jason and fling him around ... and she was just so rough with him. I was broken. This was before they told us we couldn’t hold him,” she said.
Her family has since laid a formal complaint with the hospital’s management.
Maritz’s husband, Waldo, described a sense of helplessness and anger as he was kept away from his wife.
“I sat on the benches in the hospital since we got there until they discharged her. I had no change of clothes, I hardly ate, and I just sat there waiting to see her,” he said.
“I felt like a helpless husband. I was sitting there thinking I should storm into the room because I didn’t want her to have to go through that alone,” he added.
The retail clerk, from Roodepoort, had grown concerned after her baby stopped moving in her belly, and rushed to the hospital on April 18, three months before the end of her term.
“When I arrived at the hospital on Thursday they did a scan which showed no foetal movement, and from there they immediately took me to the labour ward. I spent the day and the night in the ward. They came and took my blood pressure and then they left me.
“On Friday they did another sonar scan and they couldn’t find a heartbeat. After a second opinion the second doctor came and gingerly told me that my baby was dead,” she added.
And while she grappled with the crushing reality that her son was dead, her husband, family and a midwife were barred from easing her through the trauma.
“They didn’t care about me because my baby was never going to survive,” Maritz added.
‘Cruel and unacceptable’
Clinical psychologist Dr Ingrid Artus said the loss of a baby – one of the most intense losses people experience – was compounded by her treatment.
“I would not be surprised if the delay in the birthing process was due to increased stress and trauma. The release of cortisol and adrenalin typically slows down the birthing process, which was certainly counter-productive,” she said.
“It would seem as if many of our public hospitals do not operate from a position of taking into consideration what is in the best interest of the patient, especially psychologically, but rather what is most convenient for the staff.
“If hospitals view the supporting family members of patients as fulfilling a supportive role for them, rather than a burden, the dynamics in these contexts could possibly change for the psychological good of the patients.
“This treatment, from my professional view, is completely illogical, cruel and unacceptable,” she added.
Nicci Coertze, a bereavement doula who specialises in supporting women who deliver stillborn children, slammed the conduct of the hospital staff.
“For days she had to go through this nightmare from hell, all without support. She only saw her husband during visiting hours and the rest of the time she was alone with the knowledge that she had a dead baby in her womb. Completely alone.”
She said hospital policies required urgent review.
Gauteng health department spokesperson Lesemang Matuka would not comment on the specifics of the case, citing patient confidentiality.
“However, it should be noted that we have around 35 to 40 deliveries per day at Rahima Moosa Hospital and all women in labour receive the appropriate care that their conditions require. All are treated with empathy and those with deaths in utero receive equal care,” he said.
He added that to ensure the privacy of other patients, visiting hours were strictly limited.