Sunday, March 22, 2009

Asking the question

I've had a very full few days at work. Steadily busy, but not madly so, yet the women I have seen have been so interesting.

I do like meeting women. And men. I s'pose I just like people really.

We've had students through, as is common in any area, but this time I have more actively been seeking them out and keeping them company. I am beginning to feel I could show them stuff, finally, after a few years in the field.

One of my objectives for working in clinics was to gain experience in abdominal palpation. I'm very pleased to feel I have gained confidence in this skill. I have picked up a number of breech lying babes, a few transverse, and become more confident in understanding attitude - i.e. the full position the baby is lying in, including head positions. Phew. Filling in the gaps. It feels good.

I have also wanted to better understand antenatal education given at the visits, and the tests at various stages, and I think I have got that down now. I'm not fast at it, but I understand it much better. I had visits with interpreters, both in person and via the telephone, adolescents, first timers, and grand multips, new migrants from other counties or new settlers from other states in Australia. We track down results from everywhere, even different time zones across the world. It is quite astounding how many phone calls we make and questions we ask over the course of a clinic session.

Some of questions we ask are the hard ones. Domestic violence. Depression screening. Any history of unwelcome sexual contact. This last one is often difficult to broach, and I confess we don't ask it of everyone, although we are alert to the possibility of it in any woman we see.

This week I have referred two women to our psychology services for raised depression screening scores with positive answers to questions of thoughts of self-harm in the last week. I'm so pleased we have these services so readily available. They are vital supports for vulnerable women. One teenager, in a very difficult position, was especially in need and I was hopping from foot to foot as I waited for the clin psych to be free. She was seen within 20 minutes, and will be followed up with a psychiatrist and a visiting midwife for adolescents and social workers and will hopefully be feeling much safer, more stable and supported soon. She was really brave, very private and reserved but clearly in a bad place, and feeling there was 'no happy place'. Poor kid.

Another woman I didn't refer set off all sorts of alarm bells as we had a chat. She was clear that she was going to try breastfeeding again (this was her second child) but that she would not be putting the child to the breast. No thankyou, its not my thing, my body is private and I don't like people touching it. (ding-a-ling-ding), No, I don't want to be referred to a psychologist even though I have a history of postnatal depression and I was medicated but took myself off it because my depression is not related to my baby (ding-a-ling-ding), yes I have a long-standing history of depression, no I don't discuss my depression with my family, they've got enough to be coping with (ding-a-ling-ding), I'm alright. I don't want anyone touching me (she wants a vaginal birth after CS last time) (ding-a-ling-ding). I took a deep breath.

Hmm. Many of the things you're telling me make me wonder... Have you ever experienced unwelcome sexual contact? Perhaps in the past?

She dropped her eyes and with a deep sigh made a decision to break her silence....

She had never told her mother, a former heroin user, because so many people would end up 'down there' she said, indicating a low level with a horizontal wave of her hand. It would tear my family apart. Maybe one day when some people were dead she would tell her family, but for now she chooses to keep it to herself to protect the greater whole. He is still around. She sees him frequently. She never discusses it with him. It stopped, she doesn't know why. She doesn't think it happened to her younger sisters, or is happening to anyone in her circle now. It wasn't her fault. Or his probably. He was not right in the head. But it stopped and she was content to leave it alone. Let sleeping dogs lie. She would only struggle and get all stirred up if she allowed herself to think about it. I've never told anyone else apart from my partner, and two friends, she said, through tight lips and with raised eyebrows as if unable to believe she was telling me now. But she was determined that she did not want any intervention or referral, and to leave it alone.

I was not surprised. She asked what had made me ask the question. I explained the signs I had seen in her tough, fiercely independent and private defence system. Most brick walls are not so high, or so tough. These kind of walls are built extra strong for a reason. A good reason.

We tossed around some of the connections and ramifications of her experiences. I joined a few dots, she joined a few, and we acknowledged her survival. Her choices. But it was important that she knew that she was not alone in her walled community. I reminded her that we had people who were able to support her if she wanted to knock out a few bricks in the wall.

One wonders about the ability of young women living these tightly wound and edgy lives to grow a well nourished baby to term. Last time her baby was small and growth restricted and she ended up with a CS due to concerns about the prem baby's ability to cope with labour. I'm not sure what her chances are like to achieve a VBAC this time around. Labour will not be pleasant, and she will be quite challenging to care for, as women pursuing VBAC are closely monitored, and vaginal examination will be extremely threatening for her. I hope she is able to labour well at home and stay away from the hospital for a good while, and arrives almost ready to push. And that the midwives pick up the subtext of her behaviour and are able to leave her alone as much as possible. And that her baby is better grown than the last one and able to cope well with labour. That's a lot to hope for.


Frogdancer said...

So I'm guessing you didn't love this question???

I had a kid in another class (but in my faculty) write a story about incest that has raised all sorts of questions and drama. I'm seeing the parents this week. Fun and games....)

mtnchild said...

I've said it before; I am very impressed with your total devotion to these women and your intuition to figure out the signs that they give off. The ability to know when to act and when to know the mother can deal with her problem.

My hat off to you!

Stomper Girl said...

I think you must have a really lovely aura if you were able to get her to open up to you about that. Lovely is a lame word. Caring, approachable, trustworthy, maybe.

Anonymous said...

What an experience - for you and her. The disclosures must sometimes make you want to weep. I wish you were there when I gave birth.

Lisa L said...

You do courageous and awesome work. Thank god she was able to talk with you.