System Error

I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom when my cell phone rang.  Pieces of scrapbook paper and photos were strewn around me on the carpet as I organized a photo story of Mabel for a scrapbook to show at her wake.  When I picked up the phone, I could see it was a hospital number.


“Hi, Meghan?  I’m a social worker at the hospital.  I’m calling to follow up on your stay on the maternal special care unit.”

I recognized her name and her voice- she was the social worker on the unit I work on.  I have spoken to her many times about patients- women who have depression, no electricity, problems with drugs.  She is very good at her job, which is a difficult one, one that I do not envy.  She was actually one of the first hospital staff to know about Mabel.  I approached her early in my pregnancy when I learned of Mabel’s Down Syndrome, hoping she might know about any resources and she gave some to me readily.

Though I greeted her familiarly, it took a few minutes for her to realize she was talking to me– someone she knew.  I can understand that.  There are many times in my job when I see a name, or even a face, that I know, but taken out of context I don’t realize who it is right away.  Eventually it clicked for the social worker and we chatted more easily.  She asked about my satisfaction with my stay and if anyone in particular had given me good care.  I rattled off a dozen names- from the two women who cleaned my room, to the nurses and my doctors and midwives.  The phone call was relatively brief and we ended cordially.

After I hung up, I went back to my project- the only thing that helped me get through those early days between the death of my daughter and when we laid her body to rest.  As I held a photo of her in the NICU, my phone rang again. It was the social worker.

“Meghan, I am so sorry.  I did not know your baby had died.  That information wasn’t passed on to me.”

I had thought the conversation was a little odd, that she never mentioned my baby or gave condolences, but I wasn’t exactly trusting myself to pass judgment on what goes for normal conversation in my grief saturated haze.  She went on to be very appropriate and kind and I reassured her it was fine.  It was fine.  The phone call hadn’t upset me- it was almost normal- whatever that is after your baby dies.  But she was lucky that it was me she was talking to.  I could imagine another mom in my situation who could have been upset.  This was not the social workers fault- it was a system error.  The system should have a way to make it so very obvious when a postpartum mom has lost a baby.

When I work my way back into the hospital, maybe I can help fix the system.


7 thoughts on “System Error

  1. We had a similar experience, though it wasn’t the social worker who didn’t know; she was in the room with us when Ander was dying. Instead, it was my OB at my six week post-partum checkup. “How’s the baby?” she asked, brightly. She wasn’t the doctor who delivered him, though he didn’t know either. Even though my MFM group is connected to the hospital (even physically; I’ve waited in a doctor’s office for 45 minutes while he walked to the OR to deliver a baby and walked back), they didn’t know my son had died. Seems like such a simple thing to pass along, to put in my file, but I guess not.

    • coming from a busy practice, we keep tabs on our sick babies. though I can see how things can slip through the cracks. but there has just got to be a better way, right?

      • It’s crazy how often this happens. At my 6 week appointment the Rn asked the worst question. The “why didn’t you bring the baby?” question. It’s crazy to me that such a small question can be so hurtful. There are many flaws in the medical system that baby loss moms know all too well.

      • Although no one wishes you to be in the position of having to be the one to bring these crucial details to the forefront from personal experience, it will prove to be extremely valuable to others when you are ready to take this on (or if you decide to be the one to take it on, because it’s not easy and it will require a lot of patience to change the course of a huge, engrained system no matter what the topic/issue). Know that you will clearly have support if you decide to do so.

  2. A few weeks after Owen was born, we got a bill for his x-ray in the NICU. Apparently, they had filed it to insurance under Owen’s given name, but the claim had been denied because Owen’s “name” for Blue Cross Blue Shield is “Baby boy (my maiden last name).” Because Owen has my husband’s last name, which I have not taken, the insurance company had no idea who the claim was for. I called the radiologist’s office and tried to explain about the name situation so they could refile, and they said “oh, don’t worry about it, your baby will get his own plan under his real name and then insurance will pay the claim.” I figured Owen’s death would be in their files somewhere, but of course it wasn’t. When I explained that my baby died and would never have his own plan, the lady on the phone got very somber and apologetic. Then she told me that they would take care of my bill because they don’t collect money in situations like ours. Then I felt guilty because I had saved money since Owen died. These little, awkward interactions are, to me, some of the most bizarre aspects of baby loss.

    • I had a weird interaction with insurance- calling to find out if i was on the family plan after Mabel died or if it reverted back to my individual plan. The guy on the phone was waaaaay too chipper. that, and he was wrong too. i ended up hanging up on him holding back tears. I finally used my manager at work to get the correct info. Insurance is especially challenging!

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