Four years ago, after undergoing a C-section to deliver her baby, Monica Thompson, a first-time mother from Oregon, was prescribed narcotics to manage her pain from the surgery. In addition to the painkillers, Thompson also received a sleep aid to help her get some necessary rest. While rest is a good thing, in Thompson’s case, the combination of exhaustion and serious medications led to tragedy.
After a nurse brought Thompson her 4-day-old baby to breastfeed, she fell asleep while nursing him — only to wake up an hour later to find her baby still in bed with her and not breathing. When a nurse didn’t answer her call light, Thompson staggered into the hallway for help. Despite medical efforts, her son Jacob passed away 6 days later as a result of the suffocation he suffered in his mother’s bed.
And now, Thompson is suing the hospital where she gave birth and setting a precedent against the policy of forcing sleep-deprived mothers under the influence of prescribed medications following C-sections to care for their babies.
While these types of medications are not uncommon in a hospital setting — especially for women who have undergone C-sections — they can make for a dangerous combination. Women who give birth have not only gone through one of the most physically and emotionally draining episodes of their lives, they are also sometimes literally running on minutes of broken sleep.
My fourth baby was born after a 14-hour induction. I can clearly recall that my husband and I were so exhausted, that immediately after the birth at 1:30 am, all three of us completely fell asleep. We were awakened at 7 am by frenzied texts and calls from our family who wondered what on earth happened to us.
Giving birth is exhausting, but a C-section delivery is even more difficult on a woman’s body. The mother will be dealing with a combination of things, including: anesthesia wearing off, pain medication running through her body, and physical mobility issues. Even sitting up is painful after surgery. The fact that we expect a woman to properly care for a baby alone in that state is crazy.
Listen, I know we all have pushed to see birth as a natural thing and promoted mom-baby bonding and feeding from minute zero in the hospital, but this lawsuit is an important wake-up call. Moms don’t magically become super humans who don’t need sleep because they have given birth. This poor mother was probably so exhausted and in so much pain that she barely knew what was happening. Anyone who has been in this situation knows what it’s like.
This story points to two sobering truths about maternity care in the U.S.: One, hospitals are often understaffed, forcing nurses to return babies back to their mothers so they can care for other patients. Most obstetrics units do not have nurseries anymore, but many nurses…