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Traumatic birth experiences at Anna Laberge

Kaniehtisakhe Albany gave birth to her twins, Iakoríhwakweniens Amira and Ionhnhakátste Aliyah, on February 17 this year. But her experience during and after birth at Anna Laberge Hospital left her traumatized, she said. Courtesy Kaniehtisakhe Albany

Kaniehtisakhe Albany was 35 weeks and five days into her pregnancy when one of her unborn twins decided she was ready to make her entrance into the world.

“Just the day before, I went to my OBGYN, and she said that I was two centimetres dilated and that it would be any day that I could go into labour,” Albany said. “She said not to worry, because if I do, the babies are pretty much full-term, and that they would be okay. They might need some interventions, but they’d be completely fine, she had said.”

When Albany was admitted to Anna Laberge Hospital a day later, four centimetres dilated, she expected her birth to go smoothly. Two days later, she was still in labour. 

“It was really, really bad pain. I really couldn’t handle it,” she explained. “But the nurses said it was too soon, I can’t have the twins yet because they’re not full term. I told the nurse my doctor said it’d be okay, and she looked at me like she didn’t know what I was talking about and asked me who my doctor was because my doctor must be wrong. I told her who my doctor was, and it was a doctor with a clinic at Anna Laberge, and she just didn’t say anything else.”

After four days at the hospital, Albany still hadn’t given birth. A doctor finally came to break her second baby’s amniotic sac, but with a handful of hours of sleep, delivery seemed almost impossible.

“It was so hard. I was extremely tired and I didn’t think I could do it, because it took so, so much energy just to push the babies out,” she said. 

After birth, a social worker came to visit her, asking questions about whether her boyfriend supported her when she told him she was pregnant, as well as repeatedly asking if he would continue to be there for her. Albany’s boyfriend was present at the time.

“She asked me ‘Do you have two car seats? Because, you know, you have two babies.’ I just looked at her. Of course I know I have two babies,” Albany said. 

Albany said she noticed further issues that she chalks up to potential medical racism, noting also that her boyfriend is Black. At times, she was reliant on her boyfriend’s knowledge of French when interacting with medical personnel.

“Before the social worker came, there were two nurses that were with me often, and one was completely French, and she refused to speak English,” Albany said.

Albany said she did consider submitting a complaint to Anna Laberge Hospital after the twins’ birth in February, but she felt too traumatized to re-engage with the hospital.

“For two or three weeks after all of it, any time I would re-tell everything that happened to someone, I would start to shake,” she said. “I’ve just been trying to heal.”

The Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS) of Monteregie West, which represents hospitals in the Monteregie West region, including Anna Laberge, responded to THE EASTERN DOOR’s request for comment via email.

“The CISSS of Monteregie West takes all forms of racism allegations very seriously. Please be aware that any form of discrimination is in no way tolerated within our establishment,” they said. They also noted that they implement certain culturally-sensitive practices such as preserving the placenta and are working with Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) on long-term partnerships.

But other patients from Kahnawake have reported that historically, the hospital has failed to implement those culturally-sensitive practices. Kahnawa’kehró:non Joy-Marie Canadian said that after her child’s birth four years ago, she ran into issues retrieving her placenta. She realized she had left the placenta at the hospital after leaving, but called the maternity ward immediately.

“The nurse pretended not to know English, she pretended to not know what I was saying and she kept hanging up on me. I kept calling over and over, she was sending me to random departments, like I was transferred to the x-ray department, and I was crying, I wanted my placenta so bad,” Canadian said. 

Like Albany, Canadian said she was traumatized by her birth experience at Anna Laberge, and the prospect of re-entering the hospital wracked her with fear. 

“Thankfully my mom showed up at the hospital, walked into the baby section and said ‘give it to me.’ She wasn’t taking no for an answer, so they gave it to her,” Canadian said. 

Canadian said that it’s disappointing that Indigenous women still can’t rely on the healthcare system and noted that she has had multiple traumatizing experiences at Anna Laberge. During one admission for a stomach issue, she was left alone in a room for multiple hours.

“I was in so much pain that I couldn’t move, and I ended up peeing myself. I kept pushing the button for help, and I just sat in my own piss for 24 hours,” she said. “I was just neglected.… I wasn’t given an explanation.”

Both Albany and Canadian said they had positive experiences before their birth in terms of prenatal doctors appointments, which were primarily completed at KMHC. THE EASTERN DOOR asked KMHC if they had plans to expand and offer labour and delivery services in future. 

“There are no plans at this time as the resources are beyond our reach. However, we have excellent pre and post-natal services and a very successful working relationship with perinatal family physician Dr. Catherine St-Cyr of Anna Laberge Hospital that meets the needs of most of our clients,” a spokesperson for the hospital said, noting they had additional plans to meet with health ministries and government agencies to support midwifery in Kahnawake. 

Albany’s twins Iakoríhwakweniens Amira and Ionhnhakátste Aliyah are now healthy four-month olds, and Albany said she’s been grateful for KMHC’s support. She only wishes that this kind of support was available at all points in pregnancy and delivery.

“The follow-up appointments have been so good, the nurses are from Kahnawake and they’re really kind. They’re so patient, and they always make sure we’re all good and we’re healthy,” Albany said. “Most importantly, they listen.”

This article was originally published in print on Friday, June 23, in issue 32.25 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.