You never have to worry if the baby you are nursing is yours. Because you gave birth unmedicated and the baby never left your side, there is absolutely no worry that you may be given the wrong baby.
By Richard Fabrizio
April 05, 2009 6:00 AM
PORTSMOUTH — It is "every parent's worst nightmare," the man on the phone said in a trembling voice.
This nightmare happened in the seemingly safe, comfortable setting of Portsmouth Regional Hospital's maternity ward. This nightmare shattered the joy of a young couple celebrating the birth of their first child.
A newborn baby girl was mistakenly given by a nurse to another mother on the fifth-floor maternity ward, and that mother breast-fed the day-old infant. The incident, which Portsmouth Regional Hospital admits, occurred in late March.
Hospital officials "don't think that this is a big deal type of thing," said the father, who requested anonymity. "It's a huge deal."
Nancy Notis, spokeswoman for Portsmouth Regional Hospital, issued a brief statement about the incident on Friday.
"We deeply regret that this event occurred," Notis said, "and we are continuing to work closely with and support the family involved. We launched a full investigation immediately after it occurred and are taking steps to avoid the occurrence of a similar event in the future."
Notis declined further comment when asked if any suspension or termination action was taken against the nurse in question. "I am not going to comment further about this situation," she said.
The mistake was corrected quickly, depending on one's perspective, but emotions ranging from anger to fear persist, and likely will for months longer.
The baby's parents, a 29-year-old father and 28-year-old mother from Portsmouth, first have to wait for results of a Hepatitis C test on their baby. Then, they must wait six more months before their baby can be conclusively tested for HIV infection, as breast-feeding can transmit the virus that causes AIDS.
Scientific studies place odds of HIV transmission through a single breast-feeding session at a fraction of a percent. A research project presented at the International Conference on AIDS in July 2000 placed the probability of breast milk transmission of HIV-1 per liter ingested at .00073 for infants. However, statistics do not always deliver comfort.
According to the father, hospital records state the baby was with the wrong mother for five minutes, but he and his wife met the other couple and believe it was much longer.
"We asked her point blank how long was our baby in her care. She said a 'significant amount of time,'" the father said.
The father and his wife demanded the hospital's video surveillance be used to determine the time their baby was with the wrong mother. They were told it would take some time to do so.
"They're falling back on that it was only five minutes versus 20 minutes, and that is up to one person's recollection of time," the father said.
Either way, it was enough for the baby to breast-feed.
"All I remember the first couple days was trying to get our baby to breast-feed took 10, 15 minutes to get the baby to latch," the father said. "The other mother admitted, yes, the baby did breast-feed."
Portsmouth Regional Hospital cannot release medical information on the other mother due to regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
"If I had the mother's (contact) information, I think I'd be asking her to do this outside the hospital," the father said. "They did ask her to release her records, but she said she didn't want that information out there, supposedly. I did not attend this meeting."
The father said he only has that mother's first name. "We are hoping ... that she did not take drugs during her pregnancy."
And so they must wait.
According to the father, their baby was born on a Monday. On Tuesday night, he said, his wife reluctantly agreed to take a sleeping pill to help her rest during the difficult post-birth recovery. "We agreed," he said, "against our better judgment."
His wife's stay was further complicated, he said, because a maternity ward nurse refused to allow her mother to stay in their room overnight. Such a restriction is not hospital policy for the maternity ward, he said.
As a result of the wife's mother not being allowed to stay with the baby in her room, the couple reluctantly chose to send their baby to the nursery.
"We trusted these nurses to take care of our child," the father said. "We feel guilty; we feel very guilty about what happened. We made the wrong choice."
The next morning, a nurse came to their room to check on the wife and then came back to give her medicine. Only then did she tell them about the mistake, the father said. He estimates there was an hour between the mistake and when the nurse informed them of it. She did apologize, the father said.
"But it was bizarre that they didn't bring our baby right to us. They put her back in the nursery," he said.
The new family was released from the hospital later that Wednesday, and while the father said he doesn't want to speak poorly of the hospital, he added, "I definitely think the public has to know. We lost all faith in that hospital."
While most couples are in awe of the miracle of their first child's birth, this couples' nightmare continued to grow.
The father provided the name of the second father to Seacoast Media Group. According to Portsmouth Herald archives, he's a city resident with a criminal record, including domestic violence, simple assault and rape. He served four months in prison for false imprisonment and assault convictions. His latest arrest came last August, when he was arrested and charged with violating his bail conditions.
The father in the other couple is black and the mother is white, making the mistake more difficult for the first couple to comprehend.
"Why didn't she give our baby back?" the father asked. "A nurse went in and noticed the baby was a different color than theirs and said, 'That's not your baby.'"
The father said he has some sympathy for the other couple. "I do," he said. "I'm not one to judge someone else on their past. His own privacy is his, but that's the risk they put our child in."
Phone calls to the other father's residence and a visit to his home did not result in an interview with him.
The father said he and his wife want the hospital to document in writing all of the involved events. "I want to know exactly how this error occurred," he said.
He said they were told the nurse got the last digit wrong on the baby's identification tag. Hospital protocol is to confirm the baby's ID tag with the mother's or father's as well as to correctly match the names.
Beyond ID tags and technology, there is a name card on the bassinet in which babies are wheeled between parents' rooms and the nursery. "The ID card was on the bassinet," the father said. "She did not follow protocol of looking at the cart, the ID number, room number, the baby's race. All these things were missed by her."
The couple's baby is now about two weeks old, and as they deal with the expected sleepless nights, their struggle knows no boundaries of the uncertainties of being first-time parents.
They must wait, wonder and worry if something awful awaits come September.
Even if the second mother agrees to an HIV test and is negative, and all other health tests on the baby are fine, nothing will ever undo the mistake that robbed this couple of their joyous occasion, the father said.
"We're, ahhh," the father said, his voice trembling, "I can't even put it into words. My wife has been physically sick. I'm trying to support her. I think it's every parent's nightmare."