I recently heard that Jennie G's, the mom-baby boutique of the Women's and Children's Center of AnMed Health, will soon be closing its doors. I worked in this shop for several years and loved it. Mostly, I loved the ladies I worked with and I loved those times when a mother came in needing help and we were able to give it.
You see, this mom-baby boutique is not just a collection of baby clothes and knick-knacks. The ladies of Jennie G's--the ones who work in the shop every day and see the customers--have a common desire to help others, especially new moms. What deeply concerns me is the fate of the breastfeeding support that is available in Jennie G's. I don't think everyone is aware of all that is offered, so here is a detailed list of what I consider to be most important.
1) Hospital-grade breast pump rentals. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, a woman with tear-stained eyes and her husband came into our shop. They sat down at the table and as I prepared breast pump rental papers, she asked when my baby was due. I told her May 21, but that I hoped she might come a little early. "Don't say that," the mom told me. Her baby had come too early and because of this she and her husband were forced to go home with empty arms while he stayed in the hospital. She would have slept on the floor if they had allowed it. Going home without one's baby, for however short a time, is heartbreaking. It goes against nature and no one should have to experience it. But when a mother must experience it, shouldn't she at least be able to easily rent a breast pump so she can maintain the breastfeeding relationship she wanted? I don't see how a hospital can expect to gain a woman's trust for helping her to bring a baby into this world if they can't even be counted on for a breast pump if she needs one.
2) Nursing bras that fit. Some pregnant and nursing women require bras well outside of the size range available in most retail shops. Jennie G's carries nursing bras at least up to an H cup. Even in average sizes, Jennie G's carries bras and nursing wear which are extremely hard to find in our area. Bras are one of those items which must be tried on, so it is difficult to order them online. Also, a supportive bra is not something a breastfeeding mother should have to wait several days to receive. She may be uncomfortable, and possibly even in pain (mothers have come into the shop crying over this). She may not feel comfortable going out in public. She needs it as soon as possible, and over the past few years the ladies at Jennie G's have done their best to meet this need. Bra fittings are sometimes even done in the hospital rooms at the woman's request.
3) Breastfeeding supplies and accessories. Many things can be purchased at Target, but some things can't. There are certain obscure items that some women require to maintain their nursing relationships, and they can get these items quickly and easily at Jennie G's. Quiz: An adoptive mother is working to develop a milk supply for her newborn. Before welcoming her precious new arrival, she takes supplements and medicine to bring in a milk supply without having given birth, and she pumps frequently with a hospital grade pump. Finally, her baby is here! She desperately wants to nurse the baby, but she still doesn't have enough milk. How does she nurse the baby, get necessary nipple stimulation to increase her supply, and see that baby gets enough milk? Answer: A supplemental nursing system. You can't find these just anywhere. Jennie G's not only has them, they also have someone to explain how they are used--which leads me to number four.
4) A kind, compassionate certified lactation educator. Vicky Corbett of Jennie G's saw a need and wrote a letter explaining why she felt extra education in this area would benefit AnMed Health. She went to classes, read books, and received her certification, which has helped her help women with a wide range of breastfeeding issues. Yes, AnMed Health does employ a lactation consultant (IBCLC) and she is wonderful. She is a friend I met while working in the shop and her help was so valuable to me as I learned to breastfeed my first daughter. However, she is just one lactation consultant and she only works part-time. She happened to be on a well-deserved vacation with her family when my first child was born, so I didn't get the benefit of an immediate consult. I have friends whose babies were born on weekends or holidays and they did not get to see her either. AnMed Health is getting a super deal with Vicky Corbett and they don't even realize it. She takes care of Jennie G's and helps women with breastfeeding issues when the lactation consultant is not available. Sometimes the lactation consultant even calls Vicky to ask questions about pumping, because she's become an expert. She makes the hospital look, in my opinion, much better than it actually is. AnMed Health has not made breastfeeding support a high priority, but women come looking for help and they find it anyway. Taking Vicky's help away from women will send the message that AnMed Health is not interested in supporting a woman's breastfeeding relationship with her baby--and breastfeeding is a huge factor in preventing illness in babies. Since patient safety is something the hospital claims to be gravely concerned with, it has no excuse not to get on board with lactation support.
5) A safe, caring place for the new nursing mom. It's not always easy to be a new breastfeeding mother. The fitting room at Jennie G's has a comfortable rocking chair and offers the peace and quiet that some moms and babies need. Sometimes mothers are found nursing their babies in the restroom across the hall from Jennie G's and they are welcomed into the shop. Perhaps a mother has come to the hospital for a postpartum appointment and stops by the shop to chat about her breastfeeding experience. Within Jennie G's, stories are told, tears are even occasionally shed, and help is given. I realize no money is made off of this--not directly, at least--but it is impossible to place a price tag on it. AnMed Health should be grateful for this feeling of community that is fostered within its walls. This aspect of Jennie G's boutique exemplifies AnMed's tagline of "we're in this together" perfectly. You are hurting and I care. You are having problems nursing your baby and if I can't help you, I'm going to get you in touch with someone who can. I think this is about as close to the "art of caring" as one can get.
Jennie Gilmer, for whom Jennie G's is named, took a risk and pushed for AnMed Health to be opened so that women would have a safe place to have their babies. Important men laughed at her but she persevered to get women in our community something she felt they needed. She didn't do it to make money or to make herself famous. She did it because she made a promise to God to help women and their babies. Closing Jennie G's and depriving women of the support it offered is an insult to her memory.
So what do I think should be done? Jennie G's closing forever is sad, but taking away lactation support from women is inexcusable. There are some things you do not cut no matter how grim things get financially. This should be one of them. Keep the breastpumps and the supplies and a minimal selection of bras in the Women's and Children's Center. These few items will not take up much space; Jennie G's is mostly full of just-for-fun unnecessary stuff the managers pick up or order at market. If there absolutely isn't space inside the Women's and Children's, space should be made at the pharmacy on Greenville Street. Last time I visited, there were plenty of unimportant items on display there (candles, women's fashion accessories, other items that can be picked up at the mall). Space can be found if you look hard enough. It would be much better, of course, to have these things at the Women's and Children's Center for the mothers' convenience. If you've ever had to carry a fussy newborn across numerous parking lots while suffering from an episiotomy or c-section incision that throbs painfully with every step you take, you understand why.
Perhaps most importantly, Vicky should be asked to continue offering lactation support at the Women's and Children's Center. She has a passion for it, and AnMed Health has a shortage of it. This is one of those important things you make time and money for. Your patients--that is, your paying customers--count on it. A second lactation consultant should have been hired years ago, but Vicky's expertise in not only breastfeeding but also pumping and usage of breastfeeding accessories has done a great job of camouflaging this shortcoming. I believe women will notice a difference in quality of care when she is gone. Losing her to another location would be a waste.
I really don't think this is too much to ask, and I would be willing to bet a lot of women in our community will agree with me. It's not too much to ask at AnMed Health. Not of the hospital which wants to be "recognized and celebrated as the gold standard for healthcare quality and community health improvement." Do you think it is? I sincerely hope that soon I will have some good news to share about AnMed Health. I hope the sad loss of Jennie G's is met with a plan to create something new to benefit mothers. I hope there will be arrangements made for services that truly do exceed expectations. I know in my heart that this is possible, and I anxiously await the news. Until then, I hope you who are in a position to change things take the above listed needs of mothers to heart.
Former employee, mother to one baby born in the W&C, and concerned community member
If you are a local mom who has or may in the future seek care at AnMed Health, please join me in spreading the word and letting them know a removal of these benefits from the W&C is unacceptable. I would suggest sending an email or letter with your concerns to the patient advocate and asking to have it forwarded to a manager/director of home care and the Women's and Children's Hospital, as this affects both. Contact information can be found here.