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May 3, 2018

Spotlight On: Anne McGroarty

As told to Yolanda Wikiel.

The 4-1-1 on Anne:

  • Born: Brooklyn, NY
  • Current hometown: Still Brooklyn! I live in the same house I grew up in with my parents. I'm on the top floor with my husband and children, my parents live below.
  • Astrological sign: Sagittarius
  • Favorite movie: Stand By Me was a big one of my childhood.
  • Dream job when you were younger: The president of the United States. Not because I wanted to save the world, but because I thought it would really be cool to have my childhood home become a museum.
  • Current career path: Public health. I work on projects regarding maternal health and maternal health outcome.

I was 31 when I gave birth to my first daughter. And I was the same age when I lost her. On the day I went into labor, I checked into the hospital, got set up in my room, and then I waited. I didnt see a doctor for six hours.

My obstetricians, who had seen me through my whole pregnancy, were across the street at their office seeing other patients. They had decided that the attending physician on call at the hospital that day would be the one to deliver my baby. However, they didnt communicate to the hospital doctor that one of their patients had arrived. So from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., no doctor had stopped by, and when she finally did, I didnt even get as much as a hello from her. Nurses would periodically check my vitals, but there was no one there making any calls about my condition or closely monitoring me. I essentially labored in my hospital room without a doctor. To say I felt neglected is an understatement.

Once my daughter was born, we learned that she didnt get enough oxygen, which likely happened during labor. Had an attending physician been there, I probably would have had a C-section or some other type of intervention that could have saved her life. My daughter survived for a month and a half in the neonatal intensive care unit, and yet that whole time, no one at the hospital acknowledged that she was sick. I never saw that attending physician againshe never even stopped by to say, Im sorry for your loss. And when one of my original prenatal doctors visited me right after I had the baby, she said, "Maybe you should have had a C-section, Anne." In shock, I said, "Really? Because no one offered me a C-section." I felt disrespected and mistreated all aroundand it was the most difficult time of my life.

A couple of months later, I wrote a letter to the chief of obstetrics and the president of the hospital. I wanted to tell them how I was treated after my daughter was born and how that lack of care and concern after a tragedy felt worse in some way than the mistake the hospital made. Maybe the doctors couldn't have controlled what happened to my daughter, but they could certainly have controlled how they behaved afterward. I never received a response. We ended up filing a lawsuit that was swiftly settled out of courtbut there was never an admission of guilt.

We tried again, and I gave birth to a healthy daughter, Lulu, a year later. But the third time I got pregnant, I discovered that the baby I was carrying had a birth defect and wouldn't survive. I had to deliver a stillbirth.

This time, I had an amazing doctor at a different hospital that was more responsive and supported me through the process. Not only did my new doctor express sympathy for my loss, but he also sat with me as I was going through the sadness, which was a simple but powerful gesture. And the nurses were mindful of keeping me sheltered from the newborn babies and happy moms. I was able to witness firsthand the complete spectrum of hospital careboth what a bad and an excellent experience look like.

Those two events got me thinking about what other womens healthcare is like, and my trajectory in life changed forever. I became passionate about maternal and reproductive health issues, and I decided to leave my job as an elementary school teacher and get my master's degree in Public Health with a focus in maternal, child, reproductive, and infant health. I wanted to do something so that all women feel protected and respected during their labor, delivery, and after having a child.

I'm currently working at the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health. My focus is in the research and evaluation part of the bureau, so I spend a lot of my time studying the trends of maternal morbiditythe severe complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. The department is currently in the process of a Maternal Mortality Review Board and Prevention Initiative. The results will hopefully provide a clearer picture of where (and why) the highest rates of mortality and morbidity are happening in the city. If youve been reading the news lately, you may have already learned that African American women have the worst maternal mortality rates in the country. Even when an analysis considered education and income as factors, African American women who have college degrees are still more likely to suffer maternal mortality and morbidity than white women who never graduated from high school.

When I was a teacher as well, I had always been devoted to race-based inequalities and social justice issues, and now in my new career, that passion continues. Its my hope that we can create an environment where there's respectful care for all women who are giving birthno matter what race, background, or circumstance. There are so many great organizations doing good work to help mothers and children through the process of pregnancy and childbirth. If you want to get involved or donate to the cause, some of my favorites are Every Mother Counts and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

I am blessed to now have two healthy, feisty daughters, ages 8 and 4, and a wonderful husband who has supported me through my career changes. Together, we are trying to instill the importance of social justice in our girlsIm so proud that they were there chanting with us at the recent gun violence protest and last year's Women's March in D.C. We want them to know that their voices can make a difference and that everyone deserves to be treated fairly in the world.


Alexis Bridenbaugh