Nichole's Story: I Was There Seeking Help

Nichole has had a rough emotional time since having her daughter eight months ago.  She sought out counseling early in her postpartum period but feels she isn’t making as much progress as she would like.  “I’m tired of being unhappy,” she says.  Back in November, she saw a psychologist, baby in tow, who referred her to BayCare Behavioral Health.

Nichole is a stay-at-home mother who always knew she wanted to breastfeed.  She and Emma, now almost nine months old, struggled at first to build their nursing partnership and Emma was slow to gain weight.  “She’s tiny, but mighty!” Nichole proudly shares.  “She just took two steps.”

Nichole and Emma

Nichole and Emma

“I spend all of my time with Emma.  I take her everywhere with me, including to most of my doctor’s appointments.  There has never been an issue,” she adds.

Until last week, when she went to see a psychiatrist at BayCare; she had been eagerly waiting the appointment.  She had a hard two weeks leading up to the appointment and wanted to talk about having her medication adjusted.  She was looking forward to finding a way to feel better.  She felt good about going to BayCare; “I gave birth across the street at Morton Plant and they’re known for being breastfeeding friendly.”  (Morton Plant is one of a handful of hospitals in the greater Tampa Bay area to receive the Baby-Friendly designation from the World Health Organization.)

She arrived 30 minutes before her appointment and had Emma with her.  Once called back to meet with the doctor, she describes Dr. Mark Simko as “uncomfortable right away.  He had an edge, didn’t shake my hand when he introduced himself,” and was very abrupt with her, saying, “I hope you’re going to take this seriously.”

Nichole was serious.  She has goals and wants to feel better.  While talking with Dr. Simko, Emma motioned that she wanted to nurse.  Nichole thought this was a great idea because then the baby would fall asleep.  She asked Dr. Simko if it would bother him to nurse her and he immediately said, “Yes.”

Nichole was puzzled.  Dr. Simko added that he would need a woman to be present; Nichole was fine with that.  He came back with the female receptionist to find Nichole nursing Emma.  He left the room and the receptionist told her the session was over and would have to be rescheduled.  She walked out of the office in tears.

All of this happened in clear violation of Florida law, which protects mothers’ rights to breastfeed anywhere, anytime, with any part of the breast showing.

383.015 Breastfeeding.—The breastfeeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which must be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and family values, and in furtherance of this goal:
(1) A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.
(2) A facility lawfully providing maternity services or newborn infant care may use the designation “baby-friendly” if it establishes a breastfeeding policy in accordance with s. 383.016.

Nichole made her story known and adds that while she knew there was “a law” that protected breastfeeding, she wasn’t, at the time, familiar with the particulars of it.  She has yet to hear anything, let alone an apology, from the doctor or BayCare Behavioral Health.  Unfortunately, while this is the law, there is no enforcement division in Florida for it.  That means that people like Dr. Simko can openly break it without facing consequence from the state.  Additionally, Nichole believes her HIPAA rights were openly broken by the receptionist in his office when she revealed "individually identifiable health information" to a blogger over the telephone. 

In the meantime, she’s left working to find treatment for her mental health and explore her options. Immediately following her expulsion from BayCare Behavioral Health, she went to her primary care physician, without an appointment, who kindly saw her and helped her get additional resources and referrals.  She adds that she’s not certain of her diagnosis or if she has postpartum depression for certain. “I thought all women who had PPD were suicidal.  I had severe anxiety during the third trimester of my pregnancy and told people about it then.”

Postpartum depression (PPD) can happen to any parent.  A 2014 study from Northwestern University found that postpartum, or early parenthood depression, can occur in any kind of parent - biological, nonbiological, adoptive, gay, or straight.  While some 80% of new mothers report some form of “baby blues” in the months after birth, some experience additional mental health issues, including PPD, postpartum traumatic stress disorder, postpartum psychosis and postpartum anxiety.  All of these disorders are treatable with the help of a professional.  That’s what makes Nichole’s story so incomprehensible. “This blew me away.  We’re talking about a medical professional.  I was there seeking help,” explained Nichole.

Author's Note: Nichole shared her story with me in a telephone call on June 17, 2015 as a representative of the Tampa Bay Birth Network. Our mission is to provide a community of professionals, families and individuals that support, educate and/or promote natural pregnancy, birth and parenting, including breastfeeding and mental health awareness.  We are breastfeeding activists and remain committed to Nichole and her needs.  If you'd like to help Nichole or offer her words of encouragement, we invite you to comment below or to contact us at info@tampabaybirthnetwork.org.  Fair warning: Nichole has received a lot of negative backlash as a result of going public with her story and all negative comments will be deleted.