Notes from the ward

Anais Gschwind
6 min readOct 31, 2023


We arrived for a scan at 9 am. The scan usually happens fast even though the baby is always in the wrong spot and the sonographer — if they are a talking one — usually starts off being jovial and then gets quiet and serious.

It’s still early in the day so I am also jovial and relaxed and enjoy being told that I have the right attitude about it all when really I am a shattered shell every time we walk back into the hospital.

This time the sonographer has to bring in a colleague to help get the doppler reading because the colleague has magic hands. She also said that getting the readings is not very exact because she can enter this reading that is within the acceptable range or she can enter this other reading that isn’t in range.

I wonder which readings the other sonographers have been putting in at the other scans.

After the scan we go upstairs and wait at the Women’s Assessment Unit. I had tried to make an appointment for this day when I was last here Friday. The ward clerk had joked with me, she said, yes because otherwise I will give you that blank look I give people when they show up. I knew that blank look because I had received it a few times lately and also I had seen her give it to other women who arrive at the unit shaky and stressed.

Today she gives me the blank look and I explain again (like the times before). She is nice but she never remembers me and she says take a seat.

After a few hours of waiting I ate a dry chicken wrap from the canteen in the waiting room. The flaky bits of wrap and a nub of chicken fell on the floor. On the television in the corner they’re talking about Matthew Perry who died in the bathtub.

While we wait, I like listening to the ward clerk answer the phone and ask what colour? and how much? and for how long? is the baby moving? take some panadol. yes love, you should probably come in.

It was now 1pm and I am hooked up to another machine that monitors the baby’s heart. We were surrounded by those disposable curtains that characterise most hospital rooms.

Cal asks what are you thinking? and I say oh just how maternity wards are this microcosm of power and structures that are completely demoralising and how that sense of defeat seems to be replicated currently in political affairs in the outside world.

Beyond the curtain that enclosed us we could hear an obstetrician inform the heavily pregnant woman next door that she should come back for an induction later that day. The obstetrician kept saying if you want and i would suggest but the thrust of the conversation did not really allow much room for considered consent.

Later a midwife would return to inspect the pregnant woman’s cervix. The woman made a yelp and started whimpering. Sorry, said the midwife, this can hurt.

Cal winces and later falls asleep on my lap. I’m relieved because I can now focus on listening to the other conversations that happen in the beds adjacent to the one I’m in.

I want to know how it’s going for the other women, what’s happening to them? Are they okay? Do they struggle like me?

We already know now that our baby is coming early. This was revealed after a series of convoluted test results that were fed back to us during seemingly random encounters at the hospital over the past weeks.

Last week, after showing up for an early antenatal appointment with a nasty flu, I ended up in the Birthing and Assessment suites. They kept me for some observation and after about 6 hours, mainly waiting, an obstetrician came into the room and told me she had booked me for an induction in 10 days time.

Oh, I said, how did someone make this decision? I try to explain my story and the story of the heart and the time its been but I was too tired and I wanted to go home and have parainfluenza 3 alone in peace.

The next time we are at the women’s health services, a day later, I am there to see the cardiologist. We always wait the longest for her. She has one day a fortnight at the clinic and she is the only person I have seen repeatedly during my pregnancy.

She always tells me that we will sort things out and she usually does. I am angry that day and I try to be affirmative and informed and assertive like the mothers on instagram tell you you have to be (I can never seem to channel them).

I tell her about the flu and the induction lady and she says yes, you can see why old people with the flu just curl up in their beds and die.

She also tells us that she is a flower farmer and I say I knew there was something rural about you and I know she is only telling me this to soften me but it works and I realise how lacking in humanity the majority of my maternity care has been.

Now, a week later, back inside the curtain enclave, an obstetrician appears and I sign some paperwork that mentions something about a hysterectomy in the case of emergency. Everyone signs this, she says, it never actually happens.

When she comes back she says they’re fully booked and I stifle an incredulous laugh. They say that the baby has to come out but they also say that they can’t put me on the list because they’re fully booked.

You’ll have another scan on Thursday, she says, and after you’ll come back here. Someone will call you.

I already know no one will call me and I am panicked at the thought of having to try and navigate through switchboard to find the right department and pray for mercy that someone gives a message to someone who will call me back.

The ultrasound unit actually has a whole separate section where the booking clerks make the bookings. They have their own waiting area too. One time I waited there for an hour so I could book in to wait again.

We leave the hospital in the usual state of general malaise. I leave half of my morning coffee in the car to return to and that usually cheers me up for a moment. I’m usually not angry until I’ve had a few hours to process the day and then I get mad and sad. At this stage I’m mainly defeated.

Everyone says oh wow, it’s so soon it’s so exciting and I feel bad that I don’t feel that way. I feel tired and conflicted that I have had access to so much medical care and yet most of that care has felt so devoid of any tenderness at a time when my body feels so tender.

I feel confronted by the state of a health care system that cannot care for its citizens in a way that makes them feel seen or handled with care.

It is with a deep heaviness that I sit in the waiting area of the women’s health services alongside 30–40 other pregnant women and their partners or support people. The weight of our collective hopes and disappointment hangs in the air. We wait and we wait and we wait.

It’s no one’s fault and there’s nowhere to direct the feeling of helplessness. Maybe that’s the hardest thing. Everyone scurrying around, the phones ringing, people’s names getting called out, appointments being made, antenatal classes that are fully booked. Every time you arrive, they say, date of birth, address, phone number, emergency contact…

Patients and providers are doing their best, following the rules, adhering to protocol, asking for consent but neither knows how to reach across the divide and connect. There’s not enough time. The lack of resources is written on every person’s face.

Jane Hirschfield writes Hope is the hardest love we carry.

And I am here, carrying. And still hoping.