A few months ago, Serbian blogger Krugolina Borup published (SRP) a series of posts titled “Why should Serbs die out of “white plague?” on B92 blog. They were about her own very bad experience of giving birth, about unfriendly behavior and inhuman treatment of medical staff, about corruption in maternity hospital. Hundreds of readers from Serbia and the diaspora commented on her posts and many of them shared their own experiences.
Soon after publishing of these texts, Krugolina Borup started a civil initiative named “Mother Courage” and created a website with the same name. Its primary idea is to encourage all women (mothers) to describe their experiences, regardless of when they gave birth.
Dozens of personal stories (as well as a few photos) have been published so far. The women are posting anonymously: their joint nickname is “Kengurica” (‘female kangaroo’ in Serbian) and just figures after it are different.
In the biography section of the “Mother Courage” web site, Krugolina Borup wrote:
My name is Branka Stamenkovic. I gave birth in 2004 in the hospital in Zvezdara [Belgrade], and today, four and a half years later, I am still upset and begin to cry when I remember what I experienced […]
Reactions of readers […] inspired me to do something more, that is, to start to gather stories by women who gave birth and to publish them on this website. I don't know whether my effort succeeds in changing anything […]
Today, it is a very serious and massive initiative.
According to Branka's confession, her story was entered as Kengurica 001. She wrote this about the terrible experience of her delivery:
[…] While I was giving birth, air-condition device fell to the floor. Luckily, I didn't lie nearby. I ask myself, if I did, what would happen? […]
[…] When I was moved to intensive care unit after c-section, I was raving. I couldn't rise and recover normal breathing. Because of that, I forgot to put an intrauterine device and I bled over bed linen. Later, a nurse was shouting at me and refused to change it. […]
Only on the fourth day I nursed my baby for the first time because they didn't allow me to do it before since I had to be in intensive care unit. […] Of course, there were problems on occasion of breastfeeding but no one came to demonstrate me how I should milk myself and I got breast inflammation […].
[…] During the intubation, the anesthesiologist knocked my tooth out. Maybe it was a regular procedure, I didn't know, but I would like to know why there was nothing about it in my discharge papers. Also, why didn't anyone inform me whether I had the right to compensation for damage? If I had no right to that, why I didn't?
About corruption, Branka Stamenkovic said:
Epidural anesthesia's official cost is 10,000 RSD. Nevertheless, I had to give illegal 200 EUR to anesthesiologist in order for him to give me anesthesia at all. […]
Kengurica 268 wrote:
I gave birth in 1977 and I still remember every detail. Memories and fear returned in 2007, immediately before my daughter's delivery. I gave birth in Novi Sad and I expected that something would change after 30 years and also that giving birth in Belgrade's maternity hospital “Narodni front” would be something more beautiful than I had experienced. Unfortunately, when I came into “Narodni front,” I had an impression that time has stopped […].
[…] Shortly, getting out of my baby lasted from 14.00 to 17.30. Doctors, nurses and students stood around me. I felt as an unseen wonder. When the baby was born, her lower part of the body was as blue as ink and the upper part was as white as a sheet. They showed me my baby and walked out. I was cut up and left to lie there. They went to bring coffee. After half an hour, the doctor came to sew up my wound. Afterwards, a nurse ordered me to get out of bed and told me to go downstairs to the lower floor. […]
[…] I am sorry because my daughter's delivery stirred up these memories after 30 years. It is very well that today's mothers will not allow to happen something like my experience. This initiative gives me a hope that I will absolutely forget my memories when my granddaughter should be giving birth.
Kengurica 057, who gave birth in 2004 in Backa Topola, a small town in Northern Serbia, comments on a midwife's behavior:
[…] After a medical checkup, I asked the nurse whether I advanced with opening, since I had been connected to induction for six hours. She asked me very insolently: “Why do you hurry? Will you go to the hairdresser? I have a whole night for you!” The situation was unpleasant and you can guess how I felt […]
[…] In this story I wish to praise my doctor. He was professional, at the same time very close to us, common people. For two days, while I couldn't get up, he was bringing me meals into bed and visiting me past regular visits. […]
Kengurica 047 (2008, Maternity hospital Narodni front, Belgrade):
[…] I completed formalities which were related to entering the hospital from 6.30am to 1.30pm. I was told I was lucky because some women were waiting for a bed for 17 hours. […]
[…] Despite my requests to examine me some of doctors, nurses behaved as if they were higher beings, sent me to CTG, were shouting at me, told me that I was spoiled and that I'll never give birth. […]
Kengurica 070 (Narodni front, Belgrade, 2008):
[…] Both the doctor and the anesthesiologist acted very well toward me because I slipped money into their pockets. Since there is only one nurse in lacteal unit per 30 women, I also slipped money into her pocket. Maybe you will have very interesting experience if you take a wallet. […]
But, all the mentioned things are related to the gynecology clinic “Narodni front” in Belgrade, I don't know how it is in other clinics. […] Otherwise, do you know that you will not get epidural anesthesia, whose regular cost is 10,000 RSD, if you don't slip money into anesthesiologists’ “hands” – regardless of the fact that you've already paid for epidural anesthesia to the hospital's account? […]
Kengurica 123 (Narodni front, Belgrade, 2008):
[…] Pains were stronger and stronger. […] I was panting, I couldn't call anyone. All the time I was looking in the direction of the small room where they were all sitting and smoking. I hoped that I'd see if someone came out from that room in order to call him. I called, shouted but they ignored me. Pains were stronger and stronger. I admit, I started to scream at the top of my lungs. My phone vibrated. I couldn't grab it. Some nurse came across and told me: “Why are you screaming? What do you want? We told you to call when you finish with birth, stupid bitch. I was screaming loudly and loudly, above all for someone to come, but also in order to get on their nerves. Pains were stronger and stronger. I turned sideways. I threw up. I was so dizzy I wanted to shoot myself in the head. I started to scream again. I heard a man's voice: “Tell this cow to stop roaring!” “Motherfucker to all,” I returned in kind. I was throwing up. I thought I would die. I started to cry due to pains. No one came to help me. I was beginning to lose consciousness. I tried to slap myself. Suddenly, a doctor came and said: “Hi, how are you? Has the labor started? Let's see… Oh, why didn't you call us? […]
Kengurica 163 (Narodni front, Belgrade, 2008):
[…] Listening to different stories which related to the birth, I conceived of it as not desirable to go to maternity hospital if I didn't know someone there. Anesthesiologist's tariff is between 100 and 150 EUR (if you don't pay, he will not come). No one knew how much doctors cost. Finally, a midwife is the most important and she also has her tariff, because, oh my God, they all come into maternity hospital for your sake outside their working hours. […]
Kengurica 193 (Pancevo, 2003):
[…] They bore my amnion, and afterwards they started jumping on me. Guys, although 5 years have passed, I still can't understand what happened then. I thought that was a nightmare. A doctor was jumping on me, others were climbing on my belly and breast, I was losing consciousness. I thought I would choke. […]
Kengurica 026 (Narodni front, Belgrade, 1997):
[…] Hospital staff is unfriendly, you can't get any information, you don't know where you should go, you don't know what is a next step. You only can stand at a hallway and pray to God that someone will examine you before the baby falls out on the floor. I have contractions every 5 minutes, I am standing in the hallway without panties and I am smeared by different fluids. I have no information on where I should go, what I should do. After half an hour, a doctor comes and says: “Let's go to the induction, I have a flight to catch this afternoon.” […]
[…] Water was overflowing from the washstand. Next day I acquired a chemical and uncorked the washstand. There is one toilet per 70 women. It looks terrible. Later, when I came home and showed my photographes, no one believed me that I had been in a maternity hospital. […]
[…] When the nurse brought my baby on the second day, he was totally dressed although it was 40 degrees. When I took a diaper off him, a cockroach fell out of it. Yes, I screamed, I admit. I announced it to the nurse and she answered me that they had problems with cockroaches […]
Kengurica 269 has had five births. She gave birth four times in Novi Sad (1979, 1985, 1990, 1996 ), and once in Bonn, Germany, in 1994.
[…] The stay in Novi Sad's maternity hospital was painful, especially almost 30 years ago. Nothing has changed so far. […]
[…] Bed sheets were dirty and worn out. Bed linen was not changed for all days of my stay there. […]
[…] During one of my four births in Novi Sad, I was panting and I was very thirsty. It was August and over 30 degrees. I asked for a glass of water. The answer was: “This is not a pastry shop.” […]
[…] Protocols are medieval. If you mention attendance of father during a delivery, every time you'll hear that Serbian parents aren't interested in that. […] Mainly, fathers are brought into maternity hospital secretly. Why secretly? The baby is mine and his, not the hospital's inventory. […]
And here's how it was in the maternity hospital in Bonn:
[…] I have a personal preparation hall, a personal operation hall, a personal midwife at the Bonn maternity hospital. All the time my husband was next to me. And every ten minutes a very cordial midwife asked me whether I had pains and whether I would want analgesic. I mentioned that I didn't want epidural anesthesia, although it was free of cost. That (and everything what I mentioned above) is something that is provided by social and health insurance. I remember that in the operation hall the bed linen was light yellow, there were a lot of flowers on the window sill, red storks hung from the ceiling […] rooms were double-bedded. There were TV, bathroom, telephones next to beds, alarm buttons. By the bed stood a transparent baby box. If I would like to go out of room and sleep, for example, I could ring and a nurse would come and take the baby away to watch after it. The staff was very cordial so that I felt to shy to ring them up. […]
Thank you, Sinisa, for translating these accounts. They are shocking and depressing to read. With all the protest, is it likely that things will change?
this is really impressing. to this we should add the disgraceful treatment of mental health patients.
I am truly delighted to see this.
Several years ago CoRD magazine ran a campaign to buy air conditioners at Narodni Front because newborns were dying in the 40+ degree heat.
It was then that Swiss social activist Jacqueline Haener told me about the corruption and bullying in maternity hospitals in Serbia. If you were unable to pay you bribes, were brutalized, Newborns were confiscated, meals were “forgotten”, but most terrifying, medical treatment were withheld – like epidurals for first time mothers – considered a right in countries like Ireland.
As the son of an anaesthetist who spent the last 15 years of her career working in a maternity hospital, I could barely comprehend the cruelty of it.
I could not think of a more terrible ordeal than to be subjected to that neglect and mistreatment at you most vulnerable, experiencing what should be one of the most beautiful moments of your life.
Jacqueline and I made started the process of founding a charity to do just what Majkah Raborst is doing. We never completed the project – ironically her own pregnancy got in the way – but I am delighted to see someone did.
All I can say is bravo to those brave women! It is about time that grass roots organisers took on corruption in Serbia, because top down effort are too slow and bedevilled by vested (corrupt) interests.
I for one will be looking to see how we foreigners in Serbia can be help them.
Ayesha, already there are some positive effects of this initiative. I hope, I or some of my Serbian GV’s friends will publish some posts about it in coming days. Thank you for your interest.
It is a great example for accountability on public health. I will share and copy the idea!
Very disturbing accounts, and tremendous women are sharing their stories. Thanks for the translation.
I’m so glad to do my bit by translating this into Spanish for GVO.
I can’t conceive that enormous cruelty against the most vulnerable creatures. These women are very brave, they are the ones who have to be thanked.