Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta is in need of some hard self reflection. Since a TikTok video of labor and delivery nurses went viral last week, a number of the hospital’s former patients have come forward sharing their own bad experiences.
Trouble began when the four nurses video sharing things that their patients do that give them “the ick”—a phrase usually used to describe things that potential partners do to make you not want to date them, but in this case, the unworthy suitors were the nurses’ patients. Their “icks” included: patients coming in for an induction and asking if they can “shower and eat,” patients saying they don’t want any pain medication despite being at an “eight out of 10” on the pain scale, and family members coming to the front desk “every five minutes.”
On Thursday, Emory Healthcare posted a statement on Instagram calling the video as “disrespectful” and “unprofessional,” claiming that it doesn’t reflect the hospital’s “commitment to patient-family-centered care.” According to the post, the hospital has additionally “taken appropriate actions with the former employees responsible for the video.” The nurses who made the TikTok no longer work at the hospital, but the Washington Post was unable to confirm whether the nurses left Emory on their own accord or if they were fired.
Despite this, former patients sharing horror stories from their time in the hospital’s L&D unit began to gain traction almost immediately. A TikTok user by the name of @alxrichy made a three-part series recounting her experience with one of the nurses in the original video, who turned down her requests for an ultrasound while she was in severe pain, and told her not to come back to the hospital “unless you’re bleeding.” Two days later, when she actually gave birth, @alxrichy was made to wait in the waiting room while in active labor, and her son, who was delivered breech and outside of his sac in an emergency C-section, was sent to the NICU.
The nurse also allegedly told the patient and her wife that if their baby died, she wouldn’t perform CPR on him because he was “too small;” other nurses apparently dissuaded them from “having faith” that he would live. “He had some great nurses but majority of them were horrible,” @alxrichy said. “It just didn’t feel right.” She said that, after her son eventually passed away (for reasons the nurses apparently refused to explain), she was sent home with an infection and had to seek medical treatment at a different hospital. Her wife, whose voice is heard in the background giving additional details, suggests that her neglect was exacerbated by the fact that she is queer.
Instagram user @nicoleknightjustice left a comment on Emory Healthcare’s post sharing “the most neglectful and egregious birthing experience” at the hospital 18 months ago. According to her comment, when she brought the nurse’s behavior to the hospital’s attention, she was “given a letter that gave a completely false retelling of my experience.” She went on:
What this showed me then and shows me now is that my experience wasn’t “just” a couple of bad apples. This is a culture that has been allowed to continue, unchecked. No one films themselves saying such disheartening and insensitive things and being annoyed by the needs of patients without that being common practice.
Women have been sharing stories about their traumatic birthing experiences at Emory long before the nurses’ “ick” TikTok, but it seems their experiences largely went ignored. A year ago, TikTok user @tinytoraaa recounted how nurses in that same unit constantly ignored her pain while she was in labor, telling her that she wasn’t ready to push even though she could feel her baby coming out of her. “The way they just kept brushing me off like I don’t know my own body was ridiculous,” she said.
These testimonies suggest that not only are individual nurses treating pregnant people with cruel neglect, but that the hospital as a whole has cultivated a culture that normalizes this treatment. These stories—many of which come from Black women in a state that has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country—reveal how hospitals are consistently violating pregnant people’s agency over their bodies and putting their lives (and their newborn children’s lives) in danger.
While some of the complaints that the nurses recounted in the original TikTok are pretty trivial, their video reflects how little empathy they show for those in their care. In the wake of these stories, Black women on Twitter are encouraging pregnant people to opt for home deliveries, birthing centers, and the use of doulas. While the actions of these Emory nurses don’t reflect everyone in the field, in a landscape where reproductive choice is already so fraught, it’s a good idea to start addressing these larger, institutional issues around L&D care.