Leo and LeeAnn Bienaime were like many first-time parents: apprehensive, unsure, and deferential to the advice of their doctors. But late last month, when the couple went to the hospital after LeeAnn reported feeling “intense” contractions, doctors told her to go home and come back later.
The Bienaimes followed the hospital staff’s instructions. Hours after returning to their home in Chesapeake, Va., LeeAnn gave birth to a beautiful baby—in her bathtub.
“I was certain that we were just going to be admitted…In all of our classes and appointments, they told us that when you’re having contractions five minutes apart for a minute long, for one hour, you should come into the hospital,” LeeAnn told ABC News on Tuesday. “And we had been timing them.”
But upon arriving at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth on the evening of Aug. 23, the couple were told they wouldn’t be admitted because LeeAnn wasn’t 5 centimeters dilated. She was 80 percent effaced (meaning, her cervix had substantially thinned out), but only 2 centimeters dilated.
The Bienaimes spent two hours at the hospital waiting for her to dilate further—all the while, LeeAnn reported having painful contractions. Two doctors eventually told her to go home and return to the hospital when she was 5 centimeters dilated, she told ABC. LeeAnn had her doubts but ended up taking the doctors’ advice.
“I don’t know what that means because I’m a first-time mom. How do I know if it’s 5 centimeters?” she said.
The pain continued surging through LeeAnn’s body when she returned home. When Leo asked if her water broke, LeeAnn recalled “[feeling] this pressure and then I felt the head.”
Anxious and unable to believe what was happening, LeeAnn ended up in the bathtub as Leo phoned 911, trying to recall birthing videos he’d watched, he told ABC.
“She said she felt the head and it’s like, ‘Oh wow. I’m not tired anymore,’” Leo said. After prompting her to give him “one good push,” the baby “slid out” into his daddy’s arms.
Thankfully for the Bienaimes and their baby, Joachim, there were no major complications. Still, LeeAnn is frustrated by the experience. In hindsight, she says, she should have stood her ground at the hospital.
In a statement to WTKR TV, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, citing patient privacy laws, said they couldn’t comment on the Bienaimes’ specific case.
Unfortunately, LeeAnn Bienaime’s experience isn’t out of line with that of other black patients, specifically black mothers. Maternal mortality rates for black women are more than three times higher those of white mothers—more than half of those deaths occurred after the day of the delivery, reports the New York Times. And experts say health issues aren’t squarely to blame for why this disparity occurs.
One 2016 study cited in a recent Oprah Magazine article found oncologists who took an implicit bias test showed those doctors testing higher for bias had shorter interactions with their black patients. Those patients also reported feeling less supported in their interactions with doctors and said they had less confidence in the suggested treatments.
“At first I was angry, and I mean rightfully so, because everyone I would talk to after I told them told me I shouldn’t have been told to go home,” LeeAnn told ABC, adding that she’s sharing her story as a lesson to future mothers.
“Had I known to really advocate for myself, I still would have been at the hospital,” she said.