My eyes were red from all the crying. My breasts engorged, nipples sore. I was beyond exhausted. I couldn’t tell you what time of day it was because after nearly two weeks inside hospital walls I had lost track of all notions of time.
I was surrounded by new mums and babies. The excited shrills of family members visiting newborns for the first time filled the corridors. I could hear cries and saw dads passing my window to fetch breast pumps and formula.
And then there was me. On my own, my hands fumbled as I tried to get a grip of the hospital breast pump, unsure of what else I should be doing with my time. My husband was constantly offering to bring me food, help me shower, anything to fill the silence from there being no baby in our room.
Our baby was in special care, fighting to breathe. Poorly. After an emergency C-section I was encouraged by neonatal staff to spend a few hours back on postnatal every day to recoup, rest and get some headspace, because as anyone who has experienced it will know, neonatal is emotionally and physically exhausting.
So there I was, alone, boobs out, trying to make sure the breast pump was sucking my nipple in and trying to remain positive when I heard a tap on the door. It opened but I didn’t see a face, just a back bustling through the door with a trolley. But I already knew who it was.
Rewind three years to my first baby when the same Bounty rep entered my ward. My husband had been made redundant just a few days before our son was born and she left us about 20 minutes later, £200 lighter - money we didn’t have. I remember my husband and I awkwardly looking each other, both knowing we couldn’t afford it but neither of us brave enough to stop her as she sold us what she promised was a “great deal”.
This time, the woman started her sales pitch before she had fully entered the room. She made eye contact with me and carried on. I was shell-shocked.
“Sorry, I don’t have a baby in here. My baby girl is in special care,” I interrupted. “Oh, sorry,” she said, and then she was gone.
I burst into tears. She was so busy trying to sell to me, she didn’t notice my tear-stained face, or the fact there was no cot, no newborn. She didn’t even have the courtesy to ask me how my baby was.
Women at their most vulnerable are still being taken targeted by sales reps on postnatal wards. Even for those who want the Bounty photos, they are expensive. Imagine being a new mother, so absorbed by your new baby you’ve forgotten momentarily how you will manage financially on just your maternity pay. But you pull out your credit card because you can’t say no. You don’t want to be the worst mother on the ward who doesn’t even buy the photos of their new baby.
At such an awful time, I wanted so desperately to have my loved ones around me. But no visitors were allowed on the ward before 4pm. My own mother couldn’t visit me, but the Bounty lady was at my bedside. There wasn’t a single person available to help with breastfeeding and pumping, but the Bounty lady was there.
There is no place for sales reps on postnatal wards. A hospital should be a safe space for women. We hang up on cold callers trying to harvest our information yet sales reps are allowed to approach vulnerable mothers on postnatal wards to collect their information. Or worse, come crashing into a room as a reminder your baby isn’t there.
This has been a problem for years. My own mother tells me how upset and embarrassed she felt when I was born and she couldn’t afford the Bounty photos. When will we stop seeing new mothers as an easy target? It’s time we boot out sales reps from our postnatal wards once and for all.