For Cara Roan, the grief of miscarriage is compounded by the pain of burying the wrong baby’s remains.
“I’m so broken from this,” the Maskwacis woman said Monday.
Roan is a mother already, and knew something wasn’t right when she began spotting a few weeks ago during her fourth month of gestation.
At the end of January she went to the Wetaskiwin Hospital and Care Centre, located just down the road from the central Alberta First Nations community where she lives.
Roan said she said she waited for several hours, was seen by staff and told to return if the bleeding got heavier.
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The next day, she said it got worse so she returned to the hospital and once again, waited for hours before being told the same thing.
“They told me the same thing: when you feel a gush, come back.
“So the third night, I went in because it was getting worse and I started feeling pain — started feeling labour pains and the bleeding got worse.”
On that third day, Jan. 28, she returned to the Wetaskiwin Hospital. She said she again sat for hours in the waiting room, having a miscarriage while other patients were being taken in for treatment.
“My sister-in-law went up and told them that I was hemorrhaging — that I was losing a lot of blood — and they didn’t listen the first time.”
She said staff was dismissive until her sister-in-law convinced a nurse to come see Roan in the bathroom, where she said she kept going because of the blood loss.
“She finally took it seriously and she told me that she was going to get me into a room, get the doctor to come check on me.”
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Roan said the bleeding kept getting worse, eventually gushing like staff said it would. She said she began losing consciousness.
“I felt like I was going to die because of all the blood I was losing. If it wasn’t for that nurse to come and help me, I probably would have bled to death in the waiting room,” she claims.
She said eventually, staff told her she had miscarried and there was no heartbeat, and to stop the bleeding she would have to be operated on.
“They gave me a blood transfusion first, because they said I lost too much blood. And then they took me into surgery,” she said.
Roan said she asked to take her child’s remains when she left the hospital, “but they told me I couldn’t take my baby because they had to take it for tests and to clean my baby off.”
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She said they waited a day for the remains, but was told they wouldn’t be released until Feb. 6 because they were being sent away to determine what went wrong.
“But with the ultrasound that they did, they knew I was hemorrhaging and the specialists in Red Deer told me that they should have kept me (the first day) to watch me, so it wouldn’t have got that far with all the blood loss and everything.”
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Roan said she finally received the remains a few weeks later, on Saturday, Feb. 11. She said the hospital told her to bring her I.D. to ensure she got the right remains, which she said she did.
The family drove west to the Rocky Mountains, where they conducted an Indigenous burial ceremony and the remains were laid to rest.
Then, she received a phone call that left her gutted.
“That following Monday, the hospital called me and said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but we gave you the wrong baby.’”
Roan was dumbfounded.
“I was like, what…?’” she said, adding she couldn’t understand how the mistake could happen when things are supposed to be labeled with baby tags and identification.
“How can you mess up something like this? How can you give someone else’s baby away?”
“It was so devastating. I just wanted to call the other mother and tell her I was sorry this happened. I don’t know how this happened. I’m so broken from this.”
Roan said the other mother received her child and noticed the wrong name on the paperwork.
“She looked at that paper that was on the box. It had my name and everything from the hospital. But she didn’t know how to get a hold of us.”
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Roan said the hospital asked if she would trade the remains, but she said disturbing buried bodies goes against her culture.
“I can’t go and dig the baby up. They’re like, ‘Well, would you be able to go do that and trade babies?’ I was just like, ‘We don’t do that in our culture.’
“I said once they’re put away, they’re on their journey — they’re already at rest.”
Alberta Health Services acknowledged the mistake on Monday, issuing a statement saying it was an extremely difficult situation and offering its deepest apologies to the two families who were impacted.
“This mistake should not have happened,” spokesperson Kerry Williamson wrote.
AHS said it’s taking the incident very seriously. The health-care provider said it’s reviewing what happened and what can be done differently, to ensure it never happens again.
“Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) and DynaLIFE have robust guidelines and practices in place regarding the care and handling of remains. As noted, we are reviewing this matter to determine if these guidelines and practices were followed by APL and DynaLIFE.”
Due to patient confidentiality, AHS wasn’t able to comment further but said its teams are available to listen.
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Eventually, Roan said it was decided the baby would be exhumed and the two mothers would make the trade.
Roan said it was hard watching the baby she thought had been hers dug up from what was supposed to be its final resting place.
The two women met, and Roan said the other mother was also emotional over the experience. She said the doctor she dealt with was remorseful.
“I felt bad for the other mother,” she said.
“I got my baby. And she got her baby. The doctor said that he’s going to make sure this never happens again to any other mother.”
That is what compelled Roan to speak out about the experience — the desire for another grieving mother to never feel the pain she’s suffered the past few weeks.
“This is devastating. It’s heartbreaking to know that they gave me someone else’s baby,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want it to happen to any other mother out there.”
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Roan said her experience during the miscarriage and the mixup afterwards has added to the pain of losing her child. Roan said she’s experienced stillbirth before — the pain never gets easier.
“You carry that baby and then just to come home empty handed… is hard.”
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