HAGERSTOWN — Signatures are stacking up on an online petition against Meritus Medical Center’s new ban on taking photographs or video during the delivery of babies.
Within 24 hours after local moms-to-be Amber Madigan and Laurie Shifler set up a petition on www.thepetitionsite.com asking Meritus to revoke the policy, 149 people had signed on showing their support.
Under the new policy, which went into effect Nov. 1 at the Hagerstown area hospital, families must wait five minutes after the delivery before taking photos or filming in the birthing area, with approval from the medical staff.
Hospital officials have said the policy is meant to protect the health and safety of the mother and newborn baby by preventing distractions during the delivery.
But Madigan and Shifler argue the delivery and moments immediately afterward are important memories they want to capture and preserve, and the online petition is proving others feel the same way.
In the days since the women made their case in a Herald-Mail article published Monday, their story has spread through media reports in the area.
“As we kind of started having reporters call and things, the hospital kind of came out and said they weren’t aware anyone was upset about this, and we thought: ‘Let’s let them know how many people are upset,’” Madigan said.
The women spread the word about the petition on Facebook, by e-mail and by posting links under online news stories.
“The response so far has been very overwhelming,” Madigan said Thursday afternoon, referring not only to the number of signatures but to the passionate and often personal comments many of the signers have posted to the petition.
“It just kind of reaffirmed for us that the hospital needs to hear this,” she said.
One grandmother wrote about how much her daughter cherished the pictures she took for her of her grandchild’s first moments. Those were images “she would not have been able to have seen because the mother misses so much at the actual time of the birth,” the posted comment said.
“I think that may be a deal breaker and may choose another hospital,” another woman wrote. “I had photos of my daughters birth ... and those photos are simply priceless.”
A woman from Arizona added a nurse’s perspective.
“As a nursery nurse, I know that some of the most precious moments of my career have been in helping families to capture this incredible experience,” she wrote.
Madigan said she e-mailed a link to the petition to Meritus Health President and Chief Executive Officer James P. Hamill, asking for an opportunity to sit down and discuss the policy with hospital administrators.
Meritus spokeswoman Mary Rizk said the e-mail was the first communication the hospital had had from Madigan other than reading her comments in the newspaper.
Rizk said Hamill and many of the other administrators were out of the office for the holidays, but when they return next week, they will contact Madigan and probably will arrange a meeting with her.
“We absolutely want to hear from people who are concerned with our policies,” she said. “We’re planning to do that, to give her an opportunity to explain her position and be heard.”
Rizk said she couldn’t comment on whether the hospital would consider changing the policy.
“It’s a pretty long, thoughtful process that goes into creating hospital policies, so we’ll make sure those views are taken back through the appropriate channels,” she said.
Rizk also said she wanted to clear up any misconceptions about the policy, which she said does allow for photos and videos of the newborn shortly after the birth.
“As soon as mom and baby are safe, and there’s no emergency procedures necessary, dad can pull out the camera,” Rizk said. “But what you have in hospitals across the country are situations where family members are filming, and the staff have to ask them to move out of the way so they can get to the mother to take care of her, and in our situation, we just want to make sure that the staff is free of distractions in providing the best level of care possible for mom and baby.”
Madigan said she looked forward to discussing the matter with hospital officials.
“I think that there’s a middle road here that we could meet,” she said. “I’m not saying that in every situation we have to be able to take pictures.”
She said her sister went without pictures of her birth experience because she had a Caesarean section.
“We want what’s best for our kids,” she said. “If there’s an emergency situation, there’s no way we’re going to be running for our cameras to take pictures. We’re going to be stepping back and letting the doctors and nurses do what they need to do.”
View the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/allow-birth-video-and-photography-at-meritus-medical-center/