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Mother gives birth to still born child and given the wrong baby to bury

February 22, 2023

I’m sorry to tell you we gave you the wrong baby,’ hospital to Maskwascis mother.

APTN: A mother from Maskwacis in Treaty 6 gave birth to a child who was still born and was given the wrong baby to bury a week later. “I just can’t wrap my head around it. It’s devastating. Especially to put someone else’s baby away,” said Cara Roan.

Roan, a mother of four, said she sensed something was wrong when she noticed some spotting during the fourth month of her pregnancy. She went to the hospital in Wetaskiwin on Jan. 19, located just down the road from Maskwacis where she lives in central Alberta.

Roan said she was worried about the spotting and wasn’t due to have an ultrasound until Feb. 8. “I had two still births before. I lost my first baby. They don’t take us Indigenous people seriously, they just make us wait and wait,” said Roan.

Roan said that she later went into the hospital by ambulance. “Once they were triaging me, the nurse and ambulance driver… she was telling them what was happening with me and the nurse laughed and said ‘I don’t care.’”

Roan had to wait for several hours and she felt that her pain was ignored.  She left and returned Jan. 28. Roan told APTN News that she felt abandoned by the staff, who didn’t see her until her sister-in-law convinced one of the nurses to come and see Rowan. She was in the bathroom where she had kept taking trips due to the blood loss. “My sister-in-law went up and told them I was hemorrhaging—that I was losing a lot of blood,” said Roan. Roan ended up miscarrying and said that she required a blood transfusion. 

When Roan had a still birth previously, she had been able to take the baby home right away. But this time, she said things were different. “They told me I couldn’t take my baby because they had to take it for tests and clean off my baby, which I found really weird,” said Roan.

Roan is Cree, and in their traditional ceremonies, the body of the person who passed away needs to be laid to rest with a ceremony before their spirit is free. She did not receive a call until Feb. 6. “They said you have to have your ID to pick up your baby. So we are giving it to the right mother,” said Roan.

She got her ID and returned but they were closed. Her mother-in-law called the hospital and arranged a Saturday pick up. They drove out to the Rocky Mountains, where they conducted a Cree burial ceremony. “My angel baby was finally laid to rest,” said Roan.  Her husband didn’t wish to speak to the media about this. Roan said that he is also finding things difficult.  “Not everybody talks about their grief,” said Roan. 

On the Monday after the long weekend, Roan received a phone call from the hospital. They told her that she had received the wrong body. “They said ‘I am sorry to tell you, we gave you the wrong baby,’” said Roan.

Roan said it was difficult to understand how this could happen. When usually they have identification tags. Roan said this came to light when the other mother received her child and noticed the wrong name on the paperwork.

She had to go back to the hospital because she didn’t know how to get a hold of them. According to Roan, the hospital asked her if she would dig up the remains and trade the baby. She told him that that would be against her culture.  “They said they would call back later. They didn’t know what to say,” said Roan. 

Eventually Roan said it was decided the baby would be exhumed. She picked up her baby from a nearby area where the other mother lived.  “She was not ready to talk to me. It was her first baby and she’s very upset,” Roan said of the other woman. 

Roan said it was very difficult watching the baby. She didn’t feel that the remains were treated respectfully.  Roan said it was a doctor who exhumed the remains. “I felt bad for the other mother,” said Roan. 

She also said she’s sharing her story so that Alberta, health services and other medical providers can make changes so that this doesn’t happen again  “I’m so broken from this. It shouldn’t happen to anyone. I don’t want it to happen to another mom,” said Roan.  Since this happened, Roan said no one has been in touch to offer any additional support. She does have friends and family for support.  “I have children to take care of. I can’t let this swallow me,” said Roan. 

Alberta Health Services response. An emailed statement to APTN said that AHS plans to provide a written apology to the two families that received the wrong children for burial. “This terrible mistake should not have happened,” said the statement.

“AHS is taking this incident very seriously and is reviewing what happened in this case to determine how it occurred, and what can be done differently to ensure it never happens again. “An initial review has found that this error was not made at Wetaskiwin hospital, or by Wetaskiwin hospital staff. It was made at the lab.”

APTN has previously reported on issues Indigenous women have faced in Alberta hospitals. Alberta Health Services did not reply to multiple requests for comment from APTN News.

 Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Feb. 23 with a comment from Alberta Health.