Is it really that important for birth professionals to treat their patients with respect? What difference does it actually make as long as they're doing their job?
The way we are made to feel during our pregnancy and birth stays with us our entire life. I recently heard a professional speak on this subject and she said that in her experience working with people at the end of their life, when most of their memories have faded, women are able to recall their birth stories. They can tell you how they were cared for and how they were made to feel. The way birthing people are treated affects bonding, self perception, mental health, and much more.
My son, Heston, turned 6 last week. Something inside me said it's time to write his story. As I did I was overcome with some big emotions. I held my son and sobbed after writing this; overcome with the reminder that he is so obviously meant to be here, and at the same time a sadness at how unnecessarily stressful my pregnancy was. He is a fighter and overcame great obstacles in order to be on this earth. You'll also find it interesting to know that he is still my fighter. He is an incredibly hard worker and determined young man. Do I think that is related to the beginning of his life journey? Absolutely.
His story demonstrates the stark contrast of two birth professionals; one who showed respect and facilitated empowerment, and one who did not.
In early 2015 I went to my primary care doctor with symptoms that led to many tests and eventually a diagnosis; I had an autoimmune disease called Graves. Upon diagnosis I was told, “It's very important that you do not get pregnant. Most people aren't able to get pregnant with Graves, but the ones who do have bad outcomes.”
The morning before my first appointment with my endocrinologist, I thought to myself, “What if I'm already pregnant and they do something at this appointment (a procedure or drugs) that would hurt the baby. I should just take a test to make sure.” So I nonchalantly took a test and wouldn't you know it, I was pregnant. I can still remember the chill and nausea that flooded my body the moment I saw that positive pregnancy test.
I was referred to the best high risk OBGYN in the area.
I teared up in the waiting room as I was treated like I was just another number. I tried to be positive and find interpersonal comfort by striking up a conversation with the CNA, met only with “here, pee in this cup.” I left almost every appointment in tears. I felt bullied by my OB throughout my entire pregnancy. She used many forms of manipulation to control me and treat me as an inferior. I felt like I was just there to be told what to do and if I tried to ask questions I was treated like I was ignorant and didn’t want what was best for my baby, even though all I wanted was information.
My lab results and lack of symptoms were showing that my body was correcting the Graves on its own. Towards the end I was having a normal pregnancy. Even so, I felt like my doctor didn't pay any attention to what my body was showing us, she simply saw me as a big red sign that said “HIGH RISK."
I hired a doula. The sweetest doula, Kari Riley. Upon telling my doctor that I was going to have a doula with me, she responded with an aggressive “why?” I told her that I wanted extra support especially if I had to be induced. She did not like that at all, and treated me even more coldly from that point on. For what reason, I can only venture to guess.
I remember crying at my kitchen table one day after an especially rough doctor’s appointment. I told my husband, “I don’t ever want to see that doctor again. I’m just going to have this baby in the woods by myself.”
Well, I didn’t.
For the final two weeks of my pregnancy I was in the doctor’s office every other day for Non-Stress Tests (NST), and continued to frequent the hospital for lab work. Baby was fine. I was fine. But still I had to fight for the right to carry my baby to 40 weeks.
As we approached my scheduled induction I knew my cervix was ripe and ready to go. So, due to my anxiety around Pitocin, I requested that we try breaking my water and wait to see if my body goes into labor without the use of Pitocin. This was a risk, but all things considered, it was the option I felt best about at the time. Surprisingly, my doctor agreed to this out-of-the box method. I think she was just happy that I was going to let her induce me like she wanted to.
So, at 40wks and 1day, Chris and I checked into the hospital for an induction. We were so nervous, carrying with us trauma from my previous induction. As soon as Kari arrived I felt more at ease. The mood in the room completely changed as soon as she joined us. The three of us visited; she kept our minds away from the fear that lurked beneath the surface.
As the doctor broke my water Chris blacked out. Yep. He turned pale as a ghost, sat himself down in the chair with his head in his hands and tipped over. He’s not a huge fan of medical situations, to say the least. We were so glad that Kari was there to help both of us through that day.
I sat on the bed as amniotic fluid gushed out for close to an hour without any contractions. Then the three of us walked the halls. While we walked I started having contractions. We probably walked for over an hour. Then Kari asked if I wanted to get in the tub. She helped me get situated in the water. My contractions really picked up and I was so pleased. It was working! I was going to have this baby without Pitocin. Yes!
Kari came in to check on us. As she could see the strength and timing of the contractions she asked if I felt like pushing. I answered, “maybe a little.” They helped me out and we walked back to the room. The doctor checked my cervix. I was 8cm dilated. Darn; not quite ready to push. Kari asked if I would like to get on the birth ball beside the bed. I got on there and leaned over the bed, resting my head on pillows she had situated there. Chris sat on the other side of the bed, holding my hands and encouraging me with his loving presence and words. Kari sat behind me and rubbed my back. Her cool, soft hands and loving touch during that time are something that stand out in my mind. She knew exactly what I needed to hear at precisely the right time. She would whisper encouragement to me that got me through the hardest, longest contractions. About an hour later the doctor wanted to check my cervix. I had a small anterior lip, so I got onto my knees on the bed and faced the raised head of the bed, draping my arms over the top. After a few contractions in this position I felt something shift in my body and I said “there we go.” I turned around in the bed to push my baby out.
Healthy mom and healthy baby should be the first and foremost goal of birth professionals. But in close second should be empowerment through respect to the birthing family; the effects of which are monumental and stretch miles long. I see no reason why these two goals can't go hand in hand.
Happy 6th birthday, my sweet Heston James. We're so glad you came to join us.