Dear Dr. G,
Today I celebrate my son's second birthday. There are many who were present on that special day who will reach out with loving memories of his entrance to the world.
You, however, wouldn't know me if we passed on the street.
Eye contact wouldn't make a difference. You stood at the end of my bed, arms crossed, eyes on clipboard, stance rigid - as you observed me lying on the bed relaxing through body-wracking contractions. Rather than kneel down to speak to me, you stood and announced that I needed to have a test because you didn't have the piece of paper you needed [to cover your ass].
I could say hello, but you wouldn't recognize my voice - you never heard it. As I calmly and politely (yes, witnesses will attest!) noted your concern and stated that there simply wasn't time - baby was arriving within the half-hour - so I would decline the test, you shifted your weight and played the age card: my 42-year-old body couldn't possibly have produced a placenta strong enough to bear baby through those last minutes. My baby and I completed another full-on contraction and then reasserted "Thanks, but no thanks." In my head, I affirmed myself: The decision is mine. The responsibility is mine. This. birth. is. mine.
I'm not sure you would even get a pang of remembrance if we started a conversation today. My husband couldn't be there. I was alone. And vulnerable. Yet you continued to bully me by turning to the staff and announcing "She can't give birth in that bed. Move her to a birthing bed so that when this baby has shoulder dystocia due to gestational diabetes, we can get it out." And, with that, you stormed out.
Wow, you didn't like my file, did you, Dr. G? 42-years-old, no ultrasound, no diabetes screen...who did I think I was, right?
Well, I know who I was. And am. I am a mother, taking responsibility for myself and the well-being of my children. This looks different for everyone. For me that day, it looked like seeing that birth to completion without pausing in fear to take a detour.
My issue with you is not that I knew that Isaac was fine and that the test was unnecessary - I didn't know that!; rather, my grief is that, when faced with a patient who made an informed choice that differed from your bent, you chose to abandon your mandate to "First, do no harm" and set out to inflict emotional and mental pain stemming from your own frustration. The choice was mine to make.
While your staff moved furniture around, I proceeded to transition to second stage labor in the tub, then returned to my bed (not the one you prescribed me) and pushed out a beautiful boy in seven minutes. Just letting you know, because you didn't bother to check in afterward.
I may sound angry, but I'm not. I actually want to thank you.
Because of this experience, I will be sure to teach my students how to advocate for themselves. Don't worry: I do not despise medical professionals. On the contrary, I appreciate deeply the work of doctors and nurses. All three of my babies were born in hospital settings with no drugs and no interventions of any kind. This worked for our family. It was only in this third birth that I had a negative interaction, so I have a balanced view. I simply need to be sure that when that single mom or young couple venture into your hospital, that they are prepared to discuss and, perhaps, disagree in order to have the birth they want and feel is safest for their family.
Because Isaac's birth story will always have a bit of wounding tied into it, I will never take for granted that everyone has a happy story. May I be a compassionate listener and supportive ear for every woman-sister with whom I am lucky enough to share birth!
And, I assure you that every June 4th I will offer up a prayer for your work, your very important work, that you will be touched by birth, that you will remember that your patients are women and not simply charts, so that you can be remembered fondly on the most important day of countless families' lives.
I will never mail this letter to you. It's not for you, anyway. It is what I tell my students and friends: the honoring of the events around the sacred arrival of a precious babe, whatever they are.
Somehow the imperfect becomes perfect when framed in love and acceptance.