Book Club Discussion # 3: My Body, My Choice?
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
In this post, I include an excerpt from my forthcoming book,“Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity,” (coming in August 2015) followed by commentary. I intend this post to be a springboard for a book-club-like discussion, so feel free to contribute!
When I return for my next appointment on a Monday, my doctor’s first words are, “You were supposed to have your baby this weekend!”
“Ha.” I give a forced laugh, but I’m not amused at all.
She turns to me and I get into position for a cervical check.
“Can you please not sweep my membranes this time?” I ask. “That was really painful last time.” God, I hate my words. I don’t want to be polite. I’m angry at her for not asking for my consent to do that. And yet I’m still making requests instead of just saying what I don’t want.
“Sure, no problem,” she says as she probes me. “Three centimeters, seventy-five percent effaced,” she announces. She turns away from me and toward her laptop, which is resting on the counter.
“So what I’ll tell you is that if you have an induction this week, you don’t have any factors that would increase your risk of a C-section.”
“I really don’t want an induction,” I say. Ugh! My words! Why can’t I be assertive?
“Okay, but what I can tell you is that I won’t be able to deliver this baby past Friday afternoon, which is August 10.”
“But I still have five days for the baby to come, right?”
“Yeah…” she trails off.
“So… let’s say you’re not here for the birth. Should I meet with these other doctors?”
“If you go past your due date, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with them for a non-stress test to make sure that the baby is okay. So you’ll have a chance to meet them then. But you know, these doctors may not want to let you go all the way to forty-two weeks, the way that I would. They may not let you go past forty-one weeks. And then you may have to have an induction anyway.”
“Right…” I think about what she is saying. But you won’t let me go to forty-two weeks because you’re not going to be here anyway. So my choice is be induced at thirty-nine weeks with you or be induced at forty-one weeks without you? What if I go into labor naturally? Isn’t that still an option?
“But whatever you decide,” she crosses her arms, “I hope that you also respect the desires of these doctors and not go past the timeframe that they are comfortable with. Okay?”
“Oh. Okay.” I say quickly.
I feel like an inconvenience, like I should feel badly that I’m creating a hiccup in this plan, but I’m starting to care less and less about what this doctor and the other doctors think about me. Who is having the baby here? What should take priority? Having the baby by a certain date or having the baby when the baby is ready?
In this discussion, we hear two key factors come into play about whether or not to induce labor: scheduling and doctor’s preferences. The doctor doesn’t cite positive outcomes for a labor induction–instead she frames her comments from a standpoint of the unlikelihood of negative outcomes.
Missing from this conversation are any references to the effects of this induction on my health or on my baby’s health–specifically in regard to birth weight.
I dare say, we let doctors take these kinds of liberties with us all too often. Because we trust them. We think that they know what’s best. Because we think that they will prioritize our health and safety over other concerns. (Don’t worry–this isn’t turning into a post that bashes doctors or questions the importance of vaccinating your kids (and, yes, you should. For goodness sake…))
Why do we allow doctors to push and pull birth in all different directions?
I think that it has to do with authority. Pregnant women often don’t feel that they have any authority to make the calls during pregnancy, especially if they are first-time mothers. What do I know? I’ve never had a baby before!
I get that.
But at the same time, this is your child. Not the doctor’s child.
That seems obvious, right? But it’s really not.
After going to all the prenatal appointments, laboring in the hospital by their rules, and relying on the doctor to catch my baby, I felt an unexpected shock when the nurses start asking me when I last fed the child. Oh. Me? Wait? Shit, the doctor’s gone.
And then it sinks in–I had really been depending so heavily on everyone else–nurses, doctors, ultrasounds, fetal monitoring, etc–to be responsible for my child’s well-being. And in reality, it was me all along. And when I finally saw through that illusion, I was even more certain that it is my responsibility to advocate for this child–not my doctor’s.
You can see why this is a difficult frame of mind to occupy before giving birth. Everything in our system for giving birth encourages mothers to trust their doctors for positive outcomes. You don’t have to worry about anything. We got you. But this is not always the case.
And so in those last weeks of pregnancy, it is more important to be protective than to be polite. It’s your body. It’s your baby’s body.
And for those two bodies, there is only one voice.
What about you? Have you ever experienced clashes like this with your doctor during those last weeks of pregnancy? What happened?
Looking forward to hearing from you!
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