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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Why I don't go to the OB anymore

As the news of team doctor Larry Nassar's sentencing makes headlines and his victims are finally being heard, it makes me fearful of their futures as they potentially enter their childbearing years. How will they ever trust a doctor again to care for them?

Awhile back I visited my gastroenterologist for a yearly follow up, and the assistant taking my medical history gasped when I said I hadn't been to an OB since my eight-year-old was born. She asked me why and I'm not even sure I responded. A friend gasped when I told her the same thing, and that I hadn't had a mammogram despite being 43, and she said her doctor has been ordering them for her since she was 35 despite being low risk.

To the intake nurse who was shocked and probably thought I was being irresponsible with my health: do you really want to know why I haven't gone? How much time do you have?

My very first gynecologist when I was college-aged was nice, she took the time to answer my questions and explain procedures. She also treated one problem effectively; the other, not so much. Not much questioning going on, just creams and this that and the other that made it worse.

The second guy, more cream. A cream that basically makes it feel like you're lighting fire to your skin. Not even sure what he felt he could accomplish with that. When I relocated out of state and saw someone else, the nurse gasped audibly when I told her what he gave me and couldn't imagine why he did that.

Soon I would start having children. The next practice I was in involved a doctor who had only recently had his license reinstated, I found out later, because he had made inappropriate sexual remarks to a patient. He's also the same guy who inaccurately told me that my child was vertex, even though I knew he wasn't, and argued with me. This was probably a major turning point in my pregnancy because we could've likely attempted a version at this point (they never offered, not once). But no, he remained breech, undetected, until I was about 37 weeks. Another physician in the practice did an internal on me - which now I wonder was really her stripping my membranes despite my child not being in a head down position - and determined that he definitely was breech, which was confirmed by ultrasound two weeks prior to my delivery.

When I had the baby, the first thing I said when my primary OB checked on me in the hospital was, in a super groggy state, that "all my children would have to be born this way." How naive and uneducated I was, and he knew it, because he didn't correct me.

When I got pregnant with my second, I was still naive and uneducated. He presented me with a choice at my first appointment: have a repeat cesarean or try for a VBAC. What little I had heard about VBAC sounded dangerous, and I told him so, that I felt I would just have another cesarean because "that was safer." He didn't correct me.

When I was nearing delivery with my second, I had an epiphany. Not only was she not breech like her brother, but I was more informed in my delivery options and just pissed off enough to exercise them. I remember vividly the appointment where I told my husband he had to come with me to break the news to my physician, who would not be happy. As if he was my daddy or something. The doctor already had a bit of a nervous stammer and it came out even more during that appointment. My husband was not pleased and shortly after that expressed his outrage and hatred for the doctor, who literally told me "I have one patient on her fifth cesarean and she is doing fine" when I confronted him about why he was downplaying the risks of repeat cesarean and making VBAC sound so terrible. That was his idea of informed consent. In response to this mystery patient that probably didn't even exist, I said, "Well, I don't want that to be me."

One of the midwives in his practice, upon hearing my plans, said, "I do not want to be doing this." Whatever happened to those caring, supportive midwives I kept hearing about?

I finally left that practice at the beginning of my third pregnancy, when another midwife in the practice basically made it sound like it was "my choice" to go through with it, despite the possibility of catastrophe. In other words, my fault. I left there in tears and never went back. It was not my first horrible interaction with her.

The next physician's group employed no midwives. Just doctors who bullied, coerced and lied. The lead physician in the practice examined my "little problem" and immediately tested me for herpes, even though I knew it would be negative. It was. He also didn't tell me what he was doing it until he had literally torn a piece of my labia off and it was over. He billed my insurance, I'm sure, but never asked me for permission to do the test.

At one point during that pregnancy I felt there was one doctor in the practice I could trust. That trust quickly eroded when, during a particularly lengthy conversation, she was having a tough time getting me to give up my hopes of avoiding another cesarean and then admitted she herself had had three of them. And then billed me for a 'consultation,' despite not having told me of what she was doing and the fact that my insurance was supposed to cover my office visits in full. This same office had billed me one other time for observed swelling as being "outside the scope of pregnancy care," despite it being quite common in pregnancy, in summer, and especially after the patient is being forced to wait in the lobby for over an hour to be seen.

One doctor in the practice worked hard to get me to consent to a cesarean for high blood pressure a week before my due date. I really wanted my baby to come on his own, hopeful that it wouldn't be a surgical birth. I quickly refocused and hoped it wouldn't be a cesarean done by her, praying that she wasn't on call. She had already scared me into thinking he was big after taking almost no time to measure me properly, sending me for an ultrasound where the lovely technician basically told me very politely that my doctor was full of crap.

When I was admitted for observation, the same doctor called my room repeatedly to harass me. When I finally answered the phone after several tries, she angrily asked, "Do I have to come down there?" like I was a disobedient child.

A resident had been counseling me yet again on the dangers of VBAC and told me the rate of rupture was 10%. I cringed inside and found myself shriveling in fear, as if I couldn't possibly stand up to their tactics. I remember thinking to myself, if I am going to preach to countless women about being advocates for themselves and their babies, it needs to start with me. I then told him he had his decimal point in the wrong place.

This same practice also had at least one nurse on staff who was downright nasty, even making a negative comment about my baby after he'd been born. I don't even remember what she said, but knew it must've been bad if the old lady receptionist apologized on her behalf, embarrassed.

When I came back for my six week checkup, I felt off. Not depressed, but just blah. The physician blankly stared at me and asked, "Are you depressed?" "Not that I know of," I answered, but wasn't exactly sure what to tell him. He told me he was obligated to ask and then ordered bloodwork and went on his way. The blood work revealed that I had a thyroid problem, which he also didn't know anything about, and I went untreated for probably another 18 months.

So I haven't been back. It's been over eight years and I know I should go, but I'm terrified. Waiting to be asked, "why'd you wait so long?" and subjected to a battery of bullshit I probably don't need, same as before. Only now it's a new game to play: when can we schedule your mammogram? I hate to tell that friend who's doctor ordered them at age 35 - but that's not even evidence based care. So when you transition out of childbearing to perimenopause, you're basically trading one set of fears over bad care for another.

When my online friends would talk about having a close-knit relationship with their OB or midwife, who is caring and listens to them so well, I realize I have never had that, not once. That I can't relate to that on any level whatsoever and now have an overwhelming sense of needing to watch my back. As if navigating the waters of "birth outside the box" wasn't stressful enough, now you have to worry about menopause and cancer this and cancer that. Being subjected to the same crap time after time despite countless studies - some of which that are at least a dozen years old - that suggest it's not really the best way, but seemingly take decades to implement, all the while receiving gasps and stares because you're dangerous and irresponsible. It makes me want to punch the Susan Komen Foundation in the face.

So this is what I want to tell someone when they ask why I don't go. And there are millions of women who have had it much worse than I. I know there are good, caring and supportive care providers out there but as of yet, I just haven't found them. I'm hoping that Larry Nassar's victims will.