Since the time to try for baby number two is upon us, memories of baby number one’s first 40-odd weeks on earth keep barging into my head. We began our pregnancy, luckily enough, with a midwife. But I knew it was iffy whether we’d be able to stay there since I’ve had mildly high blood pressure for all of my adult life and indeed, by week 13 we were transferred from our lovely midwives to an OB at a Calgary hospital.
When we arrived at the OB’s office for our very first meeting with her, we were immediately presented with a sheet of paper that described what I dubbed the Traveling Circus of maternity “care.” It informed us that call shifts at the hospital were shared equally by no fewer than 13 obstetricians. It also said that not only would the OB ‘in charge’ of me not come to the birth if it happened to fall in the 92% of those shifts which were not hers, but she likely would never be directly informed that it had taken place. I would simply not show up for the next scheduled prenatal appointment and she would glean the truth from my absence. How’s that for customer service?
You can imagine that shifting gears so quickly from the hope of a solid relationship with a pair of personable midwives to this complete anonymity had me reeling. When I expressed that dismay to anyone (and especially to women who had given birth already), I got the most baffling, shocking, offensive response:
“It doesn’t matter. When it’s happening, you won’t really care who the doctor is anyway.”
How could I possibly NOT care that there is a stranger elbow-deep in my pelvis?
As the title suggests yes, when it was finally happening, I DID care whose hands were in my vagina.
It’s not that I was so upset that I stopped pushing, or tried to hold my breath and stomp my feet until my real doctor came. I didn’t enjoy my baby any less in the moments afterward because he was tugged from my vagina by a stranger. And it’s certainly not like my regular OB was a dear friend whose presence would have been meaningful to me. I don’t feel like I was violated in any way either. I did, after all seek assistance from the hospital for the birth and the doctors were good at their jobs and behaved professionally.
It’s just that… I cared. It’s my vagina, after all. Up until that day I had control over who could access it. I had always been able to choose my sexual partners and my doctors and give express permission to them before they did anything to any part of my body. Now suddenly, the doctor I had given permission to was nowhere to be found and I had no choice. It felt undignified. It felt cold. It felt as though they’d forgotten that this birth is very deeply personal to me, that it involved parts of my body that I usually keep private and to which I attach very strong emotions. To me it wasn’t just another Wednesday night at the office, but it was to them, and they made that abundantly clear on that piece of paper at the first appointment.
And I still care about it, by the way. I could be sitting in a restaurant next to the resident who stuck a good portion of her arm into me in order to flip the baby and I would have no clue. Nor would she for that matter, and that grates on me. That day (I laboured at the hospital for a grand total of 25 hours) I had 6 nurses, 2 students, 3 residents, 4 obstetricians and 1 anesthetist – that I can remember. And out of those 15 people, 4 gave me pelvic exams. That may be what’s entailed in treatment, but it certainly doesn’t consitute “care”. And I guess that’s the bottom line for me.
This time, even if we can’t have a midwife, we’ll be looking for a small practice of doctors who make an effort to provide continuity and, above all, care to their patients. My vagina will not be hosting any more traveling circuses.