I have developed a serious love/hate relationship with our western medicine culture over the last 10 or so years.
Though I am so very thankful that we have treatments for ailments that cannot be treated with simple backyard medicine, I find that sometimes the benefits don’t outweigh the losses. We have at our fingertips some of the most amazing technology that allows us to have doctors perform surgery by camera to repair problems. We have medicines to prevent and often cure ailments that 100 years ago would have meant a death sentence. But, with all of that amazing progress, we still have a one size fits all approach to health care and often the individual person gets lost in.
We are expecting our 6th baby. I have been pregnant on and off for the last 16 years and therefore I think that qualifies me as a bit of an expert on my own body and the process my body goes through during a pregnancy. I began really questioning how prenatal care works with its one-sized fits all approach while I was expecting my 4th child. My husband was a new RN at the time and was not at all open to a dramatic leave from the norm but I did begin to question things that were being “done to me” and I stood up for the types of tests I wanted, didn’t want and what I was willing to accept in my healthcare. I began to understand that I was the one who should rightly be in control as I was hiring my care team not the other way around and that my feelings, desires, wishes need be considered rather than blindly going along with what the norm was. That meant I declined an induction to begin labor at 39 weeks though my doctor told me my baby would be very large. I declined an amniocentesis because of the risks involved outweighing the information I would receive (information that wouldn’t change the outcome for our family anyway). I declined an IV in the hospital which was “standard protocol” with all patients. To say I am a difficult patient may be accurate, but I am not in any way malicious when I speak to care providers, I simply let them know that I do not desire certain things that they feel are the norm.
I began seeing a midwife with my 5th child and had the most amazing experience as well as home birth with that pregnancy (read story). That experience left me empowered and fulfilled that my body was more than capable of doing everything that God designed it to do without the assistance of Pitocin, epidurals and pain management meds, etc. That single experience empowered my ability to research options, learn what the norm was and why certain procedures were performed for the masses of expectant women, and to know what I felt was necessary for me and my baby and what was not.
Enter in the most recent experience I have had. I am a bit older now, and with this 6th pregnancy I fall into the “high risk” category due to age only. I have no other risk factors, no high blood pressure, no diabetes, no other boxes to check… other than my age. I am aware that maternal age increases the risk of special circumstances with an infant so I dutifully saw my OB for several visits with the intention of having that 20 week ultrasound to ensure that all looked well before proceeding with my planned homebirth and midwife care. I knew that there were certain things that could prevent my all natural homebirth, for the good of baby, and I was okay with that. I am thankful we have technology. I am thankful I have those options. I am thankful that I have the choice to “peek” into my womb and learn if there is more than one baby stowaway (no worries, just one in there). But with all that comes a price. I am not talking dollars and cents here.
I went in for my ultrasound and the technician, who has been scanning my pregnancies for a number of years, found a problem. My world sank. Her words began to kind of hang in the air above me as she was very general and kind of vague but recommending that I see a high risk maternal fetal medicine physician for a closer look at some of the “abnormalities” she was seeing. My eyes welled with tears and as I spoke with my very sweet OB (who happens to also be a friend) she tried to reassure me that it could be more minor than major issues that I was dealing with. The joy of the new life I was carrying was kind of sucked right out of me as I began to wonder what I was dealing with exactly, would I have to endure the valley of a stillborn baby, would I have to be the primary caregiver for a severely disabled child, could I handle all of this? As luck would have it the next appointment I could secure with that high risk OB was 5 days into the future. 5 long days away. 5 agonizing days of questions. I have never been good at following directions so I did not listen when my OB told me not to begin researching the concerns.
I didn’t listen.
My research lasted only about 5-7 minutes.
I couldn’t go any further once I began to read.
At this point I kind of began to feel as though I was drowning. I reached out to God and began talking to him, praying to him, begging him for help in this time of need. I needed a peace. My loving husband reached out to our church family and asked for prayers, something I was incapable of even doing because I couldn’t talk without becoming inconsolable and unintelligible. God is good though, I could feel the prayers, and I began to calm down within a day or so. God let me know, through his peace, that whatever we were dealing with, he would not leave my side. That was very hard. I honestly don’t know how people who don’t believe in God get through the rough times, the prayers surrounding me and this little life were almost tangible.
The day came for the subsequent ultrasound. There were a number of pregnant women in the waiting room and I couldn’t help but wonder what each of their stories was. I wondered if they prayed. I wondered if they had been coming here for medical news since the beginning of their pregnancies (that was recommended to me each time I became pregnant over the age of 35) I wondered if they were as anxious as I was. My husband and I were guided back to the ultrasound room where we spent the next hour looking at our baby from every angle possible.
The technician found no concerns.
The doctor found no concerns.
The tears began streaming from my eyes once again, this time tears of joy and not of fear.
As we were wrapping up the doctor suggested a few more tests, among them the option of an amniocentesis should I desire one (I did not) and a blood test or more ultrasounds, because after all I am of “advanced maternal age.”
No thank you.
I realize that there are some women whose pregnancies have to be monitored very closely, I am glad I am not one of them.
I had no desire to walk this path for even one more minute. Even the doctor advised that there are false positives that can be associated with each of the tests he subsequently had offered. The rates are reported to be low (the false positives) but anything that was going to cause this level of anxiety and stress was not worth it to me.
So continues my love/hate relationship.
The undue stress.
The extreme emotional rollercoaster.
All of it…I was ready to get off the ride.
I will never know if God worked a miracle in our lives and healed the baby in my womb, or if one ultrasound tecnichian (and a good one at that) simply made a mistake that caused an extreme level of duress to two expectant parents. Either way I know that God walked this path with us and helped us, as did all the prayer we received.
I know that I prefer to take the natural approach as I now switch back to my midwifery model of care and my planning for a subsequent home birth. I know that as I approach the 40 week mark (I always do with my babies) there will be no cause for alarm, even if I am “overdue” as many OB’s would say. I will not be subject to any invasive procedures, no physical exams, no further undue stress. My midwife will be concerned, as she always is, with my whole well being, not just the baby I am carrying and how my pregnancy is measuring. She will sit down with me over a hot cup of tea and we will discuss this chapter in my pregnancy, I will likely shed a few tears in retelling the entire experience to her but she will quietly listen. She will not push for more and more tests to “be sure” all is well. She will ask me what I want and how I feel. She will gently monitor signs for any concerns, she will test urine for proteins, she will measure baby and feel my growing belly to determine babe’s location and be sure he heads to the correct positioning before delivery. She will encourage me, as my OB did, but without the added clinical stressors that come from being a “patient”
That is the way I believe it should be.
I love the empowerment that comes with knowing what is available to me and deciding what is right for our family and our newest babe.