How We Expect to Make Mothers out of Women When we Treat Them Like Children

Perhaps I was blessed with my first doc, or maybe just lucky - but I had a wonderful experience with my FP and thought that all FP's/OB's were as wonderful. He would often ask how I was doing, not just baby and I, he recommended many alternative health-care professionals in the area for classes, chiropractic care, nausea, etc..., our visits typically lasted 30 minutes of talking with him while he also did his normal work with me. He would often turn my chart around to show me my results, show me what was 'normal', talk about any concerns he had with anything he was seeing, and offered many different courses of action along my pregnancy journey.

It wasn't until I was pregnant with my second baby that I noticed something was wrong with the Obstetrical world. When I returned to my wonderful FP with news of my pregnancy, he regretfully had to let me know that they had cut back on the number of doctors in the office who had MP insurance/were able to continue to do births. He then 'mechanically' said 'I am to refer you to the FP on staff who continues to attend deliveries". Something in his demeanor told me he had to, didn't want to, say this. I oked setting up the appointment and he encouraged me to bring my birth plan to my first appointment with this FP.

When I got there, I waited 30 minutes in the room dressed in nothing but that silly paper t-top and napkin to cover my thighs. When my 'new' doc came in, she stood next to the bed and asked me to lie down. She then proceeded to talk over the top of my file to me about my lab works all the while staring at my file. "congratulationsyouarepregnant. Ihaveconcernsaboutyourironlevels. Youwillbeprescribingyouironseupplements. Iexpectyoutotakethemtwicedailyalongwithyourprenatals."

I interrupted her litany to ask what my iron level was. 'Why'? was her reply, as she raised her eyebrow and closed my file with a snap. I replied that I was just curious since my iron levels were always low. While I explained, she tossed my file on the counter, snapped on a glove and greased two fingers.

Without even acknowledging that she heard me, she went to my knees, pushed them apart, and said 'wearegoingtodoaquickexamrelax', and, without warning, shoved her fingers into my vagina. She was not gentle, she didn't ask, she simply did.

I gasped in pain and surprise and instinctively began to close my knees. She pushed one roughly apart while nodding to the nurse (who came and pulled my other knee apart) and remarked "I said relax... (exasperated sigh) - you obviously know how to open your legs this should be a piece of cake".

I was dumbfounded, appalled, sickened. As she finished up, since I had no presence of mind to do anything else I stammered that I brought a birth plan that I wanted to talk with her about. While the nurse handed me a few paper towels to clean myself up with, the FP from hell turned her head to the birth plan sitting next to my file, gave it a cursory glance and proceeded to rip it up and drop it in the trash, saying "you can forget that. You can 'want' anything, it doesn't mean it is going to happen. Birth plans are a waste of time".

At that point, I was so stricken and sickened by what I had just happened that I had no doubt this woman would not be at my child's birth.

She said something to the nurse and turned and walked out, casting over her shoulder, "seeyouinamonth".

Only when hell freezes over.

My nurse asked if I had any questions and I politely said "[snort] not for your practice". I threw on my clothes, grabbed my stuff, left that practice, and never went back. I called my wonderful FP and left a VM for him at the office.

It must have sounded something like this:

"I'm sorry Dr. K, (sniff sob), I can't let that woman deliver my baby. I can't do it. I don't know what to do. I need to (sniff - blow) find a new doctor. Can you (hiccup) help me? Please? I don't want your professional recommendation - screw that. I want your personal recommendation. Please call me back Dr. K. Please".

He called me at 8pm that evening, apologizing it took him so long to get back to me - he worked the late office shift that evening. He was glad to hear that I wasn't staying with their practice and he could understand my misgivings ("believe me, between you and I, they are warranted"). He said he already had that other recommendation ready.

I ended up going with his recommendation, an OB who happened to be his roommate in college. He was another great experience, excited to learn about my birth method of choice, very accommodating and allowing me to call 'all the shots' regarding my health care, tests, and birthing preferences. He said it was nice to see someone so active in their health care choices.
The whole point of woman-centered birth is the knowledge that a woman is the birth power source. She may need, and deserve, help, but in essence, she always had, currently has, and will have the power. - Heather McCue
The more I have experience with expectant moms, the more I realize that what I went through in my second pregnancy is not uncommon. In fact, it is more common than naught. And the problem? Women think it is normal and acceptable to be treated that way.

Our culture, and many women, have a god-mentality when it comes to doctors. That, since they have studied obstetrics and labor and birth, that they have a right to make decisions regarding our health and bodies. We give them the right to dominate our bodies with tests, practices, interventions, and medications because it is 'the way they do things'.

Often, women come away from prenatals feeling belittled - being reduced to a child having a child. They feel that they really don't have a right to decline tests or procedures, let alone ask questions about their files, get second opinions, or ask for alternatives. If they dare to do that, they are met with reprimands, vague answers, or hostility. If they dare to decline, they are fear-mongered or coerced into giving their 'informed consent' to procedures that they really don't want and don't approve of.

Our culture says 'my doctor knows best'. What ever happened to 'I know my beliefs and my body'? It is interesting that women across the US demand equal rights, and yet we are happy to give up those rights to our doctor's expertise. And, even if we don't feel it is 'right', seldom do we do anything about it. Sorry, but that is sad.

Pregnancy should be revered as a coming of age, a time when women were strong, bestowed with power and mystery. Women should be confident in their bodies abilities and women should care for other women, believing the same.

Instead, our culture perceives pregnancy as a sign of weakness, a time when women are fragile and incompetent to make their own choices. The obstetrical model shows woman as someone who doesn't know what is best or right for her and she should, whether it is said or not, be subjected and obedient. She is reduced to a child and is treated like she is ignorant to her bodies abilities.

Have we come so far that we have forgotten that we hire our doctor! They work for us! No other time in our lives would we put up with this type of treatment!

Can you imagine going to a gutter professional and asking them to help us with our gutters? Then, when they come to our house, they simply tell us what will be done, without question to the true necessity of it, and then expect us to compliantly sit back and let them tear out all of the old gutters and eaves, run numerous, many unnecessary, or even ridiculous, tests, then put in their brand of gutters and eaves with no question?

And, if we were silly enough to question the necessity or wisdom of it, they would snap at us, act offended, and demand or coerce us into the new equipment, tests, and procedures anyways.. do you think we would stand for that? Heck no! We would fire their butts on the spot and find someone who treated our property and our pocketbooks with respect.

And yet, when it comes to our BODIES and our whole WELL BEING, we treat ourselves with less respect, and expect less, than what we do for our property.
"what is it about women's brains where they just aren't interested in this. They are interested in Prada bags, they are interested in Sex in the City...." - Dr. Christine Northrup
If our professionals expect women to simply obey, they ARE reducing women to child-like mentalities - how can we expect them to make the leap from pregnancy to motherhood, to competently take care of their childrens' well beings as adults when professionals don't even trust them to make competent health care choices about their own well being before birth?
"Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers - strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength." - Barbara Katz-Rothman
I firmly believe that we need to take a lesson from Ina May and many other pioneers (or should I say Old-School Sages) in the childbirth field when they say that they...
... think it's terribly important to put the mother at the center. When you do that, everything follows.
Not the hospital or doctor...Right now, as it stands, we make birth all about the doctor and the hospital. Now, before you disagree with me, think: how many have heard someone say, or have said themselves, one of the following:
  • My doctor told me to come in...
  • They wouldn't allow me to eat anything once...
  • The hospital said I had to get in the wheel chair...
  • I was told they wouldn't allow me to go past...
  • They told me "we will give you 24 hours"...
  • The hospital needs to have a 20 minute...
And on and on... I am sure you could share a few hospital and doctor-centered statements and practices that have little if anything to do with the mother, her health, desires, wishes, and well being...

I think we have a long way to go before we are where we need to be in maternal health care issues.


slh35661 said...

Wow, I don't know what exactly brought this on, but Wow! I want to have everyone read this. I have thought this way for a long time. I understand I work within that system of control, but I try so hard to undo what I can of controlling women and their decisions. Empowerment is the word I think is what we are looking for. Women need to feel empowered, and the medical system is not designed to encourage that.

DoulaMomma said...

wow, indeed. I am outraged on your behalf, and felt so emotional reading your story...so emotional that something similar is happening at this very moment to women.
We must tell our stories, as you have done...good and bad. thanks for this.

I am a Monkey's Mama said...

One more reason I do what I do.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Anonymous said...


Sometimes I think that the way I was treated during pregnancy and birth by my midwives was a big step towards the amount of confidence I have as a mother. I know I'm weird that way, but it's a good sort of weird. I hear so many women flipping out over every little thing and unable to do anything for themselves or their babies, and I wonder how they got that way. This explanation fits that question perfectly. They were treated as children who didn't know anything while pregnant, and they lived up to (or down to) that treatment.

Sheridan said...

What a great post! I wholeheartedly agree. We need to respect mothers and the power they have, their intuition, their love for thier babies. If they are shown that during their pregnancy and birth, it will follow through into their mothering.

Thanks for writing this!

Jill said...

Ugh, I felt a little sick in my mouth reading about that horrid doc. Sick sick sick. Why do people like that get into a profession that is supposed to be about TAKING CARE of people???

I secretly did tandem care with both my homebirth midwives and the CNMs who attended my first son's birth. I had iron issues as well and at one visit with the CNMs I asked them to check my iron. They were utterly perplexed as to why I would want that done (and I couldn't tell them "my other midwives want to know my levels" because they would have dropped me if they'd known I was homebirthing). I wasn't really surprised. It was probably the first time in a long time they'd seen a patient take an active interest in her health instead of just letting them handle everything.

It's all patriarchal bullshit, pure and simple. Oooh the poor fragile delicate women, we men with our big strong bodies and smart brains have to TAKE CARE of them and make sure they don't wilt away like little flowers under the strain. Here, you just lie back and I'll DELIVER YOU OF THIS NUISANCE *cough* I MEAN BABY. Shh don't worry about a thing, Dr. Big Strong Man will take care of it.

And the goddamndest thing about it is now they've got WOMEN doing the same thing!!! That's how outrageously successful and complete this coup was. They've now fooled OTHER WOMEN into taking this superior attitude because THEIR FELLOW WOMEN are too weak and simple-minded to do anything for themselves. It just utterly astounds me that a female OB can be so cold and callous to her own sex.

Whew, you got me writing a post of my own here. That's the mark of good writing...when it makes me rant for longer than the blog entry! ;)

Paula said...

Honestly, I don't understand how a service profession can put the client in such a subservient position. It is very, very odd. I've been fairly fortunate with my children't births, all three hospital, to generally escape unecessary interventions. I get more confident with each one but it is still Oh-So-Difficult to "buck the system" when the system thinks it owns you!


primamomma said...

Your experience with that doctor is IMHO - traumatic. The entire pregnancy until child birth should be treated with high respect, with full recognition to the mother who would soon be delivering a new life to the world.
Caring for pregnant women should not be some "job" that just needs to be done.

--Sarah from ChildBirth.net

Judit said...

Geez, did she have a serious chip on her shoulder. I wonder if in her mind, you coming from your former FP raised flags that you're a 'problem patient'. Good for you for never looking back. She wasn't treating you like a child; at least I certainly hope she would never treat a child so callously! She was treating you like an adversary, and an unworthy one at that, from the get-go. It's so disappointing that a female OBs can be so patronizing. Even if she is very set on her protocols, she can be civil about it! I bet she developed her particular demeanor as a passive-aggressive way to ensure her clientele matches her style of practice. But what would be so hard about saying something like "My experience has lead me not to support birth plans, but there might be other providers who do". Most people would get the message. I too have encountered obstetric providers who were inflexible about their pratice, but at least they were nice about it!

Nicole D said...

TMW - I am glad that we have professionals like you out there. :o)

Jill - amen.

primamomma - I wish my experience were not as common as it seems to be. I hear mom after mom being told that they 'have to' or they can't 'let mom'... the patriarchal tone follows through into MOST OB, MANY FP, and a FEW MW practices. But, I do agree, it should not be a 'job'.

Jenn said...

I just feel bad for all the women that are under her "care" and think that is normal, and just "stick it out" with her. Too many women don't know any different, and trust the doctor is looking out for them.

Sandra said...

Thank you for your blog. I too have a long blog regarding women (people in general, really) taking charge of their healthcare. Too many women put these human doctors on pedestals, assuming they are right and never questioning anything, and that's just a huge mistake.

Good for you for standing up for yourself and becoming a partner in your care

Anonymous said...

Good grief. That Dr. sexually assaulted you.

To force you to allow her to stick her hand into your vagina without even waiting for YOU to acknowledge what was about to happen by letting you move your own knees...that was just WRONG. I've seen OB's (more often women than men!) bully laboring women into cervical exams that they don't want...but never in quite that aggressive of a manner.

For pete's sake, the sad statistics are that there is a good likelihood that any individual patient that FP deals with may have been raped in the past...and it might not be on the medical record! So what she did...in addition to being a violation and a trauma to a woman who hasn't been previously assaulted in that way...could be even more of a trauma for many women.

Thank you for making this post. If only it could be required reading for all young women before they even get pregnant.


Meredith Shadwill said...

I was directed here by a fabulous woman, and I have to say I agree 200% with you! I echo the disbelief in that so many people allow the doctors and hospitals to bully us when we are paying them to do a service for us!

Housefairy said...

This is all too common and oh so wrong. I am sorry, first of all, that you had to go through such a horrible attack. Secondly, you are doing alot to help other women be aware, and to tell their sisters and girlfriends and daughters to be-ware as well. How many expectant Mamas sit in bed reading their what to expect books (puke!)and ignore that ever growing feeling that "THIS ISNT RIGHT?!?!"

Keep up the great blog

Dragonfly said...

Good grief, that was terrible how the 2nd doctor treated you!!
From a medical students point of view I have seen a few examples of this (though I know it happens). It is a crime that while the majority of doctors treat their patients with respect and professionalism there are people out there with such lack of personal skills that they turn people away and in some cases cause terrible emotional scars. I am glad that you got an alternative referral to such a good OB after all that.

Amber said...

I have noticed a similar what another poster said: that woman acted like you were her enemy. The problem is, doctors DON'T answer to most of us, the patients: they answer to our insurance, to their hospitals/clinics, to their OB groups, to the FDA, and to lawyers. The worst of them see patients as a means to an end, whether that end be a greater feeling of power, or more money. So this mentality of treating patients (not just women) as subservient children isn't just an OB problem, but an entire medical one.

I'm very glad that you had that first OB. It's heartening to know that there are still some good doctors out there who do actively care about their patients, and not just see them as robots who can get them more money.

Jennifer Valencia said...

You hit the nail on the head here! I feel so awful for your first appointment with your second birth but so glad you had the sense to change; so many women don't as you said. Our society is in need of a birth reform


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