Before getting pregnant with my son, I ended up switching healthcare providers, from a doctor I wasn't thrilled with (but at least felt OK about), to an obstetrician I quickly began to dread. I understand that doctors working within America's notoriously problematic healthcare system are dealing with intense time constraints and other less-than-ideal circumstances, so I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. But over the course of several months, there were too many ways my OB-GYN made me feel scared that I couldn't ignore, especially once I got pregnant and started considering who would be by my side while I gave birth to my baby.
Every profession has its stars and its duds, and obstetrics is no different. But as people who examine our most intimate body parts and care for us during some of the most vulnerable moments of our lives, it's especially important that an OB be honest, empathetic, and supportive. In the end, I knew that I wouldn't be able to trust this OB to support me or make credible recommendations during labor and birth, so I examined my local options. After careful consideration, I switched to a midwife-led practice, and was thrilled with my care and my birth experience.
If any of the following things I found scary make you think of your OB (or any other care provider), say something to them about it or switch to a new provider if you can. Your experiences in pregnancy and childbirth matter, and this time in your life is too important (and has too much of an impact on your long-term health and happiness) to entrust to just anyone. Your provider will come and go, but you and your family will have to live with the consequences of their actions forever.
If you are an OB reading this, please don't get defensive. Do better. I was lucky enough to have a low-risk pregnancy and had multiple options available to me when my first provider failed me. But regardless of their conditions or anything else, people shouldn't have to choose between high-quality, professional medical care and being treated with the respect and dignity any human being deserves.
She Made Everything About Her
Even though I was going to her because I was planning to birth a baby, this OB-GYN centered herself in every interaction we had. Sometimes it was in seemingly small ways, like stating her plans for how she would "deliver" my baby (Was she the stork? Or did I order a pizza?). Other times, she would try to push me into accepting a certain treatment or intervention by telling me that she "felt very strongly about it," instead of providing credible evidence that it was necessary for me.
I don't see a doctor for their feelings, I see a doctor when I need help or expert advice concerning a medical problem. A doctor who prioritizes her personal hunches over actual evidence is scary to me.
She Didn't Listen To Me
Despite seeing my medical history form, my former OB would recommend things to me that had nothing to do with my actual health history or risk profile. For example, she repeatedly offered me the HPV vaccine because she assumed I was at "high risk of exposure," even though I was already too old to receive it when I started seeing her and had been in a mutually monogamous marriage for the entire time I saw her.
She Dismissed My Concerns...
Like a lot of women, I experienced pregnancy loss in a prior pregnancy that made me anxious in my most recent one. Rather than being reassuring — most women who experience pregnancy loss later have healthy pregnancies — she immediately began recommending an aggressive treatment protocol for my current pregnancy.
It didn't seem to make sense for someone who had never experienced any other reproductive challenges aside from that one loss, and the potential side effects worried me. Still, she said it was "no big deal" and that I should just agree to it, even though I told her even the mildest ones on the list would probably have left me feeling too exhausted and sick to work or care for my family.
...And Exaggerated Hers
Like any diligent patient, I asked her for any evidence she could give me that the treatment plan she was suggesting for me was appropriate for someone like me, or that the potential benefits outweighed the potential risks. She offered neither, instead just repeating that she felt strongly about it, and saying how upset she'd be on my behalf if I lost this baby, too.
There are few things I despise more than people who exploit mothers' emotions to push us into making decisions we might not choose otherwise. I knew if she was that aggressive (and light on facts) during pregnancy, there was no way I could trust her during birth.
She Framed Everything As A Problem…
Every time I left an appointment with my ex-OB, I always felt anxious and worried. Unlike my midwives, who constantly reassured me of how healthy and capable I was, my old OB focused on things I shouldn't do (or interventions I should agree to) for fear of everything that could possibly go wrong during pregnancy and birth. She treated me like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.
...And Took It Upon Herself To Try To “Fix” Me, With Or Without My Input
Despite our back and forth over the treatments she recommended, and my wanting more information before I agreed, I was surprised to get a call from a compounding pharmacy several days after one of my last visits. Even though I hadn't consented to it, she had already sent over all of my information and her recommended protocol, and placed an order in my name. I started looking for a new provider as soon as I hung up the phone.
She Wouldn’t Fully Answer My Questions...
Every other decent care provider I've ever seen — doctor, midwife, or otherwise — has always provided me both with in-person answers and written information about any diagnoses, proposed treatments, or prescriptions. That's just basic.
...And Oversimplified Things Instead
Instead of giving me concrete information and evidence in response to my questions, she would give generalizations and emotional appeals.
I'm a grown woman. If I ask for statistics or data, that's what I want in order to make my decision.
She Misrepresented My Care Options
In addition to recommending extra treatments, my ex-OB ordered extra exams and tests that I later found out weren't routine (like she had originally said when she recommended them). Not only did that waste my time and cause me unnecessary discomfort, it ended up costing me extra money because my insurance didn't cover them.
(Surprise bills when you're already balking at the cost of having a new baby is definitely scary.)
She Didn’t Treat Me Like A Whole Person
It's understandably difficult to get to know patients when you only get to see them for ten or so minutes at a time. However, even if you can't get to know someone personally, that doesn't mean it's OK to forget that they're a person and not just a bunch of parts you examine. By acting like my quality-of-life concerns about certain interventions didn't matter, she showed me that she wasn't taking into account how they might affect me beyond the one particular outcome she was trying to prevent.
But I wasn't just a pregnant uterus; I'm a person who has other relationships, goals, and responsibilities besides staying pregnant and having a baby, and even the "minor" (as in, not deadly to me or my baby) side effects that wouldn't affect her would definitely affect me. Doctors who forget that their patients are whole people? Scary.