I know firsthand how important it is to have a good relationship with your doctor. If you don’t, you’re much less likely to let her know if you have a problem, or to get help when you need it. Unfortunately, it seems like there are a ton of questions your OB-GYN will ask you that might inadvertently make you feel some major mom guilt... and lose that trust.
On the face, some of them don’t seem so bad. I mean, I’m sure my doctor didn’t realize my struggles with breastfeeding would mean her nonchalant inquiries about it would make me feel like crap. There are also questions like, "how is the baby sleeping," or "is she sleeping through the night, yet?" Which can make you feel totally sh*tty, if the answers are "terrible," and "hell, no." Then there were questions that feel subtly body shaming about pregnancy weight gain and postpartum weight loss. They made me feel pressured to do the impossible and totally contributed to my feelings of failure. We have really got to start cutting moms some slack.
I've had OB-GYNs question whether or not I should take medicine for nausea and depression, whether I should be induced (for freaking medical reasons), and whether or not I "really wanted" an epidural. These made me feel like I was hurting my baby by taking care of my health and that’s not OK. While I know that it’s important for healthcare providers to ask us questions about sensitive topics, I also know that there’s this thing called "bedside manner" that can improve patient relationships and generate trust, which is so important. So there are quite a few things that I wish my OB-GYN hadn't asked, including the following:
"Do You Plan Stay Home With Your Baby?"
It always feels like the preferred answer is yes. But, many moms choose to work or have to work to support their families. Add to that a reality where nearly one in four American moms report having to go back to work two weeks after birth and many more, including me, had to take unpaid parental leave, lose their jobs, or go back to work before they were fully recovered, and it's no wonder that this question creates a lot of guilt.
"Are You Eating Healthy?"
I had hyperemesis gravidarum during my last two pregnancies, which meant that I vomited multiple times daily, and didn't gain much weight at all in my first trimester. So, when I saw an OB-GYN who hadn't read my chart but did see that I hadn't gained weight, the assumption was always that I wasn't eating enough.
The same OB, by the way, refused to prescribe medications to help with nausea and vomiting, despite evidence that they are safe. Later, when I could actually eat, sometimes the only foods I could keep down were not healthy. I mean, have you ever vomited salad? It sucks. So, then questions about my diet felt shaming, and answering them made me think I was failing as a mom before my babies were even born.
"Are You Planning To Breastfeed?"
I actually wouldn't have minded this question, if it was only asked once and if they took my response seriously. I have insufficient glandular tissue and could only produce about half of what my baby needed on a good day. So when they asked this at every damn appointment, I felt like I had to explain my long and sordid breastfeeding history again and again. It made me feel so much guilt and like I had to re-live my breastfeeding "failure" every time. It also made me wonder why this information wasn't written down in my damn chart.
"Are You Still Breastfeeding?"
I hate this question, because it always feels shaming. Breastfeeding is such a huge source of guilt for new moms, and if you have troubles, or decide to stop, it can feel like you have to explain yourself to everyone. I kind of wish my OB could just skip this one, because damn, it hurts.
"Are You Sure You Want An Epidural?"
Honestly, unless there's a medical reason for avoiding an epidural, the proper response to a laboring person's request for one is not to ask them if they are sure. It's to say, "I'll order that right away." It seems like when people talk about birth choices, they assume that women want to labor sans medication. Asking a laboring person more than once about her choice to get an epidural sort of implies that epidurals are bad, and it totally contributed to guilt and shame I had about not having a "perfect" birth.
"Are You Sure You Want To Be Induced?"
This one was laughable, because my induction was for preeclampsia and not my choice at all. A mix up with my medical records resulted in three separate people coming in and asking me this question. Then, when the maternal fetal specialist finally got my messages, they started my induction — 12 hours later. Even though I had prepared myself for having to be induced, being repeatedly questioned about it caused me so much anxiety and guilt.
"Is Your Baby Sleeping Through The Night?
So here's the thing. Some babies are crappy sleepers. Others figure it out early on. New motherhood is hard and most of us lose more than a little sleep in the process. Also, as someone who is had three babies slept like crap, I can tell you that you don’t have to ask, because, if my baby was actually sleeping through the night I would shout it from the rooftops (or perhaps buy a billboard).
"Have You Been Exercising?"
When asked this during pregnancy, I always felt like lying. Especially when my husband was there and actually asked the OB to tell me to "take it easy." After childbirth, I did take it easy, because I was recovering, and then I felt like it was a subtle commentary on the fact that I hadn't yet lost the baby weight. Not cool.
"Have You Had Sex, Yet?"
Yes, I totally know that my OB-GYN is a relative expert in sexual and reproductive health, but I always feel like this question implies that I am a dirty slut for not waiting until the recommended six weeks after birth, or a horrible prude when six weeks came and went, and I pretty much didn't want to have sex ever again. There has to be a way to ask this that imparts health information, without also assuming that everyone has the same sex drive and plans for resuming sexual activity.
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