After almost every prenatal visit when I was pregnant with my first child I would cry. The midwives in the only practice our student insurance would pay for were so mean that we ended up switching to the doctors. When I refused what I considered nonsensical testing, they would look at me sternly and say things like, “You’re going to buy yourself a C-section if you don’t do the glucose tolerance test.”
Without telling us why, my favorite doctor in the practice (a young woman with two small children herself) ordered an “emergency ultrasound” when I was eight and a half months pregnant. That’s what she called it: an emergency ultrasound. My face felt tight and when I looked at James his skin was ashen.
When I asked nervously why, the doctor mumbled, “Inter-uterine growth retardation. You’re measuring too small.” She snapped the paper mandate off the pad, turned on her heel, and started to walk out of the room.
“Could it be because I’ve been biking every day?” I suggested feebly to her receding white-smocked back.
After six and a half months of morning sickness, I felt like someone washed the windows. I was happier and fitter and more energetic in the last two months of my first pregnancy than I had ever been in my life.
“I read that women who exercise sometimes measure small or have smaller babies…?”
“Absolutely not.” The doctor left the room. Late, no doubt, for her next appointment though she had spent a total of five and a half minutes with us.
So many medical practitioners, even many midwives, treat pregnancy as an illness. Even the gentlest practitioners want to “manage” your pregnancy. They tell you what to eat, how much weight you should gain, how often you should exercise. They scold you if your pee is too yellow (“You should be drinking more water”) and furrow their brows if your blood pressure is too high (“This is a possible sign of pre-eclampsia. Expect to go on bed rest”).
Many women, especially first-time moms, appreciate being guided through every month of a pregnancy. They believe all the testing and the managing will insure a healthy baby. They believe, like I did, that health care practitioners have the best intentions.
Besides, people in the medical establishment know what’s best for us and our bodies and our babies.
But do they really? Though prenatal visits can be a comfort to parents, a pregnant woman does not actually need to be charted and tested and doctored. Unless you plan to abort a baby if the tests come out questionable, there is little reason to do them. If something is going wrong in your pregnancy, your body will tell you as much and then you can go to a doctor. What a pregnant woman really needs is not prenatal visits, invasive (and often inconclusive) testing, and scolding. She needs to be loved and supported and fed healthy food and given adequate rest and time to be outside and moving her body.
When was the last time your doctor made you a healthy meal or offered to watch your children while you napped or took a walk?
I’m tired of people telling me what to do and how to manage my body. I don’t find it reassuring to pee on a stick and be told there is no protein in my urine. I don’t need a doctor (like my friend’s husband who stayed at our house and ate yellow cupcakes for breakfast every morning) to tell me how much weight to gain. I don’t even need a midwife to remind me to eat salad. I don’t need a midwife’s assistant to palpitate my belly so hard it hurts. And I don’t really feel like filling in numbers on a form that will get stuck in a chart to certify to health professionals I hardly know how many people I’ve had sex with.
We’ve opted not to have any prenatal “care” during this pregnancy. Instead of paying a doctor or a midwife to tell me to take my vitamins, I’ve used that time to write in a journal to Pineapple, to take walks, to work, to watch my daughters’ gymnastics classes, to talk to friends, to volunteer at my son’s kindergarten, and to read everything I can, from thick novels written by my great love Charles Dickens to Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. (Ina May, by the way, thinks the glucose tolerance test is pretty much unnecessary and misguided.)
This personal choice is a threat to a multi-billion dollar industry that treats the prenatal period like a disease. Rejecting prenatal intervention may not for everyone but it’s been an incredibly liberating decision for me.
In the meantime, if you have a doctor who holds office hours outside and takes you walking in the park for the monthly prenatal visit, send me a phone number.
(Photograph courtesy of Koeby Johnson.)