We met for the first time when I was 5 centimeters dilated. I had been in labor for six hours when I walked in the triage room for Labor and Delivery and I was in just enough pain that it was edging out my fear about what was about to happen.
This was our first baby, and we had spent the past nine months preparing for what labor would be like. We had gone over and over what we would say to you and how we would say it in hopes that you would listen and support us. We knew there was a good chance our OB would not be on call when it came time to deliver our daughter, and we struggled with how we would get you to understand us in the brief span of time we would have between when labor began and when our baby girl would be delivered.
I was only in the hospital for four hours before my daughter was born. I spent maybe an hour total time with you. Most of my time was spent in the company of kind, supportive nurses.
But when I look back on my labor, I remember you. I remember the feeling I had when you were in the room, the feeling you gave me when you spoke to me. The harsh way you spoke to me as I labored, the condescending tone of your voice. I remember the way you looked at me, like you were tired of dealing with me, like I was an inconvenience to you. Like you wished I would just lay back and shut up and make it easier on you.
You came to my room once after the delivery was over. All you said to me was this: “You made that way harder than it had to be.” Those words still haunt me. What I heard was “You did bad.” For a patient who wanted a “gold star” from her doctor, you told me I had failed. I heard that I was selfish, and that I made everyone else’s job harder so I could have what I wanted. Every ounce of the little girl in me who was sent messages from authority figures to be quiet and un-selfish, to listen to the people who “knew better”, to obey “authority” felt incredibly ashamed. You were the all-knowing, well-educated male expert, and I was just the silly, emotional woman who had some fairytale in her head about what birth would be like. And man, I believed that for a really long time.
When I hear stories about women who were supported and cared for in their births, whose choices and wishes were heard and respected, I feel a jealousy that numbs me. It is hard for me to listen to a birth story without feelings of anger coming up when I think about you. As time passes and I think of you less and less, I try to remind myself not to dwell on the negative of my experience. I try to remind myself that my baby and I are healthy, that I did accomplish my goal of a natural, drug-free birth. I try to remind myself that not all doctors are like you. I think about how you are only human, and I wonder what has happened in your life that has made you who you are today.
And I pray both you and I will grow from our short experience together. Maybe someday you will read this and recognize yourself and choose more compassion for your future patients. And I will continue to work on letting go of my experience and choosing hope for any future birth experience I may have. Until then, I am going to have to accept that I didn’t get a “gold star” from you on the hardest day of my life. But I did get a pretty amazing prize. And right now, that’s enough for me.