Tag Archives: Birth

Bliss

I’m at the end of my second week at my new obstetrics residency.

It has been an amazing two weeks. I’ve been at the ambulatory women’s health clinic at the community health center. I’m going to be on L&D soon.

I am going to get my own Doppler! Eep!

Today, I got to do an initial prenatal on my cousin Susan. She had a smile when I opened the door, even though she had already been waiting for hours. As I went through the whole checklist of her health history, I got to hear about her challenging first birth.

She had her records. She had her operative report. She told me she wanted to try for a VBAC. By all criteria, she was a good candidate. I told her that I was happy to say we were just told that the physicians’ group affiliated with the women’s center would now be accepting VBAC candidates because of our residency! The attending physicians and residents would be providing coverage to fulfill the requirements of the hospital. (One of my attendings high fived me when I told her the news!!)

I mentioned that the hospital already had the lowest cesarean rate in the county. She smiled and said she knew. At the end of the appointment, she told me she had researched her options on the ICAN website. I laughed and said that I was a fan.

This.

Plus, did I tell you I’m going to get my own Doppler?

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In which I try not to overthink blogging and share some funny stories

I had a few stories I wanted to share, and I resisted writing on here until they reached some sort of critical mass. I felt a little weird suddenly posting over and over again. I think getting into ob/gyn residency has jazzed me up in a way that cannot be ignored. I’m trying to look at it as a rejuvenation of my spirit for blogging and medicine, and not overthink what it meant about my spirit and confidence over the last two years. Anyhooooo….

Plus, I have worked ob/gyn clinic for two straight blocks recently, simply a complete coincidence, because neither of these two blocks are going to count at my new site. Ob/gyn just lends itself to a bunch of hilarious stories. I have a serious delve-into-the-evidence-because-something-is-stuck-in-my-craw kind of post a brewin’, but I won’t mix that in with the fun stuff from today.

Needless to say, no names are used, no specific descriptors are used (except for tattoos, I guess), not all stories are recent, and details are bent to obscure the innocent. None of these are my real patients, they are all stories about my cousin Susan’s adventures in health care, rewritten as my own patients to make it easier. And, needless to say, this is ob/gyn related stuff, so if discussion of private parts and fluids gets you discombobulated, you may want to go look at some lolcatz or something.

Story # 1

A patient and her husband were explaining a recent trip to the patient’s gynecologist (I was seeing her as a family practice resident). She was having an irritation down below. Her husband’s helpful explanation of the diagnosis: “My sperm, when it comes out, it’s so hot it BURNS her.” Emphasis emphatically his. I bit down a giggle and asked, “Sir, if this isn’t too personal, may I ask if your sperm has ever touched your own skin? Say, on your hand? It didn’t burn you, right? I don’t think that’s the issue here.”

Story # 2

This one is an in-the-biz special.

Electronic fetal monitor

Electronic fetal monitor

Heard on the labor floor: “I know! The pink one is for the girls, and the blue one is for the boys, right?” I kind of thought the pastel colored binary gender straps were a bit silly, but I didn’t think they’d be confusing. Maybe I should have.

(For those not in the birth biz, that is an external fetal monitor. Both of those get used on everybody, regardless of the gender of the in-utero passenger.)

Story # 3

Maybe I should have realized it could be confusing or important to patients. At a two week postpartum follow up, a mother’s biggest complaint: “Everyone keeps getting him confused with a girl.” I eyed the 13 day old wrinkled baby in a blue hat, blue clothes, blue car seat covered with a blue blanket suspiciously as he slept in a very non-gender specific way. “I don’t think he’s very worried about that right now.” What I wanted to say was, “Now I think it’s a bit early to start imposing roles on it, don’t you?” in my best Graham Chapman voice, but I restrained myself.

Story # 4

I see a lot of interesting tattoos in my line of work. I have two tattoos, and I am not judging people who have them. In fact, having a tattoo in certain age groups is actually more common that not having one. Some of the people I hung out with when I was younger had some highly questionable tattoos. A friend of mine dated someone who had a tattoo on his leg of a manatee with an erection. That was only one of the list of questions I had about her choice of this guy, but hey, poor dating choices happen to the best of us.

I was triaging a young woman in labor, and when I raised her gown to attach the eternal fetal monitors (as seen above) to her burgeoning belly, I saw two dolphins dancing on either side of her navel. I said “Oh, look! Dolphins!” Then I glanced at the cursive writing underneath her navel. It read “Wet Pussy”. And they say the kids aren’t learning cursive these days. Wait, maybe that’s a good thing for her offspring.

Not judging. Not judging.

I also saw “Respect My Mind” tattooed on a patient’s hand, which I kind of liked. It was next to a 305, which is our area code here in Miami-Dade, for the reader who is not a local, or isn’t familiar with Pitbull. (Ironically, also my birthday. OG, here. Ironic because the longest I’ve ever listened to the song was just now to copy the link.) It’s a common tattoo, on that always makes me sarcastically wonder if they’re afraid they’ll forget the area code. Maybe they just want to remember my birthday. If she did forget the area code, I’d have trouble respecting her mind. Or, I would at least try to figure out why she wasn’t oriented.

I saw “Most Hated”, which I kind of didn’t like. Well, it made me wonder about the history and self esteem of the patient. It also reminded me of the brother of a tattoo artist in a city I lived in years ago, a brother who was notorious for being a conceited, inebriated, loud, omnipresent nuisance. He had the nickname of “the Hated Joe Schmo”. Even though he was covered with tattoos, courtesy of his super cool brother, I don’t think he had “Most Hated”. It would have been appropriate.

I saw “Live Fast Die Pretty” on someone’s arm. That made me giggle.

Story #5

Not really a funny story, but something I wanted to share. I was wrapping up my ob/gyn rotation, and one of the nursing students who was also at the site told me that she would want to go to me as an obstetrician if she was ever pregnant. I am always grateful and pretty much floored when someone from inside the system tells me that. We were working with several wonderful obstetricians at the time. I don’t think it was a commentary against them. I don’t mean to get all sappy, but I think I love it so much, it really shows when I am talking to a patient. I also think it is uncommon for someone to be a mother, a patient, and frankly an adult with real world problems before becoming a physician. I am not knocking my younger peers. They say they don’t know how I do it as a mom. I don’t know how they do it as a young adult coming of age. I think my empathy comes from a different place than some physicians. Even physicians who are parents often became parents second, and were navigating the medical side of pregnancy and birth with a much greater ease and insider perspective when they went through it.

Should I throw in another story of hot jizz to wrap this up? I am fresh out, at this time. Let’s see if this newly renewed excitement carries through to me finishing the post about epidurals and informed consent, too.

Until then, live fast and die pretty.

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Reply turned post, I reject your reality! style

OK for Mythbusters, not for health advocacy

I have been participating in the Facebook group VBAC Facts Community for a little while now, ever since meeting the wonderful community founder Jen Kamel at the VBAC Summit last year. It is a supportive group, and Jen runs the site well with the help of moderators and a good foundation of evidence.

This group, at times, can be a good example at how distorted internet microcosms can make uncommon opinions seem much more accepted. In this community, using midwives and having a home birth comes up in almost every thread, it seems. I have seen using a midwife treated like a hipster fashion choice recently on Jezebel and other sites. However, midwife attended births still make up less than 10% of births in the United States. Hardly a huge trend. Midwives are underutilized here compared to many other countries with better maternity and neonatal outcomes than we have. But, depending on your source, midwife attended and/or out of hospital births may seem to be common or even a glorified standard. However, in the circles I travel in my daily grind as a physician, choosing out of hospital birth is fringe, reckless behavior.

So, it’s like entering a portal in another world when I participate on a thread in the VBAC group, and the commenters have a heated argument about epidurals, and many participants did not get one. On our labor and delivery floor, it is a rare to never occurrence that someone wouldn’t get one. Because out of hospital birth, choosing not to have an epidural even if you deliver in a hospital, and VBAC are such rarely available, rarely supported choices, I am usually on the side of defending people who advocate for such choices as underdogs, not the holier than thou bullies that many paint them to be.

It’s also a really strange place for me to be in when I gently try to correct medical inaccuracies, and I sometimes get painted as a brainwashed surgico-technocrat physician. I correct fellow physicians when they say all VBAC is dangerous. For real, even my attending physicians. I also have corrected fellow physicians who state episiotomies are preferable to tearing. But, I also correct women in the VBAC group who state things that are medically inaccurate, like that worsening hypertension in pregnancy is not serious and does not warrant an induction or cesarean unless the fetus is in distress, or that leaving the hospital midlabor is a reasonable course of action if one is faced with unwanted interventions (in one particular thread in which I was painted as a typical brainwashed South Florida cesarean happy physician, the intervention that warranted attempting to leave midlabor was continuous external monitoring).

These are not the majority opinions even in this microcosm. But, they are often aggressively defended positions. One that has come up repeatedly, recently, is an insistence that tubal ligation is linked to “post tubal ligation syndrome”, which leads, according to some posters, to the majority of women needing hormonal interventions to control heavy menstrual bleeding, and / or hysterectomy to control intractable post procedure pain.

I think these communities are incredibly valuable, not just because of the sharing of strictly evidence based facts. I think a lot, even the majority of the benefit is the support and stories from other women who have experienced similar choices and situations, or share similar priorities and stories. I think in the VBAC community, and in pregnancy and mothering as a whole, there is so much value to support, empathy and stories. However, there is a big difference between asnwering an original poster who says “what was your experience with tubal ligation?” and someone answering “geez, I had pain and menstrual irregularity after” and an original poster saying “I am planning on a tubal ligation” and a slew of commenters saying “NO! This is PROVEN to cause a, b and c horrible side effects to the majority of women who get it!” and usually a touch of “Have you considered Natural Family Planning?”

Sigh.

I have reluctantly been the heavy in many of these conversations, but it is triggering a bunch of pet peeves of mine. 1. Medical inaccuracies masquerading as facts. 2. Ignoring the expressed informed choice and priorities of the woman posting and substituting the commenters’ own priorities and (often faulty or anecdotal at best) information

So, this coalesced into a recent thread, and here is the reply I posted:

“This is the best article I have found on post tubal ligation syndrome:

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejm200012073432303#t=articleResults

It is a good article because it compares women who have had tubals with women whose partners have had vasectomies. It is also a good study because it has an N number of over 9,000 subjects who had the tubal ligation. It is also authored by a group from the Centers of Disease Control (the CDC). There is no economic conflict, and the New England Journal of Medicine is about as high quality a publication as it gets. Here are the results:

“The original concern about sterilization involved the risk of heavy bleeding and intermenstrual bleeding, but we found no evidence of either problem. Furthermore, we found that women who underwent sterilization were likely to have decreases in the amount of bleeding, the number of days of bleeding, and the amount of menstrual pain and an increase in cycle irregularity. We know of no biologic explanation for these changes, most of which were beneficial, in women after tubal ligation.”

I don’t think there’s any evidence of widespread issues post tubal. In fact, this high quality study seems to indicate the opposite. I am not saying a tubal ligation is right for everybody, but I do think it is inappropriate for every thread on here in which tubal ligation is mentioned to devolve into a pronouncement that tubals are PROVEN to cause these problems, often with alarming figures like half of all women who get tubals end up with hysterectomies, etc.

As I have also said, it is inappropriate at best and borderline bullying at worst for women on here to disregard a woman’s stated informed choice and substitute their own priorities, especially if they are coming from a place of anecdote and questionable information. It is also inappropriate to ignore a woman’s expressed desire for a highly effective form of birth control (like a tubal or IUD) and to tell them to try NFP* instead, when it has a typical failure rate much higher. I hold a woman’s right to make informed decisions about her reproduction to include highly effective birth control if desired as well as safe options for trial of labor after cesarean.

I am not a surgery lovin’ medicoindustrial defending brainwashed doctor. I trained as a midwife, had both of my kids unmedicated** with midwives, and have never used hormonal birth control myself due to my own priorities and reasons. I support low intervention birth and VBAC for two main reasons which may seem contradictory, but are wonderfully not. 1. It’s a woman-centered approach and 2. It is an evidence based approach. Bullying women into avoiding their choice of safe contraception is neither.”

*I love this site for comparison of contraceptive methods: http://www.birth-control-comparison.info/
**The first labor was augmented with pitocin without my informed consent, but was otherwise unmedicated

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The past, present and future

Howdy, blogland. Long time no see. Oh, and happy Mother’s Day.

It’s been a rough string of months. I had personal changes, a 40th birthday, a malignant rotation, a psoriatic arthritis flare, the stinking IRS is holding my refund for some sort of random review, a struggle with the black dog, and now I topped it off with a nasty viral infection that doesn’t want to leave my lungs.

But, things are looking up. Or, I have to start looking at the positive. I got my schedule for next year. Most rotations, I will be doing two days a week of clinic, which I am really looking forward to. I have zero nights, zero swing shift for the year. I’ll get to do some rotations I am looking forward to, like radiology (I hope I get to focus a lot on ultrasound) and hematology. I also will get to do a full four week block of clinic and one block in a community health center, so I’ll get my share of outpatient medicine. Hooray! I also have a block of NICU and a block of obstetrics, among other hospital based blocks.

I went to a social event with a lot of members of the local natural birth community, and everyone seems to be eager to work with me in the future. I see a lot of possibilities. I have always kept myself motivated by imagining what my future would look like. I am imagining a future with a practice in a freestanding birth center, doing women’s health, prenatals, family planning, lactation medicine, pediatrics, and possibly even some births. One of the local obstetricians said she would welcome me into her solo practice to see her clinic patients. This may be a more compatible future than doing hysterectomies and cesareans.

So, the future is bright. I just have to free myself from the gloom of the recent past.

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Breaking the silence

I am happily coming down off the high of presenting at the Medical Students for Choice annual conference – I was part of a fantastic panel on Protecting Choice in Birth. I felt honored to be sharing the table with some brilliant people – two wonderful ob/gyns, two reproductive justice lawyers, and little old me. We talked about the legal and ethical underpinnings of patients’ rights and choice in birth: site of birth (e.g. out of hospital birth), VBAC, even use of a doula or refusal of certain interventions.

It was a wonderful experience. The director of MS4C told us the response was so overwhelming that the conference was buzzing about our panel, and we are definitely invited to return. I learned a lot from my co-panelists, and loved the enthusiastic response from the audience. One sweet medical student literally had his jaw agape when Farah Diaz-Tello, from the National Association for Pregnant Women, described a woman who had her baby taken away and put in foster care for simply wanting to postpone signing a blanket consent for any intervention or procedure during her labor and delivery. She had a healthy, spontaneous vaginal delivery with no complications during her SECOND psych consult (after the first psychiatrist deemed she was clearly mentally competent and allowed to refuse consenting to an unnecessary hypothetical cesarean), and apparently her six year old is still not in her care due to the red tape surrounding her case. Jaw dropping, indeed.

I talked about my journey, including being a patient, mother, midwifery student, doula and research fellow before becoming a doctor. I discussed the hostile-to-patient-autonomy atmosphere in South Florida, my fellowship research on labor interventions, and how to present risk to patients.

I almost burst into tears when my co-panelist, the lovely and dynamic Dr. Hanson, showed pictures of twins and breech births she has delivered all over the world. I did end up tearing up during lunch, not just because birth is moving and emotional, but because I am slowly accepting that I will most likely never be doing these difficult deliveries, and my wonderful copanelists innocently asked me about my residency plans. I may not be doing deliveries at all.

I got a decent amount of invitations to obstetrics residency programs. I am slowly canceling them, one by one. I simply cannot justify moving my two boys to a city where I don’t know anybody, then disappearing to work my ass off 80 hours a week at all times of day or night. I also don’t want to put them in public schools in the Deep South. When I got divorced during my third year of medical school I knew that would mean facing residency as a single mom. The divorce was worth it, but now that I have experienced the reality of how hard internship is, even with significant family support in my home town, I had to reconsider my options.

I will most likely be pursuing a family practice residency at a local residency program, probably at the hospital where I am doing my internship. Yes, obstetrics can fall under the family practice umbrella, but I would be the first family practitioner to get hospital privileges in the greater Miami area in recent or remote history. In other words, the chances of that happening falls between not likely and impossible. Yes, not even if I do an obstetrics fellowship, which would involve leaving town for a year. It’s just not the standard of care here, even if it’s normal in other parts of the country. And my custody arrangement stipulates that I practice here after training. So, even if I move for residency, I would have to uproot again and come back.

I can still do women’s health. I can still do prenatals. I can do lactation medicine, including the pediatrics portion. I can even be the medical director of a local freestanding birth center, just not their backup surgeon. Which, honestly, was never a huge draw for me. I want to be at the normal pregnancies, not a back up for the ones that go wrong. I can do family planning. I can still do academics, including medical ethics, which is an interest of mine.

So, most of the time I am ok with this. Most of the time. I have a lot to be happy about. I have great kids, good family support, a supportive director of my residency program, relatively good health, friends, a cute little house, a fuzzy loyal dog, and a blossoming (very tentative!) new relationship with a nice guy. And I’m a doctor, for Chrissakes. With a job in a shitty economy.

So, anyway, another permutation on the journey. Let’s see how it plays out.

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Preventing primary cesarean

Hi! Internship has been keeping me busy. So has getting together my presentation for this year’s VBAC summit. I had an hour and fifteen minutes to talk. I went over, and I still didn’t cover half of what I wanted to say.

The First Cut is the Deepest. (I can’t figure out how to embed the viewer.)

You can find the mp3 to hear me speaking to go along with the presentation. I explain. A lot. I also tell funny stories, horrible jokes, and pass out chocolates. Sorry, the chocolates are not available through the internet.

MP3 of me: https://www.wepay.com/stores/vbac-summit/item/preventing-primary-c-sections-what-you-need-to-kno-717302
MP3s of all of the presentations: https://www.wepay.com/stores/vbac-summit

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Reply turned post, from abortion to homebirth style

Hello! Hey, I’m a doctor!

Please go read this excellent article at RH Reality Check: Why Birthing Rights Matter to the Pro-Choice Movement.

Here is a great quote from the author Laura Guy, who is a doula (yay!) and a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) (double yay!):

But let’s be clear about something. Reproductive justice means that everyone has complete control over if, when, where, how, and with whom they bring a child into the world. It means that people have accurate, unbiased access to information regarding all facets of their reproductive lives, from contraception to pregnancy options, from practices surrounding birth to parental rights. It means that our choices are not constrained by politics, financial barriers, or social pressure. In other words, how can the right to give birth at home – safely and legally – not be on a reproductive justice advocate’s radar?

As I commented on the article, I was thrilled when, during the keynote address at my first Medical Students for Choice meeting, the speaker mentioned out of hospital birth. Reproductive rights are full spectrum. They start before sexual activity begins – bodily autonomy begins with birth, stretches through childhood with protection from oversexualization, extends through accurate sexual education, includes contraception and freedom to choose when and how to become sexually active, and definitely doesn’t end once one decides to carry a pregnancy to term. The ability (or lack thereof) of women to choose the site and mode of their delivery, among other important issues of autonomy during pregnancy, are key ways that women’s rights are challenged daily in this country. Pregnant women are not human incubators.

So, seems like a bunch of mutual appreciation society activity here. Where is the angst that usually prompts the reply-turned-post? Well, on the RH Reality Check link of Facebook, one commenter says: “This is great and it’s also important for women to have the right to medical interventions (like elective C-sections) they feel are right for them.”

Here is my reply:

‎@Kathleen – within reason. Feeling something is right is one thing, but unnecessary medical intervention is not a “right” per se.

It’s a very nuanced issue that may not fit well in the comments section on Facebook. For example, evidence and expert position statements warn against early induction. Feeling like an induction is right is not enough of a reason to get one. Take it from someone who has been in the paper gown, sick of being pregnant, and in the white coat – many women feel like an induction before the end of pregnancy.

Also, someone who is a really poor candidate for vaginal delivery (placenta previa, for example), may feel like they want a vaginal delivery, but it is not medically advisable. Same goes for women who are poor candidates for homebirth. I think homebirth is an excellent option for good candidates. Not all. There is a role for practitioners to play here, too.

As a physician and most likely a future ob/gyn, I will be one of many practitioners who need to constantly work that balance between respecting a patient’s autonomy, providing good informed consent, and practicing good medicine with a good conscience. Medicine is more than ordering off a menu.

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