Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility. -Malcolm Gladwell

About two months into my pregnancy, my regular ob/gyn decided to just concentrate on gynecology. She was nearing retirement age and apparently had enough of delivering babies. She wanted to focus only on the vagina, sans child. I had recently moved to a new town, it was good time to look for a new ob/gyn closer to my home. Finding a new ob/gyn was challenging.  I met with several. I searched the west side, the village and downtown looking for the perfect doctor.  I went about my search like I was vetting someone for the Presidency. I narrowed my list down to three candidates. I read reviews of them online and googled for any malpractice lawsuits against them. When I met them in person, I interrogated them thoroughly on various topics. I have watched too much TV in my lifetime. I always pictured my ob/gyn as a Dr. Huxtable like character who would be happy to be at my beck and call at all hours of the day and night, ready to answer any question I had with a smile on his or her face and warmth in his or her heart. I pictured my ob/gyn dropping by my home casually to check up on me throughout my pregnancy and us having brunch occasionally on the weekends. What I found in my quest was that for people who were in the business of helping couples achieve the happiest moment in their lives, most ob/gyn’s came off a little egotistical and some were just assholes.

Eventually I chose a practice affiliated with what used to be *St.Michael’s hospital in New York City. It was a small practice with two doctors, *Dr. Smith and *Dr. Lewis who had very good patient reviews and were highly regarded by their peers. I felt confident in my decision. I was around twelve weeks pregnant when I arrived for my first appointment with Dr. Smith.

The receptionist greeted Bobby and I right away and she handed me a mountain of paperwork to fill out. She informed me that Dr. Smith was running a little late, as she had a delivery to tend to at the hospital. “She shouldn’t be much longer.” I didn’t let the lateness stress me out, my body was fatigued and I was happy to sit, read and relax for a while.

A couple of hours passed by and the receptionist kept reassuring everyone in the waiting room that Dr. Smith would be back to the office soon. I nodded and smiled through the mounting tension. I wanted to ask if I could reschedule but if I had opened my mouth I would have thrown up. A few weeks into my first trimester I developed a disgusting taste in my mouth. As I write this, I’m reminded of the taste . Ugh! I have been asked often to describe it and I always answer this question the same way. Copper pennies, pee, poop, sugar, bird food and chocolate syrup poured on top. That is what the taste was like. For three months, almost four. Disgusting.

Four hours later, Dr. Smith finally arrives. She held her head down, afraid to make direct eye contact with anyone in the angry mob of patients who had been waiting for several hours to see her. She scurried past the waiting room and disappeared into an office. The waiting room was now full of pissed off women in various stages of pregnancy. There were three very distinct groups that resembled something of a high school hierarchy:

  •  The Freshmen—The pregnant women in their first trimester suffering from fatigue, extreme hunger and bad taste in mouth disease. I am in this group. Our pants are unzipped and we are wearing belly bands and baggy tops. We think we look cool, but we don’t. We had banned together hours ago to survive the wait, sharing sour patch kids, pretzels, gum and mints.
  • Next, there are the Sophomores and Juniors. They have made it past the awkward freshman phase. They look down on us. They are well dressed and have thick, shiny, enviable Pantene commercial hair. They are comfortable in their pregnancy and are probably having sex without worrying about the penis hurting the baby.
  •  The Seniors—The seniors are done with this. They want their pre-pregnancy bodies returned to them immediately. Their backs and legs are sore and they are not sleeping well. They are staying up until three thirty am watching re-runs of “Roseanne” and” Full House.” They have passed all of their tests and are ready for graduation day.

Finally, a nurse ushers Bobby and me into a patient room. She takes my blood pressure and then weighs me. Dr. Smith enters the room and the nurse hands her my file. She makes a weak attempt at small talk and is apologetic about the wait. I don’t care. My first impression of this entire office is terrible, and it didn’t improve over the next few months. Another bad choice, I think to myself. I am hungry and tired. The taste in my mouth is torturing me and she is talking too much. Randomly, I think about how good she would look with a berry tone lip gloss and a soft pink cream blush . She has a thriving medical practice and is on call 24/7, a husband and two kids. Who has time for lip gloss? She looks over my blood work. Everything is perfect. I am in outstanding health. I have great blood. I have been doing all the right things.

She then lathers my belly with blue gel to prepare for the sonogram. As soon as she places the transducer (that’s right… I know what a transducer is) on my belly and we hear the heartbeat.

I forget about the wait and the taste in my mouth. My frustration disappears.Boom, boom, boom, boom. Our baby’s heartbeat is strong.

Hi Mommy and Daddy!

As Dr. Smith continued the sonogram, we can see our baby flipping around and around. The baby seems to know exactly where the camera is and we laugh at the baby “posing” for close-ups—like mother, like daughter.  Dr. Smith counts fingers and toes, measures weight and length. She points out the baby’s vital organs. The baby looks big on the screen, but in reality is the size of a fig. I take a deep breath of relief after every announcement that my baby is perfect. The baby is doing great. Must be all those smoothies I’m drinking.

I’m in love.

Over the next couple of months rumors of the hospital possibly closing started circulating in the media. There were huge staff layoffs. Patients began panicking and flooded the doctor’s office with calls and emails. The doctors held a meeting with their current patients to reassure us that the hospital would not close. They have been through this type of thing before. They guaranteed that everyone at the meeting would deliver at St. Michael’s.  The guarantee did not alleviate my fears. Everyday there was new story in the papers. Hospital employees and local residents began protesting outside of the hospital on a daily basis. I knew I wanted out during our Maternity Ward visit. It did not look like a place where lives began. It was desolate, abandoned and understaffed. Most of the labor and delivery nurses who worked in labor and delivery had worked there for ten years or more. They tried to put on a brave face for us as we went about our tour. We were new parents to be and they didn’t want to scare us away.  Have you ever heard the saying, “nurses know more than doctors?” Although we had the reassurance of Dr. Smith and Dr. Lewis, something beneath the nurse’s stares as we walked through the Maternity wing revealed the truth. St. Michael’s is doomed. Your baby will not be born here. Find another hospital ASAP.

I took their advice.

I was twenty-eight weeks pregnant when we met Dr.B. His entire practice, made up of several ob/gyns came highly recommended and they were affiliated with a hospital closer to my home. I was lucky to find him. I like to think that he was lucky to find me too. Most of the ob/gyn’s I called didn’t take patients in the third trimester. Dr.B’s office took me, no problem.

My first appointment was early in the morning. Bobby and I were ushered into a patient room immediately. No wait. Small talk with the nurse. Blood pressure. Weigh In. Hop up on the examination table.  Wait for the doctor.

Dr.B had the swagger and confidence that one would expect from someone with his resume and years of experience. He was tall and handsome. He belongs on a TV show. He seems too serious. I’m funny. He wouldn’t crack a smile. I was already on the defensive. I immediately put him in the asshole category. Loosen up. Do you have any fun?

As he reviewed my chart, I started to think of very random things. I wondered why his face didn’t have any lines. How old was he? He has to be over 50, what work has he had done? It is very natural and looks great.  Who did it? I like his eye color, but he needs a haircut. I picture him driving a Maserati, vacations on a yacht in St. Bart’s and fancy dinners at Del Posto. Like a veteran soap opera actor he has played out this scene countless times in this room and knows exactly what to say and thinks he knows how to say it. He answered every question I asked with a nonchalant, robotic tone. He scolds me for having already gained twenty-five pounds with twelve weeks left to go until my due date. I warned him about the danger of insulting a woman about her weight, pregnant or not.

Finally, he smiles! He is human.

We continued the delicate dance of getting to know each other. Doctor and new patient. Bobby watched in amusement and said very little, he knows how I am. I am testing Dr. B. “Can you handle a patient like me?” The mood lightens. He is tolerant and very thorough in his explanations. I noticed his gold wedding band and from the way that he talked, I could tell that he had children. He has a habit of repeating himself until I nod in agreement. I feel bad for labeling him an asshole.

The appointment draws to a close after a half hour. Dr. B gives me a few final instructions. He shakes Bobby’s hand and then mine. Before we leave, I ask him one more question. “Do you like your job?” He looks at me, with a bewildered grin. I might be the first patient to ever ask him this. Still holding onto my hand and looking me straight in the eyes, he answered, “Yes, of course. I’ll see you next week.”



*Names  have been changed to protect privacy.








2 Responses to We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility. -Malcolm Gladwell

  1. Timoria, I’m pretty sure we had the same ob/gyn, and I had the exact same first impression! And then I absolutely loved him. I thought your description was so spot-on that I just read it out loud to my husband and he was laughing too.

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