I will never forget the patient or the day it happened. Assigned to my residency team, we had watched her vigilantly because she was 39 years old and pregnant with her first baby. Although she spoke no English the love that she had for the miracle growing inside of her could be understood in any language.
She had begun to have premature contractions at 33 weeks and we were trying to prolong her pregnancy for just a little bit longer to allow the lungs to develop. For approximately one week, we monitored her blood, her temperature and fetal movement. One of her tests ultimately indicated that she was developing an infection so we decided to induce her. We would then transfer the baby to the special care nursery where, under the watchful eyes of the neonatologists, he would continue to grow. My team was not on call that night although, in retrospect, I wished the heck that we were. We signed out the patient to the on-call team before we left. We gave them explicit instructions on how often to monitor the patient and discussed her complicated history. She was having, what we, in obstetrics called, a “precious baby” meaning that an older woman was having her first child. When we went home that evening, the baby was alive. When we returned the next morning, it was dead.
“What happened?” I asked as a volcano of anger started to mount. I received a litany of excuses, none of which made sense. Essentially, they missed an opportunity to intervene at the proper time and perform an emergency cesarean. By the time they got their act together, the baby was dead. There was a heated exchange of words between the male chief resident and myself. Another resident had to jump in between the two of us because at that moment, I was ready to swing.
Later that afternoon, the patient demanded to see her baby. We retrieved his body from the morgue in the basement, dressed him in a beautiful blanket and the social worker attempted to console her in her native language. I knew that I could never bring her baby back alive but from that moment on, I vowed to never allow a tragedy of that magnitude happen again.
In today’s tough U.S. economy, healthcare is in the forefront because of the three trillion dollars spent each year. Patients are not seeing their money’s worth and neither is the U.S. government who writes the check for a large percentage of it. The cost of women having babies too early or prematurely costs our society $26 billion dollars each year. Something has to give.
Women’s health is the topic of great political debate as you may well be aware if you listen to the news or watched both political parties’ national conventions during the past two weeks. Do women control their destinies? Do we and will we continue to have control over our bodies? These are the questions at hand. While there’s great chatter about this topic as the U.S. election nears, there’s also a quiet revolution occurring in our healthcare system that will directly affect pregnant women.
Prenatal care as we know it will begin to change, especially if you receive Medicaid or government sponsored insurance. The current trend is to visit your healthcare provider’s office individually and wait to be seen. In the future, you will be seen by your healthcare provider as a member of a group, not as an individual. This is called enhanced prenatal care with group appointments and will be the wave of the future.
Groups of 10 pregnant women will be seen at the same time for approximately 10 prenatal visits that will last approximately 90 minutes. It is anticipated that 2 healthcare providers will not only take your vital signs, listen to your baby’s heartbeat, but will also allow you to interact with the other patients in this group setting to discuss prenatal issues, receive health education information and any concerns that you may have. Believe it or not, this model of care is not new. The concept was called Centering Pregnancy and was developed by nurse midwife Sharon Shindler-Rising in 1989.
In the future, doulas and social workers along with midwives will become more prominent in terms of prenatal care as things continue to evolve. Are you ready for group prenatal visits?
‘It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. ”If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
What an outrage! Someone really has to draw the line. First, you mandate a diagnostic test such as ultrasonography prior to pregnancy terminations and demand that the woman view the fetus. Then you tell women they can’t have birth control on one hand and then condemn them if they have an abortion on the other. And now you have the temerity to suggest that the human body can categorize the atrocity of rape into a “true-false” mode. Are you kidding me?
So what are you saying, Representative Atkins? Do you think a rapist’s sperm is color-coded so that the ovary will put up a barrier to prevent its penetration to a woman’s egg? Will the fallopian tube sound an alarm when the process of fertilization comes from a rapist’s sperm? How will the human body be able to differentiate the sperm of a rapist from the sperm of a consenting adult? Will a woman’s body produce shock waves to the rapist upon his unlawful entry? How will a woman’s body be able to “shut that whole thing down?”
Do these candidates get screened for intelligence? Atkin’s statements are both reckless and unequivocally false.
“A lie unchallenged becomes the truth.” Please do not allow this lie to prevail.
Journalist Nicholas Bakalar of the New York Times wrote an article that addressed a profound issue regarding pregnancy: Does Fear Make Labor Longer?
Over 2,000 pregnant women in Norway were given a questionnaire at 32 weeks to determine if they had a fear of labor. These women were then followed to determine how long they were in labor and according to the study, there was a 47 minute difference in the length of labor of 165 women who feared childbirth compared to those who don’t. Why is this important? It’s important because fear is something that we can control.
Three of the most empowering things a pregnant woman can do are request a tour of the labor room before she has a baby, take childbirth classes and request pain meds or an epidural if she experiences pain while in labor. When a pregnant woman is calm, the unborn baby is calm but if she’s writhing in pain, the adrenaline that she’s producing affects the baby and inevitably causes fetal distress. Prolonged fetal distress means emergency c. section.
One of my most memorable deliveries was as an intern during the late ‘80’s. Recording artist Anita Baker was very popular back then. I was astounded when a very “Yuppy” expectant father, pulled out a tape cassette and played Baker’s tape while his wife was in labor. He requested dim lights and held his wife’s hand as they listened to my favorite song, Sweet Love. Although I respected their privacy, I was never far from their room. His wife ultimately had a beautiful, uncomplicated delivery that left an indelible impression.
No, everyone doesn’t have to listen to Anita Baker while they’re in labor but they should do what makes them comfortable including receiving an epidural or pain meds if necessary. You don’t have to be stoic. Here’s a quote from The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy that I’d like to leave you with: “The Force that moves the air within our lungs, the blood within our veins, is the same force that has created the life within your womb. The most important key to a healthy pregnancy is the consciousness that lies within. Your child will be shaped by your thoughts, your dreams, your values, your energy. You are the ship that will carry the baby to the shores of its preordained human experience. Please let the journey be smooth.”
You are smarter, stronger and more brilliant than you could ever imagine. Childbirth should not be feared. It should be celebrated.
Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi’s participation in the Olympics makes me nervous but I can understand her dilemma. It’s not every day that a woman receives the opportunity participate in such a renowned event, especially if she 35-weeks pregnant. At 36 weeks, most healthcare providers would strongly advise against traveling by air because the change in the barometric pressure has the potential of causing premature rupture of membranes, or quite simply, the “water” to break. Certainly no one wants that to happen while flying at 32,000 feet in the sky. Taibi not only has to worry about traveling safely from Malaysia to London and back, but hopefully the noise from the gun shooting during her competition will not produce any undesired effects of her unborn child such as hearing loss.
Taibi represents a new generation of women who have crossed over into unchartered waters based on their performance of untraditional roles. Auto mechanics, airplane pilots and astronauts are just a few of the many new occupational roles that women have assumed. In the case of Taibi, it was her father who put a gun in her hand and introduced her to the firing range at the age of 15. Fourteen years later at the age of 29, she has qualified for the Olympics which is a phenomenal achievement and will represent her country.
Hopefully, Taibi won’t develop preterm labor as a result of the sheer stress of Olympic competition. She is creating history and the medical community needs to do research on her for the next 10 to 20 years to determine if her late-pregnancy Olympic participation has any negative effects on her baby’s future development and health.
We know that the fetal ear develops from 8 weeks gestation to 28 weeks and the most common cause of children’s hearing loss is caused by abnormal development followed by infection and trauma. More than 10% of children aged 6 to 19 years loss suffer noise-induced hearing loss in one or both ears in the U.S. according to medical studies.
Taibi says participating in the Olympics is a chance of a lifetime. If you were 36 weeks pregnant, would you compete on a shooting range in the 2012 Olympics?
In Native American culture there is a premise that Nature thrives on order but it is man who creates the disorder. That thought came to mind last month when I presented yet another malpractice case for review with a panel of colleagues. A patient wanted to be induced at 39 weeks and inevitably had significant complications with a poor birth outcome. In my expert opinion, I suggested that the physician should have waited until the patient was 41 weeks before she attempted an induction and one of my colleagues thought that I was vehemently wrong. “She was full-term and entitled to an induction” he practically shouted in my ear. “That’s not the point,” I countered. There was no reason to do the induction except for physician and maternal convenience. I reminded him that most high-risks specialists will start fetal monitoring and nonstress tests (NSTs) at 40 weeks to document fetal well being and then induce labor at 41 weeks if it has not started spontaneously.
At 39 weeks, the cervix is usually thick which means it has to be softened with medication before Pitocin (the medicine that starts contractions) can be given. Anytime an induction goes beyond 48 hours, there is a strong possibility that it will end in a C-section. At 41 weeks, the cervix is usually soft and if an induction must be started, it has a much greater success rate for a vaginal delivery.
Very few physicians will allow a patient to deliver beyond 42 weeks because the baby gets too big and the placenta becomes old. An “old” placenta, aka “grade 3” means the baby could possibly receive inadequate oxygen and inevitably there will be meconium which is an internal bowel movement that sometimes indicates fetal distress.
According to the Bloomberg News, “Aetna has renegotiated maternity payments with 10 hospitals around the country so far, bringing rates for cesareans and vaginal births closer together.” This will inevitably decrease my colleagues’ checking accounts but please do not look for sympathy from me. The standards of medical care were written for a reason. Performing inductions of labor for the sake of “convenience” is certainly not one of them.
A Maryland jury made history by awarding Enso Martinez and Rebecca Fielding $55 million dollars but there are no winners in this tragedy. Enso Martinez Jr. has irreversible brain damage and Johns Hopkins Hospital will spend resources that could be used for research for direct patient care, to defend their care of Fielding.
Home birth in the U.S. has increased by 20% in part, because of Ricki Lake’s documentary, The Business of Being Born. Women want to have their babies at home despite the admonishment and warnings from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. To all pregnant moms who want to have their babies at home, I get it. I truly do. You want a comfortable intimate environment to have what you deem is a “natural event” without “unnecessary intervention.” You want to be like the celebrities who have had successful home deliveries. But here’s the problem: your home is not equipped to deal with emergencies and they DO occur. Just ask celebrity mom Christine Turlington Burns, who experienced a postpartum hemorrhage and had to be rushed to the hospital in order to save her life. Obstetrics is a specialty of the unexpected. You MUST be prepared for emergencies.
Fielding entered Johns Hopkins Hospital because the baby was “stuck.” The midwife couldn’t deliver the baby because it was either too large or she couldn’t manage a shoulder dystocia. According a blogger, Dr. Amy Tuteur, Midwife Evelyn Muhlhan’s license was suspended by the State of Maryland because of five homebirth disasters including Fielding’s delivery.
An ambulance brought Fielding to a hospital where she allegedly waits for over 2 hours for blood test results. A c. section is delayed. A baby has brain damage. Take home message?
Know your midwife’s professional record. Does she have malpractice suits? Has she been sanctioned by the state medical board for negligence?
Meet your midwife’s ob-gyn back-up. The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy discusses this in detail. At the first sign of trouble, Muhlhan should have contacted her ob backup. If she didn’t have one, she was begging for trouble.
Have a PERSONAL copy of your prenatal chart with you and your back-up hospital or birthing center should have a copy as well. This is standard prenatal procedures. Having a homebirth doesn’t change that. Your prenatal record contains all of the important information including blood type and blood count. No one, I repeat NO ONE, is going to bring you into the operating room without knowing your blood type unless you are hemorrhaging to death. Had Fielding had a copy of her prenatal record, she might not have encountered the delay.
If you’re going to have a homebirth, then please take the necessary precautions. An ounce of prevention is always worth more than a pound of cure.
In the Native Americans culture it is said: “If you want to learn the lessons of life, please observe Nature.”
My oldest son brought home a cabbage seedling from school to enter in a contest. If his plant grew the largest, he would win a $1,000.00 scholarship. For the first 2 weeks he faithfully nurtured the plant but then his attention span decreased as basketball and track gained more prominence on his radar screen. His father felt sorry for the abandoned plant and sat it on top of soil in a larger pot so that it could receive some sunlight. The larger pot represented a burial ground of a deceased plant that had met its untimely demise due to unintended neglect.
A few weeks passed. We assumed the plant was dead. On a lazy Sunday afternoon a hint of spring was in the air as flowers blossomed. The sun shone brightly and my spouse stepped into the backyard to get some fresh air. A few minutes later, he beckoned my son to come outside in a voiced filled with excitement. The cabbage plant was miraculously resurrected. Although still confined to its original container it had somehow dug its way into the soil of the larger pot and was now firmly attached. It was thriving with large, thick green leaves and had a significant growth spurt. What a teachable moment. Ignoring the confines of its container, the cabbage plant sensed a window of opportunity in the form of fertile soil and literally – dug in. We cut away its first container to allow it to thrive even more.
Pregnant moms, a tree is known by the fruit that it bears. The seed within you has the potential to blossom into infinite possibilities if given the proper nourishment. When the challenges of life attempt to intimidate or discourage you be like the cabbage plant and ignore the external barriers. Deflect negativity. It cannot do you harm if you ignore it. Focus instead, on the potential within.
What can we learn from the cabbage plant? We learn that the will to live is far greater than any external challenge.
Is it wrong to be born? That question was asked in front of an Oregon jury who responded in a resounding yes with a guilty verdict of 12 to 0 against Legacy Center for Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Legacy Lab. The jury awarded nearly 3 million dollars to Ariel and Deborah Levy for the wrongful birth of their daughter, Kalanit who was born with Down syndrome although the prenatal tests said that she was normal. Levy was 34 years old at the time of her pregnancy with Kalanit and requested genetic tests. She had two previous deliveries of healthy boys and thought she had completed childbearing. Her pregnancy with Kalanit was a total surprise and she wanted to make sure the baby was normal. A chorionic villus sampling (CVS) was done at 13 weeks and the results were good. Levy breathed a sigh of relief, but not for long.
Although the CVS result was normal, Levy’s two ultrasounds weren’t. They were suspicious for Down syndrome but her physician assured her that she had a normal baby and did not bother to do an amniocentesis. When Kalanit was born, a hospital worker informed Levy that she appeared to have Down syndrome. One week later, the diagnosis was confirmed. Levy and her husband were devastated. How could this happen? Kalanit has a rare form of Down syndrome called Mosaic Down syndrome meaning some of her cells do not have abnormal chromosomes.
The Levys initiated a lawsuit in 2007 for a wrongful birth. They contend that although they love their daughter, had they known she had Down syndrome, they would have terminated the pregnancy. The trial languished for 10 days. The Levys received death threats. The Pro-Life and the Pro-Choice supporters squared off in predictable fashion and I shake my head in frustration. The ultrasound didn’t lie. An amniocentesis was warranted. The Levys did not make an informed decision regarding the birth of their daughter because they were not given the correct data.
Physicians don’t walk on water. On some regretful occasions, we will make mistakes. If for any reason you’re not comfortable with your physician or the diagnosis given, please get a second opinion; or even a third. And above all, trust your instincts.
Was it wrong for Kalanit Levy to be born? I’ll let you be the judge.
A lie unchallenged becomes the truth. While I admire GOP candidate Rick Santorum’s decision to raise a special needs child, I certainly wish he would keep his political agendas out of my exam room. Yes, it takes love and courage to raise a child with Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder that’s associated with severe physical and mental challenges. However, this does not make Santorum an expert on prenatal tests and to say anything to the contrary, is both reckless and immoral.
Prenatal tests, especially those that tests for chromosomal abnormalities, are optional. A woman can decline the tests if she chooses to do so and I’ve had patients who have exercised that perogative in the past. But first, let me tell you why these genetic tests are so important. If a woman discovers that she has a baby with Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down’s syndrome, both she and her pediatrician will have time to prepare for possible complications. Many genetic disorders are associated with heart conditions and require immediate surgery after birth. There are instances where the baby is born with a pediatric cardiologist in the delivery room who then whisks the baby away to have a life-saving cardiac procedure. This cannot happen if you don’t have the prenatal test.
In my 25-year career as a physician, I’ve only had 2 confirmed cases of Trisomy 21 and both mothers decided to keep their pregnancies. However, please be aware that there are some genetic disorders that are incompatible with life and the baby expires shortly birth. Most mothers do not want to experience that type of emotional trauma.
Mr. Santorum, please stop using Women’s Health as a stepping stone to gain entrance into the White House. If you can’t campaign for President based on truth and merit, then perhaps you’re not cut out for the job.