12 August 2011

Why We Chose Midwifery Care :: Part 1 of 3

When it comes to explaining how and why we chose a midwifery model of pregnancy and birthing care for our pregnancies, I have to go back in time a bit and share some stories with you. This series will be comprised of three parts. In Parts 1 and 2, I will describe two very different, but very important experiences I had going to various doctors. In Part 3, I will explain how these experiences changed how I think of modern medicine and the approaches used, and how it brings me to where I am today.

Before I do that, however, I will preclude the stories with a brief disclaimer:

When it comes to having selected a midwifery model of care for my pregnancies, I speak only from my own experience. I claim no expertise in the fields of midwifery or obstetrics, and make no claims to know what is best for each individual pregnant woman and her family. Recognizing that a variety of experiences and reasons inform a woman's choice of who will provide her with the best care, I have nothing against any person who chooses an obstetrical model of care for her pregnancy and birth. I believe every woman should choose the form of care which she is convinced will provide the best experience and outcomes for her and for her family. 

* * * * *

As a kid, I was in and out of the doctor. I was one of those kids who caught the flu bug pretty much every year and consequently spent at least two or three days at home on the couch with a glass of 7-Up and a big golden-colored Rubbermaid bowl nearby for those times when I just couldn't make it to the bathroom in time to get sick. An allergy sufferer, I knew waiting rooms well, and stick tests, shots, antibiotics, nose spray, inhalers, and being prescribed a daily course of multiple colorful medications. There is no doubt modern medicine helped me out of a compromised immune system and some of the most intense allergies our new local allergy specialist had ever seen. I needed medicine, and you had better believe I was grateful for it (and I still am).

7 years old

Fast forward a few years ... a senior in high school, I was on the way to Seattle for for a university preview weekend with some friends when we got in a pretty serious car accident. I was a backseat passenger and we hit another car going around 50 miles per hour. Though the car was totaled, we were all okay. The next morning, I woke up with an incredibly stiff neck, hardly able to move my head from left to right or back again without incredible pain. My mom made me an appointment with her chiropractor and my dad picked me up the next day and brought me home.

The chiropractor gave me a soft neck collar to wear and prescribed a frequent course of spinal adjustments and massage therapy to help with the soft tissue damage. It was severe enough that there was tingling in my arms and hands, numbness in my face, and a constant, throbbing pain at the back of my head like someone was repeatedly hitting me with a Louisville slugger. Though my tolerance for pain was fairly high, there were times it got to be more than I, or any dosage of ibuprofen could handle. At twice the recommended daily dosage, I was still in tears, unable to concentrate or to sleep. Though I put on a happy face in public, I was deeply miserable.

The chiropractor referred me to a neurologist to assess the extent of the soft tissue and nerve damage, and also for physical therapy. Like many specialists however, the neurology appointment came with a several weeks-long wait. So I continued going to the chiropractor (which helped me noticeably), getting twice weekly massages (which, sadly, are not as fun as they sound when dealing with that level of soft-tissue damage), and physical therapy appointments. These appointments came to comprise the whole of my after-school life.

After just a couple of weeks, I was obviously no longer able to manage the pain on my own, so I scheduled an appointment with our family doctor to discuss pain management and to see if there was anything else I could take to manage the pain -- at the very least, to help me sleep.

I told him about the accident, about the course of treatment I had already taken, and about how I was taking twice the daily recommended dosage of ibuprofen every day, and it wasn't even putting a dent in my pain.

I've got an idea, he said, smiling. If your neck is giving you problems, how about we just cut it off? He said it with a wry grin, obviously amused with his clever comment. But I was in no mood for the  particular brand of humor that involved amputation.

And for the pain, why don't you just take some ibuprofen?

While I was customarily patient and attentive with professionals whose help I was seeking, dealing with the unremitting and intense pain over the course of weeks had cut my patience short. I had no tolerance for his joke about "cutting it off." His instruction to take ibuprofen indicated to me that he really hadn't been listening attentively after all. I reminded him that in my account, I had shared that I was already at twice the recommended dosage (as published on the bottle), and that it wasn't putting a dent in my pain. I unashamedly and quickly added that while I was undergoing treatment to deal with the root of the problem, I was then and had been in a level of pain that was interfering with my studies, my activities, my relationships, and my sleep, and that I needed something more than ibuprofen if I was expected to function at all in my senior year of high school.

He was clearly taken aback by my impassioned reply. Though I cannot remember what he said in response, I remember walking away with prescriptions that would both help to manage the pain during the day, and that would help me to sleep at night. Given my childhood full of doctors offices and prescriptions, I was none too keen on taking drugs for much of anything unless, of course, they were absolutely needed. But these I knew I needed, and I took them gladly.

When I got home, my parents could hardly believe what he had said to me. The next day, my mom called the doctor's office and spoke with his nurse about what he had said to me, and how inappropriate it was to tell a girl who was obviously in a great deal of pain to just "cut it off" and to keep taking something that was not helping.

Well, she is going to a chiropractor, the nurse replied. The word "chiropractor" was dripping with obvious disapproval. And, she continued, informing my mother, The dosage of ibuprofen your daughter was taking is fine. It's not going to hurt her.

Yes, we are going to a chiropractor, and that is our option, my mom replied. And with how she was just treated in your office, is it any wonder?

Little did I know at the time that my frustration was not to end there.