Crimes and Misdemeanors: Enter Random Pediatrician
It’s remarkable how easily would-be perfect birth experiences can become tarnished. An unsupportive comment, a flippant remark — women remember these details all their lives, even when they’re made by inconsequential hospital staff or strangers. In the best case scenario, it can leave a bad taste in the mouth, and in the worst, it can contribute to postpartum depression. It can take months, even years, to process injustices experienced during that hospital stay.
A client from my January class emailed to tell me about her happy, beautiful birth. She is an intelligent, conscientious 24 year old woman who had put significant time and research into her childbirth education and birth plan. And that’s the thing. She figured that was all there was to it. Great providers, lovely birth, healthy baby. The key components of an experience that can leave a woman feeling at peace the rest of her life. She couldn’t believe her daughter was here – she did it!
Enter random pediatrician.
The mother was interrogated as to why her birth plan indicated that she brought her own oral vitamin K to the hospital. The doctor said she didn’t like oral vitamin K, and that she wanted the woman to use the hospital’s vitamin K injection instead.
The mother was confused. She said she did research on this and felt good about her decision. She obtained the oral vitamin K through a naturopathic physician and her decision was supported by the midwives who had attended her birth. She knew it was her choice: She could use the hospital’s pharmaceutical vitamin K injection, or bring her own oral vitamin K to the facility, or skip vitamin K altogether. (All three are within a mother’s legal rights under federal and state law. Look up Informed Consent. It’s one of the Constitutional rights that makes this a free country.)
With the mother’s permission, I’ll tell you what happened next in her own words:
“So after having my birth plan for oral vitamin K pre-approved by my midwife, a total of three different nurses and pediatricians gathered to tell me I was endangering my baby’s life by not getting the shot. The pediatrician even said ‘Twenty-five per cent of all babies who don’t get the shot will end up with a stroke or hemorrhage of some kind.’ I assured the doctor I had done my research, and never heard that statistic before, she said, ‘Well, you probably Googled your info but I’m a real doctor so I know what I’m talking about.’ ”
Some doctors sure do hate Google.
The doctor then assumed a sensitive expression and said, “I know you would never forgive yourself if something as terrible as a stroke happened to your baby and it was entirely preventable from the start.”
Scared and unsure about the terrifying statistic that one-quarter of human babies are born faulty and need the vitamin K shot to spare them from strokes or hemorrhage, the mother opted for the shot. (Wouldn’t you?)
Now that she’s home, she knows she was lied to and bullied. And she doesn’t even remember the pediatrician’s name.
According to Medscape, “The incidence of classic vitamin K deficiency bleeding ranges from 0.25-1.7 cases per 100 births.” That’s as few as one in four hundred — a far cry from the doctor’s ‘twenty-five per cent’.
Now then, let’s ask this – and I hope you know the logical question that’s coming next:
Did the doctor read this mother the Merck pharmaceutical insert before injecting the baby? By law, she was supposed to inform the mother of the risks of the shot. (This requirement also falls under voluntary informed consent laws.)
According to MedicineNet.com and other online resources, the pharmaceutical insert for the vitamin K injection reads: “The injectable form of vitamin K can rarely cause severe (sometimes fatal) allergic reactions when given by injection into a muscle or vein. Therefore, vitamin K should be injected into a muscle or vein only when it cannot be given by injection under the skin or taken by mouth or when your doctor has judged that the benefit is greater than the risk.”
So first of all, the insert says the intramuscular shot is a last resort, only when the baby cannot receive oral vitamin K. Who knew? The mother was onto something.
Second, can we all look at that final phrase…”or when your doctor has judged that the benefit is greater than the risk”? That’s there because the hospital lobby is combined with the pharmaceutical lobby – they’re in bed together. (Any doubt? Read Steven Brill’s Time article Bitter Pill sometime when you have an hour or two to soak up all the discouraging factual details of corruption and conflicts of interest in America’s medical system. The doctor could bill the mother’s insurance company for the injection, but not for the oral vitamin K. Did financial incentive play a role in this story? Or did we merely come across a pediatrician who is abominably misinformed in her own field of study.)
Sorry, folks, but this stuff gets me going and we could use a little more whistle-blowing throughout the country. I hear stories like this every week. (Another recent client of mine was being pressured into induction when she was low-risk and healthy at full-term. Her OB’s argument was, “Well, I want to induce you because the risk of stillbirth is eleven per cent when a mom goes post-term.” (Want the truth? Click here and you’ll see it’s more like .001 per cent. Oh, and here’s another fun fact, Pitocin isn’t even FDA approved for the purpose he intended. Did he tell her that part? Guess.)
Healthcare for women and babies stands no chance of improving while doctors like these are set on bullying and intentionally misinforming women when they’re at their most vulnerable. Financial conflicts of interest have no place in healthcare. Doctors should be paid excellent salaries. No argument there. But those salaries shouldn’t go up the more intervention they push on moms and babies, and they shouldn’t get away with breaking informed consent laws. These conflicts of interest are hurting our society. In other countries, profits aren’t tied to childbirth, and that’s why it’s safer to birth your baby in more than fifty other countries – including Serbia, Croatia and Cuba. (Don’t believe it? Check this out.)
If you have been a victim of lies or bullying tactics in the hospital, get the doctor’s name and submit a letter to the hospital administration. Such doctors are liabilities to the hospitals in which they practice, just as they’re liabilities to trusting patients. Then, when you’ve submitted your letter to the hospital, talk about it. Blog about it. Share your story. Too many women leave with their heads hung, knowing they can’t fight the system and don’t have the means or energy to sue. By talking, you can help to shift this social problem from covert to overt. It deserves everyone’s attention. It should become widely-discussed, within households and among politicians.
Doctors may not agree with parents’ choices. They don’t have to. It’s their job to inform, period. To intentionally bully and lie to a mother about her baby’s healthcare options and the risks of interventions is unlawful. It’s a crime.
But if we’re not talking, then no one’s listening.