Are You Scared Yet?

Many of my Musings come from articles I read or podcasts I hear. This one stems from a more personal place. In the past few weeks, a number of women I love as well as some close friends have given birth. In contrast to my own pregnancy experiences, these perfectly healthy women were subjected to test after test during their pregnancies. This placed the focus on what might go wrong rather than enjoyable anticipation. Even worse, many of them were strongly urged to induce labor as soon as they reached their due dates. When they wanted to wait for a natural start of labor their doctors asked some variation of the question, “Everything looks good now. Why would you want to wait and risk your baby’s health?”

We don’t get to choose a risk-free life in this world. By definition, risk-free and life don’t go together. Sometimes, the upside is so great and the downside so small, that reasonable people can all agree. As a society, we understand that running across a freeway poses serious risk not only to the runner but also to drivers who may swerve to avoid mowing someone down and end up hurting themselves or those in other vehicles.

Other times, personal choice dictates different levels of acceptable risk to different people. Climbing beautiful Mt. Rainier near Seattle, may end in injury or death for some, but there will be those who make the decision to risk that outcome. As someone who finds the lure of the mountain not at all compelling, I can refrain from the activity myself while not trying to stop others from ascending. And then, there are those times when we can’t actually know what path is riskier, and each of us should be allowed to chart our own course.

What happens at those times when, “experts,” be they government officials, medical personnel or academic know-it-alls, promise safety without acknowledging that what they are actually doing is exchanging one risk for another? What do you do if someone “in charge” wants to make your decision for you?

If we hear about this happening years ago, we smile patronizingly, sure that we would never be so easily misled. Were mothers in the 1960s convinced by experts that baby formula was a more nutritious first milk than that made by the mother’s body? Did their desire to do the best for their babies lead them to the wrong conclusion? Surely, in our modern times we wouldn’t be so naive.

That conclusion only proves that hubris is alive and well. So is the need to be willing and strong enough to follow our own counsel and the collective wisdom of those we trust.

It seems that cultural forces continue to assault pregnant women, a group in a vulnerable situation. Welcoming a temporary resident into your body is a most curious experience. One feels a strong urge to rely on one’s medical team for guidance. In the past, ignorance and arrogance have led doctors to ignore findings recommending hand washing between deliveries (circa 1850), provide anesthesia that wasn’t always safe or condemn women to pain and, a few years after birth, accuse loving mothers of being “icebox moms” who caused their children’s autism.

This year’s trend (being pushed most heavily by newly minted doctors) seems to be rushing to induce labor even when there are no specific indications causing concern. From the doctor’s perspective, I can somewhat understand. Modern medicine is truly miraculous. Babies are born who would have had no chance of life even twenty years ago; now they not only live but they thrive. That has to make it harder for doctors to lose a newborn, especially one who might have lived had she been delivered earlier.

The threat of litigation in adverse circumstances hangs over medical professionals. Inducing labor grants them more control. The birth can fit better into the hospital’s schedule and their own. Sadly, things can go undetectably wrong in utero, so if the baby and mother are looking fine why not circumvent the unknown?

The answer is that artificially starting labor comes with its own risks. If the mother’s body isn’t quite ready, her labor will likely be slower and longer. Her risks of a Caesarian rise, potentially leaving her recuperating from surgery when she could be feeling great and enjoying her newborn (and the surgery has its own risks). Extra days give a chance for the baby’s body to be that much more mature. For religious individuals, there is value in letting God take the lead in choosing the best time for birth.

Six of my own children were born between ten days and two-and-a-half weeks past their due date. With God’s grace, they were all healthy and all the deliveries were straight-forward. My story is not an outlier. A due date is an estimation, not a sentence that one rushes to complete. Yet it seems that doctors today are giving women unnecessary mental anguish by warning them that the perfectly reasonable act of waiting might damage their precious child’s health.

In calling for new limits on the behaviors of Americans in response to Covid, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s words were full of weak language: (emphases mine)

“In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with a Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others…”

She neglected to mention that the lockdowns and masks she was advocating bring with them serious risks of their own.

Similarly, a still birth or a late-pregnancy complication is tragic and traumatic for the doctor as well as for the baby’s parents. But acting as if an earlier delivery date has no potential negatives or implying that most women who go past their due dates have bad outcomes reveals insecurity, inexperience and ego rather than science.

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13 thoughts on “Are You Scared Yet?”

  1. Yes, I am scared. I have 5 young children. I am scared as I watch the medical world join forces with a government that does not have our best interest at heart. But I also find that I have a faith and courage in God that I never knew I had! I always struggled with having faith. But now that evil is so rampant in our country, I find that God has given me a fierce courage and bravery to protect my children. And I am humbled and grateful for His gift. Thank you to you and Rabbi Lapin for the huge part you are playing in bringing me this courage.

  2. So relatable, Susan. Each of my three babies went well past their due date, the last 10 pounder significantly so, but I trusted my gut and let Mother Nature dictate the natural delivery date. Thank goodness my providers allowed me that option without interfering needlessly. So many parents of late report stories of near coersion when trying to make decisions about continuing their pregnancy when there may be a possible complication ahead. I pray that they continue to trust in God’s plan and in their good common sense. God bless!

  3. Those very concerns are some of the reasons that Beautiful and I opted for home births for the majority of our children back in the eighties. Even then both hospital experiences were horrible. The first, because the hospital was so uncomfortable and there were many screaming women who did not want peace while birthing (I don’t know why they wanted to scream). The second, because the attending medic tried to physically restrain the baby from coming out. And yes, we did have midwives at home.

    1. Lloyd, I had very positive experiences in the hospital, I have to say. I also know couples who have had good experiences with home birth. And I know others whose hospital experiences led to problems and others whose home births included rushing to a hospital. We are not in total control. We can only make our own best decisions.

  4. Yes, this is so true as an RN I’ve seen doctors suggest this and I’ve also heard them criticize new mothers who are afraid of the pain. It’s a heartbreaking reality that so many couples have relied on the medical profession and been misled. As a healthcare worker I believe it’s important to inform patients of the impending and potential risks but never to invoke fear for the sake of time.

    1. Janet, I feel like we keep on going through cycles. There was a push for gentler, more natural birthing and now we’re going back to unnecessary intervention.

  5. As a mother of 3 whose first child was delivered by emergency C section, which led to the following 2 becoming “scheduled” c sections, I totally understand what you mean. Thank God I was able to stop the OBs team fear and anxiety from robbing me of pleasant experiences. Looking back now I’m sure the mental anguish would have surely made the outcomes worse if I had adopted their levels of fear and angst. As a doctor as well I understand their reasons, but jeez, sometimes my doctor peers need to simply remember that ultimately they are not God and our Creator knew what He was doing when He created women and the birthing experience.

  6. Awesome article Susan and how true, I’ve heard with my own ears with my granddaughter and a friend’s grandbaby how doctors are dictating delivering babies in their time frame, not the mother/baby. Also upsetting my granddaughter that the baby probably has a health issue. Key word, probably!
    Thank you for revealing this atrocity.

    1. Bonnie, as Tinashe says in another comment, many doctors have trouble accepting that they are not in ultimate control. Medicine can do so much and that sometimes leads to too much.

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