By Dr. Robin Fawcett
I got pregnant during my second year of residency training. I waddled bravely through 80-hour work-weeks, determined to show my physician colleagues that pregnancy hadn’t made me weaker or slower. But then I received unprofessional advice from my obstetrician, and I began to question the integrity of our entire medical system.
Specifically, my OB made two errors when I was under her care for our first child, Henry. The first was at my 18 week ultrasound, which revealed two cystic structures in Henry's brain. They are harmless in themselves but can be an indication of a chromosome abnormality. The recommended management is to offer genetic counseling and potential amniocentesis, or do nothing. Instead, I was advised to have regular ultrasounds to monitor the cysts. It was simply the wrong advice. I knew enough of the medicine to realise it, so we said no.
In fact, and as a bit of an aside, there is an epidemic of unnecessary ultrasounds in US obstetrical practices that goes against medical advice. Often, OBs comply because patients enjoy the photos, and the practice can charge a lot for the ultrasounds. This is an area of enormous concern for me because more intervention and imaging may actually cause harm, and moms aren't fully informed or consented for this additional testing. It's unethical.
The second piece of unethical guidance came when we were given a handout written by the senior OB in the practice, a very well-respected man in our area, outlining why he strongly opposes natural childbirth. It was such an inflammatory and insulting letter; he compared natural birth to a farm animal giving birth in a barn. It took my breath away. I wasn't even thinking about a birth plan at that stage, but just knowing his bias and that I'd have a 33% chance of him being my OB at delivery made us choose to walk away.
Another factor was my research into what the primary C-section rates were for the OB practices in our area. From what I could tell, it was in the area of 35-40% for uncomplicated first time moms. The World Health Organization says it should be 10%. To me, that just means unnecessary harm to moms and babies. I'm sure it's based on malpractice concerns and defensive medicine, but that isn't an excuse for hurting people.
A dear friend reached out and offered me her own birth story with a totally different vision of childbirth; at 28 weeks, I switched my care to a hospital midwife team 30 miles away. Our son Henry was born after a beautiful, powerful, and unmedicated labor.
Any doctor should know that birthing a child is so much more than a physical process, but I was still unprepared for the emotional and spiritual aspects of new motherhood. When I returned to work at 7 weeks postpartum, I felt ashamed by the panic I felt about being separated from my baby. My new mother-self felt tender, not tough. And I couldn’t forgive the way our healthcare system had almost failed me, and my career ambitions and confidence collapsed.
My new mother-self felt tender, not tough. I couldn’t forgive the way our healthcare system had almost failed me, and my career ambitions and confidence collapsed.
I’m so grateful that motherhood led me to a different path. With the birth of my second son, I experienced how powerfully I could improve my resilience – and the health of our entire family – through good nutrition, gentle physical activity, emotional openness, and a connection with nature. My medical career is now focused on lifestyle medicine and natural wellness. I want all women to know their own incredible capacity for healing.
Empowerment can be uncomfortable, I’ve discovered. Owning our stories and taking charge of our health takes inquiry and courage. There are risks: we may be noticed – and confronted – by those who feel challenged by our freedom. But the invitation to greater wellness is right there in our bodies, and there has never been a better time to say YES.
Owning our stories and taking charge of our health takes inquiry and courage.
So never doubt the power of a nutritious meal, a walk among the trees, or a good laugh/cry with a friend. Most of all, please speak up when you don’t feel heard by your doctor. Listen to your instincts. Ask questions. Be heard. You are stronger than you know.
Dr. Robin Fawcett is an American MD now practicing as a general practitioner in England with my own natural wellness business. I have an MA in the History of Medicine and I'm a member of the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine. You can find me on Facebook as The Essential GP.