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If this could happen to me, a professionally trained doctor myself, and a strong, independent woman, I shudder to think of what other women face.
Childbirth is meant to be one of the happiest moments in a woman’s life. This was what I had expected too, just that it turned out to be a nightmare and not because something was wrong with my baby but because of the man I called ‘doctor’.
Growing up I had been conditioned to archaic gender norms and had a strict upbringing. Talking to boys was considered taboo and consulting a male doctor was considered blasphemous.
However my outlook began to change as I entered the medical profession and came across wonderful colleagues who not only valued my opinions but also respected our role as women in the field.
When the time arrived, I decided to consult a male obstetrician for my first pregnancy, and he was a thorough 65-year-old gentleman. I had a normal delivery which was uneventful thanks to his brilliance as a person and a professional. He had to go to a conference in another state soon but postponed everything to be with me.
As I was feeling grateful for my childhood prejudices proved wrong, the neonatologist, also a male, entered the scene and my bubble burst.
As I rested in my ward, the neonatologist strictly instructed the nurse in charge to not allow formula for my full-term newborn. I struggled to breastfeed the baby but was unsuccessful, and the little one cried for hours. The doctor refused to meet me despite multiple requests and in my anxiety, my BP began to plummet. Finally after my harried husband insisted the doctor arrived, annoyed at our audacity to summon him.
“So what if the baby cries? All babies do…” He spoke frowning and I struggled to hold back tears as he continued. “… you must learn to handle him.” He gave me a look that made me very uncomfortable. As he rushed out of the ward, I checked my hospital gown and the two upper buttons had come undone in the feeding debacle in the past few hours.
The nightmare had just begun. My baby cried in hunger all night while my mother who stayed with me for the night and I struggled to feed him. I began to blame myself for my supposed ‘inadequacy.’
The next morning my baby developed an inspiratory strider (noisy inhalation assumed to be because of the weakening of the windpipe, in this case, due to incessant wailing).
The doctor walked in to check on the baby and directed the nurse to take him to the NICU ignoring everything I asked or the tears that I shed. He didn’t even bother to wait for my husband who was in the washroom. I was in tremendous physical and mental agony.
The next 5 days were filled with agonizing moments for me as a mother as I stood for hours outside the NICU yearning for a glimpse of my baby. I longed to hold him. Finally on the 3rd day I was able to breastfeed him adequately. I had to sit on the stool in the NICU aggravating my episiotomy and I began to bleed, but at that moment nothing mattered but for my baby in my arms.
My baby was not in distress, and I asked the doctor every time (waiting for him to make his visits as he wouldn’t inform me) why he was in the NICU. Actually, the strider was still persistent.
On the 4th day he said he wanted to watch the baby feed and despite my profession (related field) nothing I described to him made him relent. I faced the worse shame when I adhered to his condition despite using a shawl. My confidence hit rock bottom and I was in the worst form of health worrying my family. My in-laws consulted other experts and they said my baby’s condition was physiological and would recover on its own.
Fortunately, my obstetrician returned and was furious to see my condition. Better sense prevailed after my husband pressurized the doctor. I was discharged but not before the neonatologist ‘scolded’ me and indirectly said I was irresponsible. He refused to start vaccination either.
It’s almost 19 years now and even today when I think of this I am in tears. My fingers trembled when I hit the keys to type this. But I realized, it’s more because of the way the doctor treated me than my baby in the NICU. At the time it took me over a month to physically recover. My post-partum depression was also probably triggered by this incident. It took counselling and family support to help me overcome the trauma.
While I greatly appreciate the efforts of one male doctor who also delivered my second child later on, I strongly detest the man who filled my first-ever experience of motherhood with shame and anguish.
If this could happen to me, a professionally qualified, independent, and supposedly strong woman who speaks her mind, I shudder at the thought of the lesser privileged.
Editor’s note: Women regularly face #MedicalMisogyny from health care professionals. For the WHO World Health Day 2023 theme of ‘Health for All’, identifying this misogyny and ensuring #Equity in healthcare is essential. All of April, we will be sharing stories with you on this these, either personal stories or fiction. Find them all here.
Image source: Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash
A pediatric speech-language pathologist by profession and a writer by passion! read more...
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