After deciding upon the theme of “health care” for our November issue, the Public i editorial collective asked fellow community members to share their personal experiences with the health care system, whether positive or negative (we anticipated more of the latter). The responses we received – limited but thoughtful – appear on this page.
A Journey Home
This is an account of our journey back to our home. It is one of the paths that has led away from institutional and corporate control of our family, to a more natural and satisfying life. We have learned that being a so-called expert does not make a person ‘correct’ and it is a mistake to always give up control to such ‘experts’. We’ve learned it is important to take complete responsibility for your life. This includes nutrition, finances, education, and health. Officially sanctioned experts (i.e. not self taught) and institutions always believe they know what’s best for you, whether or not it is really best for you or anyone, and corporations are always first interested in quarterly profits.
My partner and I are expecting a child soon. This will be our fourth. As with all major life experiences, we have learned much from each birth. Our oldest daughter was born at Covenant Hospital. We chose a doctor because she was a woman with children and because of her relatively low Cesarean rate (she had the official credentials).We were new to this situation, received no good advice from our parents or childless friends, but wanted as natural an experience as possible. A natural experience is not what we received. We sat in clinic waiting rooms for hours during the pregnancy. Every visit would require an unnecessary internal exam. We were encouraged to take useless, painful and potentially harmful tests like amniocentesis (It primarily detects Down Syndrome, to allow time for an abortion of, what some people call, a ‘defective fetus’ – pretty vile).
When the baby failed to make her appearance on time, the doctor told us the baby was not in the right position. We had numerous sonograms and a personal visit to the doctor’s office for a talk on how horrible a birth like that could be. Since it was two weeks past the due date, she asked us if we wanted an immediate C-Section. We scheduled one for the following Monday.
We did our own research and discovered a book that said if a woman lies on her back with her pelvis raised, an engaged baby often can change positions. Fortunately, we did this (the doctor never heard of this special positioning). Arriving at the hospital on Monday (before the doctor’s office hours), we were told that since we were already there, we should induce labor. We were very happy to hear this, since, to us, induced labor is better than surgery.While it is better than surgery, it is not very pleasant. My partner was strongly urged to lie in bed for the birth, something she detested. She was also constantly hooked up to the fetal monitor, which she also detested. Eight hours later (after the doctor’s office hours), our daughter was born.
The new responsibility of a child is something that makes you forget other worries, so it was not until our second child was expected that we thought about the bad experience in detail and looked for ways to minimize the problems. My partner refused to return to the first doctor after it became evident that the doctor did not remember (or review) anything of the first experience. Our records were listed as having a C-Section. I called around and found out that one doctor in town would do a water birth. After watching a truly wonderful video on water births, we decided this option was for us. Water birth also had the advantage that no one can make you lie down or strap electronic equipment to you while you’re in the water.
We took our time getting to the hospital, rather then rushing in at the first contraction. We walked around the Engineering Quad until the contractions were intense and then went into the hospital.We timed it well, our son was born less than 1 hour after we checked in. It was a much better birth experience, they let us hold him for a couple of hours before they took him away to be worked on. We had taken charge of the situation and were better off.
Our second experience was bad after the birth. We didn’t want to hang around a hospital, we wanted to go home the next morning. The nurse wouldn’t check us out because our son ‘looked slightly jaundiced’ and they needed to wait for the results of some test. I was scolded for carrying my son around. We spent most of a day trying to get out, and finally got home for a late dinner. We were not in control in the hospital and were frustrated by not being able to do what we knew was right for us. We still listened to authority figures, so called experts, at that time.
Nurses now had different advice for us than the first time. This time my partner was to nurse the baby until he was done, not 15 minutes on each side (as they insisted with the first baby). This time we didn’t have to have ‘security photos’, which we were told would identify our daughter if she was kidnapped. (Too many people complained about this racket.)
Upon learning we were expecting for the third time, we were determined to have a truly good birth experience. We had spoken with a number of women in our homeschooling group who had birthed at home. They recommended midwives and we met with one. We had never met a person we felt was so relaxed and confident in what she did. We now know this is a sign of a competent individual who’s secure in their role.
Let me mention that the midwife I’m talking about is not a medical doctor. She does not practice medicine, which is illegal in Illinois if you are not licensed. She does not dispense drugs or do internal exams. She has no medical degree. She is not affiliated with a hospital or clinic. My insurance won’t pay for her. What are her credentials? She has helped deliver hundreds of babies. She worked as an apprentice for years before setting out on her own and she has her own apprentices.
Beyond that, she treated us like people. A typical pre-natal visit would involve taking blood pressure, taking my partner’s and the baby’s heart rate, feeling for the position of the baby and a couple of tape measurements. Then our family would sit and talk with her about babies and whatever else. Often we would have a meal together. We shared hugs when she arrived and left. She doesn’t hurry in, glance at a chart and hurry on to the next patient.
When talking about this with family and coworkers, we received comments about homebirth similar to those that we got about homeschooling and veganism. People are afraid that unless you use society’s ‘approved’ methods, things will go wrong. “You can bleed to death in 1 minute from a hemorrhage.” “What if the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck?” are reminiscent of “How will your child be socialized?” and “What about calcium?” We discussed all these possibilities with the midwife and were satisfied. The midwife recognizes there are birth complications that do require medical intervention.
She is very frank about what is not within her capacity or function as a midwife. These complications are not commonplace as many people are led to believe. Giving birth is a natural experience that has been happening for millions of years, and does not generally require massive amounts of computer technology, Doppler radar and biochemical engineering. Medical science, like schooling, spends too much time matching people to ‘standardized’ results and not enough time dealing with people as unique individuals.
Our second daughter’s birth involved my partner and I walking around our neighborhood park until it was too difficult to walk, then going into our house. About 2 hours later, we had a new daughter. She was not subjected to the medical procedures hospitals perform on newborns. She just stayed with her mother for the first weeks of life. No painful blood tests, no eye drops, just comfort from mom. When our homeopath and a friend showed up the next day, they were surprised and delighted to see a newborn. Now that we’re expecting again, we have our visits with our midwife. Our oldest daughter is very interested in what is happening and spends time talking with the midwife. This is a terrific homeschooling experience and allows for countless educational opportunities to present themselves. It is a family event that we can all share: no clinic waiting rooms, no painful exams, only relaxed and friendly conversation. It is not institutionalized; it is real and natural. If you want more details of the birth experience, you’ll really need to talk to my partner. She’ll be happy to talk about it. I can tell you it was painful. Allopathic medicine does have a place, but read those forms they have you sign at the hospital. One said, “I understand that the practice of medicine is an art,” protecting so-called experts from malpractice lawsuits. Also remember that hospitals are for sick people and, despite insurance form claims, pregnancy is not a disease. We understand that things out of our control may happen and all we can be sure of is that we will continue to learn from our experiences. We are learning on our own, in our home, with our family. Addendum: Our fourth child, a son, Emerson Quinn Urban, was born at home on Sunday, October 26th. The midwife came over to our house at about 4:30am and stayed until everything was finished, around 3:00 in the afternoon. She encouraged us, gave us positive suggestions, but mostly left us to our own devices during the earlier stages of labor. In discussing our birth the next day when she stopped by for baby and mom checkup, she mentioned that Emerson’s shoulder had been stuck, but she quickly and gently dislodged him. We didn’t know this had happened at the time. I can imagine what would happen at the hospital.
Fractures in the System
I had a bike accident (ok, that’s overly-dramatic; I fell off my bike when it was hardly moving at all) and had a compound fracture of my radius. I had to have surgery to put a metal plate in my arm. The insurance company refused to cover the plate, calling it “a prosthetic.” In fact, of the $15,000 bill, they ended up covering about half. In addition, I was laid off that month, and only the initial hospital visit was covered, so all the castings and x-rays afterwards were not. I ended up with a very large hospital and clinic bill, on unemployment. Two months later they sent the bill to a collection agency. I then found out that because of my income level, I was eligible to have some of my bill waived…if I had asked. They aren’t required to tell you about it. And since they had already sent it to the collection agency,when I finally did ask, it was too late. This collection went on my credit report, and although it was paid in a timely fashion, my credit rating went down and it was difficult a few years later to buy a house. Lesson learned: insurance doesn’t mean anything if it’s not from a company that your clinic is in bed with, becausethere is no such thing as a “customary charge.”
I had a bike accident (ok, that’s overly-dramatic; I fell off my bike when it was hardly moving at all) and had a compound fracture of my radius. I had to have surgery to put a metal plate in my arm. The insurance company refused to cover the plate, calling it “a prosthetic.” In fact, of the $15,000 bill, they ended up covering about half. In addition, I was laid off that month, and only the initial hospital visit was covered, so all the castings and x-rays afterwards were not. I ended up with a very large hospital and clinic bill, on unemployment. Two months later they sent the bill to a collection agency. I then found out that because of my income level, I was eligible to have some of my bill waived…if I had asked. They aren’t required to tell you about it. And since they had already sent it to the collection agency,when I finally did ask, it was too late. This collection went on my credit report, and although it was paid in a timely fashion, my credit rating went down and it was difficult a few years later to buy a house. Lesson learned: insurance doesn’t mean anything if it’s not from a company that your clinic is in bed with, because there is no such thing as a “customary charge.”