Monday, June 27, 2016

shoulda coulda woulda

A few months ago I set out on a quest to find a new doctor. I wanted someone who was thorough, kind and compassionate. But more importantly, I wanted someone who, without a doubt, supports a woman's right to choose.

When you have a painful reproductive past, finding a new obgyn can be emotionally exhausting. Every office asks you to fill out the same standard paperwork, and every stack of paperwork brings those 2 dreaded questions:

How many pregnancies have you had?
How many living children do you have?

It breaks my heart every single time. It's only two numbers. Yet for some reason, when I actually see it written on paper, it rips that hole in my heart wide open. 3 and 1. I'm averaging a 33% success rate with this whole baby making thing. I've never failed this bad at anything in my life.

During one of my new patient visits, I met with a female doctor who immediately made me feel comfortable. She spent a lot of time with me and asked me to walk her through every detail of my losses. She seemed really engaged which put me at ease. I started tearing up a bit as I walked her through my past year, but instead of staring at me like a deer in headlights, she walked over to me and hugged me. I've never been hugged by a doctor before. And while I'm not looking for a girlfriend to chit chat over a glass of wine, that simple act of kindness went a long way. I trusted her. I received more compassion from her in 1 visit than I did in my entire 3 year relationship with my old doctor. I knew right then that she was my new doctor.

In that same first visit, my new doctor also said something to me that I haven't been able to shake. It's actually haunted me a bit these past few months and I feel like it's something I need to share with you all. She told me --

"You should have been able to have your termination here at Vanderbilt."

I always joked with James that my old doctor always seemed stoned or something. She was so calm and carefree and never seemed to overreact. When I was pregnant with Joe, she really eased all of my paranoid first-time mommy questions with her lack of concern. Joe's pregnancy was easy and uneventful, so her nonchalant attitude suited us well.

After my miscarriage, I really started to see how little compassion she had. Her reaction to my hysterical breakdown in her office was -- this is common, try again next month. In hindsight, that should have been my first sign that I needed to switch doctors, but I felt like I needed to stick it out with her because she knew my history. I thought I needed that history for me to be able to get early ultra sounds in my subsequent pregnancy.

I know I've written a bit in the past about how my doctor told us about Grace's diagnosis. It was cold and mechanical. She seemed put off that she had to deal with me (yet again) hysterical in her office. But beyond her lack of empathy, I hadn't really thought much deeper into her lack of medical support until my new doctor said those words.

 "You should have been able to have your termination here at Vanderbilt."

My abortion has been the single most painful experience of my life. It's changed me in more ways than I can put into words. But to then learn, months into recovery, that your medical provider misinformed you about the laws and regulations? Well, it rattles me. Actually, it more than rattles me -- it infuriates me. I feel like I've been deceived. Lied to. 

Two different doctors matter-of-factly told me that the nearest place I could have my procedure was a clinic in Atlanta. I didn't question them. I guess looking back now I should have, but I was in a state of shock, confusion and devastation. It wasn't exactly a time to call my state representatives to understand the laws in my city. Nor did I ever think that my doctor may not know the laws, or worse, would choose not to help.

I remember my mom calling the 2 main hospitals in Nashville to ask whether or not they did 2nd trimester abortions. She was doing her own research to help us understand our options. Both hospitals told her that a Down syndrome baby was a viable pregnancy and they would not do it. That was before Grace's second diagnosis of Hydrops, but it was still denied. Again, I didn't question it. 

But here's the thing I've learned since then... the Tennessee law states that I should have been able to have a 2nd trimester abortion (under 22 weeks) at a hospital. Apparently my doctor could have taken my case to the hospital board. Apparently she could have advocated for me. She could have fought for me to get the care I needed.

But she didn't.

Instead, she left it up to me to call and schedule my own abortion. Instead, she didn't fulfill my request to fax my medical paperwork to Northwestern Hospital in Chicago (which was required before my abortion) until I called to follow up 3 separate times. Instead, she did not communicate with me before or after the procedure itself, nor follow up with me the 2 weeks following surgery when she was supposed to see me for a post-op exam.

James and I were completely on our own. 

I'm not telling you this to feel sorry for me. I'm not telling you this because I want to take my case to an ethics committee to fight this doctor (which I have been told is an option). To be honest, I'm working my butt off to try to move forward from all this and that would just set me back 6 months of progress. But I realized today that I need to tell you this because I want you to take away two things from my experience:

1. Please, ask your doctors the difficult questions. Ask the worst-case what-if scenarios and understand where they personally and professionally stand on controversial topics such as mine. What steps have they taken to help other patients in similar situations? After a seamless pregnancy with Joe I never in my life imagined this would have happened to me. Maybe if it had happened to a blogger I followed, it would have been on my radar to ask. Maybe I would have looked into the laws in my state BEFORE it happened. So here, readers -- I'm officially putting it on your radar. You can never be too prepared.

2. Please do not stick with a doctor because it's too much of a hassle to switch. An obgyn or any doctor for that matter. Be your own advocate. Find someone who is thorough and compassionate. Someone you trust will be in your corner when shit hits the fan. Because that's what a good doctor is supposed to do. You should never feel abandoned or on your own from a medical standpoint, especially in a time of need. 

I will end my rant with this... If all of this happened to me just so I could prevent it from happening to someone else, then at least I could say that something good came out of it all. No, none of us have any control over what happens during a pregnancy, but we do have control over the medical care we receive.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

happy birthday, Grace

This week has been really hard. The days have dragged on with heaviness, each a little more emotional than the next. I've begged time to stop so I wouldn't have to face this day without you. 

Your due date. 

I thought I'd be further along in the grief process by now. I thought this weight in my chest--the one that makes it difficult to breathe at times--would have lessened. I wanted to be stronger for you, Grace. And for your dad and brother. I wanted to be in a more hopeful place. But I am where I am, and I guess that's the best I can do.

Before I got out of bed this morning, I rolled over and stared at the box that holds your urn on our nightstand. Your dad and brother were already downstairs eating breakfast, but I just couldn't find the strength to get up yet. You should be here with us. The empty ache in my stomach inched its way up my throat. It's so hard, Grace. I still carry the sadness and pain and guilt and anger every single day. 

I opened the box and looked at your urn resting inside. I just kept thinking how unfair it was that this dingy box is what keeps your warm now. It doesn't seem right... I was supposed to keep you warm. I did the best I could do, Grace. 

For the first time, I picked you up and held you in my hands. I wasn't sure I was ever going to find enough strength to do it, but today I did. Tears poured down my face as I asked God to celebrate this day with you.

I traced my finger along the edge of your urn and could feel every intricate detail. The gold and cream little flowers looked exactly like I'd imagine you to be--delicate and sweet. Your dad did good. I'm not sure how, but amidst all the pain, he picked out the perfect one.

Such big emotions for something so tiny.

I put you back in your box and stared out the window at the rain. Of course it rained most of the day today. It's like the universe was mourning you, too. 

I pulled out the envelope that holds the only things I have of you--your ultra sound picture, your footprints and my hospital bracelet. It didn't seem like enough memories given the impact you've had on my life. I picked up your sweet little footprints and held them to my cheek like I did in the hospital room. Your foot once touched that paper. It's the closest I will ever come to touching you. 

I wiped the tears from my eyes, took a deep breath and joined your brother and dad downstairs. Another day without you... but I have somehow survived it. We are all surviving it.

Keep watching over us, Grace. Happy birthday.