Better Birth Through Improved Communication

Improving Doctor – Patient Communication

I’m a communications professional by trade with degrees in journalism and years of experience in public relations. I excel with the written word and communicating within a marketing framework. Communicating is my vocation, but when it came to talking to my doctor about my wishes for childbirth I came up short. Standing up for myself and what I need does not come naturally to me.

I needed some help to become a more effective communicator in the doctor-patient relationship.

I got that help from Rene’ and the natural child birth class series offered by Birth Help. I came a long way from my initial doula consult visit with Rene’ and when my daughter was born.

For my second pregnancy I was under the care of the same doctor who performed the C-section that ended my first pregnancy. Despite regret over the surgery and disagreeing in hindsight to the “big baby” diagnosis that led to the C-section, I built a relationship with my doctor over the four years between pregnancies and wanted to stick with her.

She was helpful during our struggle to get pregnant again. Her prescription for Letrozole, a breast cancer drug used off-label to induce ovulation, seemed to be the key to our successful second pregnancy. I’m also lazy and didn’t want to go searching for a new doctor, changing records, etc. I’d done that in my first pregnancy in switching to this doctor, and it didn’t make a difference/I still had a C-section, so part of me figured it wouldn’t matter.

When I expressed my wishes for a VBAC early in the pregnancy my doctor was verbally supportive, although she often said “let’s have a 7-pound baby” almost as a caveat. And while I heard her and wished for that too, she and I knew it was unlikely. My older daughter was born weighing 9 lb. 10 oz. and there was no reason to expect her little sister would be any smaller (she wasn’t).

Working with Rene’ and taking the Natural Birth Series offered by Birth Help helped me figure out better ways to talk with the doctor and gave me questions to ask and courage to assert myself. The classes empowered my husband and me to be more active in the decision-making process for our birth. We improved communication between ourselves and that spilled over into doctor-patient communication.

An ultrasound in late pregnancy estimated my baby to be more than 11 pounds, and my doctor strongly recommended a repeat C-section. We considered the elective procedure and her recommendation over a long weekend but ultimately stuck with our decision to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) even with a big baby.

I explained to my doctor that the risks of surgery were scarier than risks of vaginal delivery of a big baby. She asked what I was scared about and I rattled off a list. She said OK, and after that didn’t mention surgery again. To her credit, she supported my decision even though she disagreed. I’m overwhelmingly grateful to her for that support, and I’m proud of myself for being able to talk to her about it in an effective way. I know the communication leading up to that conversation set the stage for being able to agree to disagree and move forward.

I know if a C-section had become necessary or no longer just a recommendation my doctor would have stepped in. And I would have gladly accepted her medical judgment in such a case. Thankfully that wasn’t what happened, and my VBAC was successful.

I’m still not a master negotiator or power player, but I did feel empowered with this experience in many ways, including improving communication with my doctor. And I would recommend the natural birth class series to any expecting couple regardless of what kind of birth experience you want.

-Mari Walker