White Coat Syndrome

Mothers LoveI remember learning about “white coat syndrome” in my childbirth education training, a situation where a pregnant mom will go along with what her physician says simply because he or she is the physician, even if the suggested interventions are counter to the woman’s birth preferences.

Here’s an example, an actual story of a young woman who gave birth a few months ago at a hospital.  She didn’t want to be induced, didn’t want to have pitocin to speed up labor, didn’t want an epidural and absolutely didn’t want to have a cesarean.  Her OB suspected that mom’s amniotic fluid was low so they met at the hospital.  The fluid levels were fine, but the OB suggested that since she was there, and her out-of-town mom was there with her, why not go ahead and get labor started?  With a little pressure from the doctor and her mom, she strayed from her play and said yes to being induced with pitocin.

Fast forward a few hours.  Mom was progressing but not at the pace her OB would like her to be.  During an internal exam, he broke her water without her permission or knowledge (her doula told her later what he had done), and while he was examining her, she said it felt like he was also stretching her cervix.  She told him to stop but he didn’t.  He told her he thought her baby was too big and that she would need a cesarean but that he would give her a little more time.

Less than half an hour later, he came back, put a pen in her hand and told her to sign the cesarean consent form.  In tears, begging for more time, the mom finally signed and was whisked off to surgery.  Soon after, this 5’9″ mother delivered a tiny five pound 15 ounce baby.  She was devestated.  She felt robbed of her one and only birth experience that she had planned and prepared for.  She felt that her OB pressured her into the induction and the cesarean, and that had she been allowed to labor on her own, she could have succeeded in having her baby without any interventions.

We will never know for sure what the outcome would have been had she not been induced, but we do know, from the mom’s own feelings, that she felt coerced and overall unempowered to stand up to her OB who she felt had his own agenda.  The quality of her birth experience wasn’t his top priority.  Getting the baby out in a hurry was.

Information is empowering.  Speaking up for what you want and clearly state what you don’t want.  If it’s not a medical necessity, stick to your guns.  If you’re shy, practice and role play.  Women need to let their voices be heard because it’s NOT just about a healthy baby and a healthy mom.  How the baby comes into the world is one of the most significant moments in the relationship between a mother and her child and it should be a top priority for every caregiver.