“That’s actually illegal”… Or is it?

I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to know your options in birth. It is important to know you DO have the right to ask questions, to get a second opinion, to voice your concerns and to be a strong advocate for yourself or your baby. Otherwise, you could quickly find yourself doing things you never wanted to do.

This was made clear to me again at a birth not so long ago.

My doula client wished to refuse the administration of erythromycin (eye ointment) in her newborn. The nurse told her “It’s actually illegal” not to consent to that. My client looked at me in alarm, as of course we had reviewed her birth plan together, she knew her options and she had discussed it with her doctor as well. She had done her research, made her decision and now was being told it was illegal to refuse eye ointment? How could this be?

Illegal is a big word. It implies that you would be breaking the law for making a medical decision for your child, as is the right and obligation of a parent. And if you break the law, there are consequences. What are they going to do? Take the child? Report the parent? Force the parent to do something she didn’t want to do? It’s upsetting to hear that the decision you feel you’ve made in the best interest of your child is “actually illegal“.

Fortunately, we knew better. And we knew to ask questions. Illegal? Since when? Why? What are our options? Are you familiar with her medical history? Can we verify that with the doctor, please?

While we were having this conversation, the nurse opened the baby’s diaper and applied a clear bag around the genitals. When I asked what she was doing, she explained they needed to get a urine sample from the baby to test for drugs. She hadn’t explained what she was going to do before starting to do it and I had never seen this done, so I had questions about this too. She said it was a new protocol for babies who are born quickly.

Again, we were not afraid to ask questions. Is this a standard hospital policy? What drugs are you screening for? Did the doctor order this drug screen? Wouldn’t drugs show up in mom’s blood tests? Would mom’s history of fast labors affect this decision? Can we verify the need for this with the doctor, please?

The nurse stepped out to talk with the doctor. She soon returned and said he’d replied “No big deal, just sign the form” about the eye ointment and that the urine drug test was unnecessary. Whew! Two undesirable things avoided in just the first hour of birth.

Had we not asked questions, that baby would have had eye ointment and a drug test. That’s not the end of the world, but those are things these particular parents did not want for their baby. So it matters. By asking questions and advocating for their wishes, they were able to have their wishes respected.

It’s important to note that this nurse was very friendly, she was helpful and I have no doubt she was doing everything she thought she should. Frankly, I’m also certain that those nurses serve a segment of the population where, sadly, drug use is rampant in pregnant moms and their babies and where the eye ointment really would be beneficial for baby. None of our questions was hostile; we were simply genuine, firm and friendly.

This is one of the many reasons why a doula can be so invaluable for you during your birth experience. She is there to advocate for you, and to think of the questions you would want to ask but may not think of right away because, you know, you’re either in active labor or you’ve just given birth and all. You’re likely some combination of tired, sore, thirsty, hungry, shaking, amazed, slightly dazed, and madly in love with this sweet new baby. Your mind is  already in 100 different places at once and suddenly you get a curveball you didn’t expect and it’s hard to focus. Your doula is a labor professional who is ready to advocate for you, ask those questions, and offer the support that can truly make the difference in creating a positive birth experience for you.



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