Giving Birth in a Baby-Unfriendly Hospital

As some of you may know, I have a more than passing interest in Baby-Friendly hospitals and the certification process, as well as adorable YouTube videos on the topic:

Someone close to me recently experienced a baby-unfriendly birth (despite the protestations of two obstetricians, who didn’t know about Baby-Friendly certification and both ironically insisted, “we’re not baby unfriendly!”).

She and her partner filed a grievance with the hospital and, in the spirit of posting once a month, I thought I’d share excerpts from her letter with you (with names removed as a friendly gesture to protect the unfriendly). Apparently the delivering obstetrician repeatedly told her she was going to die, despite the fact that she was not in any risk of dying (well, any more so than any other low-risk, average laboring woman).

Her letter offers a glimpse into her experience of hospital culture. The experience came as a surprise to a fairly well-prepared couple, so I hope it helps others in their decision making process, or at least gives readers some nice tips on how to tell people off in  a professional tone.

Our baby was born at X Hospital. We are writing to express our gratitude for the efforts of several members of the hospital staff, and our appreciation for the excellent care we received both at prenatal visits and in the Moms & Babies wing.

We were pleased to fall into the capable hands of Dr. G for prenatal care. She was attentive and thorough at each of our prenatal visits, as was the nurse practitioner. Furthermore, the nursing staff was cheerful, pleasant, and encouraging. They all happily answered our many questions, and Dr. G was a positive presence in the delivery room before her shift ended. The front desk staff was courteous and friendly at each visit, as well, helpfully scheduling and rescheduling our many appointments.

As first time parents, we were similarly pleased with the baby care courses we attended. The two-day class on childbirth and her hospital tour was a useful and often hilarious introduction to labor, delivery, and parenthood. The breastfeeding class materials were useful and the classes were reasonably priced and conveniently scheduled.

Many of the nurses we encountered in Labor & Delivery were kind, supportive, and friendly. For the most part, they read and respected the “birth preferences” document that we had prepared. We felt confident and encouraged by many of the nursing staff members as well as the anesthesiologists. Even though we had wanted to avoid an epidural, the anesthesiologist’s detailed explanation of the procedure reassured us, and the epidural ultimately provided a much-needed rest in the labor process.

We credit one nurse in particular whose arrival and immediate proclamation, “I see hair!” definitely gave the room a positive push in the right direction, as our baby was born only half an hour later.

While in the Moms & Babies wing, we found the nursing staff to be friendly and helpful. We received excellent postpartum care, including encouragement and information regarding breastfeeding, answers to our many (more!) questions, a visit from Dr. G, and even surprisingly delicious hospital food (as promised in the childbirth preparation class!).

However, we are writing to inform you that we will never be delivering another child at X Hospital, and we are discouraging everyone we meet from ever delivering there, as the wonderful facilities and stellar support staff are still not enough to outweigh even the risk of once again encountering Dr. R (the OB who took over after Dr. G’s shift ended).

In the 8 hours we were under Dr. R’s care, we endured the following offenses:

  • While I was in labor, he came into our room and announced that he was there to deliver my baby. He then realized he was in the wrong room and left.
  • Dr. R returned a bit later and immediately took a very stern and condescending tone with me, my partner, and my doula. He urged me to take Pitocin, threatening that failure to do so would lead to hemorrhage, hysterectomy, and death without ever providing any explanation as to how or why. While researching Pitocin in anticipation of childbirth, we had learned that all of these were also side effects of taking Pitocin, as well, a fact that he neither mentioned nor discussed with us in any meaningful way. His recommendation to administer Pitocin came in spite of the fact that I had already made excellent progress during a perfectly normal, low-risk, natural labor.
  • After we declined the Pitocin, Dr. R sent in a high-risk specialist, Dr. L.  We had a refreshingly positive and respectful conversation with Dr. L, who walked us through all our treatment options and their associated risks and benefits. She remarked that she does not usually get called into “normal” labor and delivery cases like ours, which led us to believe that Dr. R had made an inappropriate use of her time, our time, and hospital resources.
  • Dr. R returned, and I agreed that I would sign the form indicating that I was going against his medical advice. He said that he respected my right to make the decision not to take Pitocin, but that it was the wrong decision.
  • Even after I signed the “Against Medical Advice” form, he continued to badger me about taking Pitocin, frequently trying to scare me with the threat of impending death. He asked me how long I planned to be in labor, and when I replied “As long as it takes,” he said, “You could be dead by then.” Such remarks are not only poor bedside manner, they brought unnecessary fear and distress into what is, on its own, a scary and stressful situation.
  • In probing me for my justification for my choice not to take Pitocin, Dr. R casually mentioned bringing in the hospital lawyers, needlessly questioned the credentials of my birth team, insulted my mother by questioning her competence as a medical professional simply for supporting my decision, was rude and condescending to my doula, and generally behaved in a completely unprofessional and unhelpful manner.

We felt fortunate to be so prepared for our labor and delivery and were confident in our own choices regarding our medical care; we shudder to think of how anyone without the immense support and preparation we had on our side could endure the stress Dr. R brings to the labor and delivery room.

We will be going elsewhere for the delivery of our next baby, as we dread the possibility of having to once again cross paths with Dr. R, his grossly unprofessional behavior, and his appalling bedside manner.


Despite the fact that PAMF promised to address grievances in writing within 30 days, three months have now passed…


Because you know what every new mom wants is to be running around sending hate mail to multiple addresses (including the California Department of Public Health, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, the Medical Board of California, and the Santa Clara County Medical Association).


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