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Notes from an OB/GYN resident

From A WOMAN IN RESIDENCE: A doctor’s personal and professional battles against an insensitive medical system. Michelle Harrison, M.D.NameSubtitle

NOTE: In the 1970s, Dr, Harrison's OB/GYN medical training/residency consisted of many of the worst scenarios, (not all  are still routinely practiced): episiotomies, forceps, hysterectomies, straps, forced narcotic drugs, forced pushing, early days of monitoring, student doctors practicing c-sections and surgeries, expectation of absolute obedience to senior doctors. 


“It’s a sacred act that has been turned into an ugly ritual, not just because of the procedures - which are sometimes necessary and lifesaving - but because of the attitude with which they are performed....The woman is degraded. The physician intimidates her and forcefully takes from her both the act of birth and that which she herself has nurtured. All day long I watch women who have been violated and who don’t even know it.”

“Hospitals infantilize people both because of their enormous power over individuals, and because people feel very vulnerable when they are ill. Even healthy people, once admitted to the hospital and put into short white open-backed gowns, act as though they were ill. Frightened by the unknown facts of their particular conditions and by their lack of expertise, become afraid to ask ‘what is my temperature? what is my blood pressure?’ Afraid to offend, lest their care be affected, they accept passivity and name it trust.”

“The definition of ‘prolonged’ labor has changed over the past 15 years from 72 hours when I was in medical school (mid-sixties) to 48 hours when I practiced in South Carolina, to 12-24 hours at present.”

“There is a contradiction which everyone seems to ignore regarding how often one does vaginal examinations during labor. Although the exams are a source of infection for both mother and baby, residents are required to examine women frequently in order to ‘chart’ the progression of labor....each woman’s chart has a blank graph of hours and of centimeters of cervical dilation which we must record approximately hourly in order to evaluate the shape of her labor curve. When a woman’s labor is off the ‘proper’ curve, she is subjected to intervention in several possible forms.”

“Often I don’t like the women I’ve delivered. I don’t like them for their submissiveness. When I ask ‘when are you going home?’ during rounds, they answer ‘I don’t know when my doctor will let me.’ They have let themselves be imprisoned. For me, the submissiveness of one woman becomes my own, as though we were all one organism. Their imprisonment adds to my own sense of powerlessness in the hospital.”

[After a terribly botched cesarean] “I hate this field. I hate these people. I hate all these babies coming out through holes in the belly instead of through the vagina. I hate it because this particular baby was in no distress, but the mother was tired from laboring and we told her there was an easy way out. The easy way out is that she may not be able to have more children.”






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