Story: A Pregnant Woman's Powerful Letter to Her Dismissive Doctor

Woman & children pictured here not the actual ones in the story.

Woman & children pictured here not the actual ones in the story.

Today's story comes from Kelly Camp, an attorney, military wife, and mother. She sent the letter presented here to her doctor to let him know how his Miss Treatment seriously affected her and her children's lives. A future blog post will address the importance of feedback to doctors, and Kelly should be commended for her bravery in sharing her story both to us and her doctor.

Doctor X,

Several months ago, I came to see you.  I was pregnant, in a lot of pain, and my almost 3-year-old daughter wouldn’t eat.  For about 10 days the only solid foods she would eat were fruit pouches and string cheese.  I tried offering other food.  I even tried refusing to give her anything else until she ate what I put in front of her.  I. Tried. Everything.

I came to you for help and you said it was my fault.  I was giving in too early and she wouldn’t starve herself.  You told me it was my fault.

Guess what?  She’s autistic!  Turns out she’ll go through phases where she won’t eat very much, then she’ll start eating again and be just fine.  The whole “just put out what you want her to eat and she won’t starve herself” line is bullshit.  She has very strong food aversions and will absolutely go days without eating if I don’t offer something she’s willing to eat.  What kills me is that, by taking your advice, I feel that I was a bad mother to my daughter when I was the only parent around (husband was deployed).  I hated myself whenever I argued with her or punished her for not eating.  I still hate myself for how I acted with her.  More than that, I hate you for dismissing my concerns and telling me it was my fault.  

As if that wasn’t damaging enough to me and my self esteem, I came to you in pain.  I was prescribed Norco by another doctor for pregnancy-related pain.  I was in pain on a daily basis.  DAILY.  It hurt so much that most days I couldn’t get off the couch.  My pain tolerance is relatively high, and I have a high threshold for pain medication, so you suggesting I switch to over-the-counter Tylenol was … offensive.  It was insulting that you would think going to basic Tylenol would help me after another doctor had already prescribed a narcotic.  You seemed to think it was all in my head, or that I was exaggerating.  On the 0-10 pain scale (and I have felt a 10), I would regularly have days at a level 5 or 6 throughout the pregnancy.  Towards the end, when I came to see you around 30 weeks, most days were at a 4 or 5 and spike to a 7 or 8.  I would only take pain medication on the spiked days – when my baby was sitting on my sciatic nerve or I was in so much pain I couldn’t stand.  Instead of listening to me or asking pertinent questions, you said “That’s a dangerous game you’re playing,” and proceeded to tell me about two patients of yours who took narcotics around 32 weeks and fell.  You told me one patient lost the baby, and the other’s baby had serious injuries.  HOW DARE YOU!?!?!?!  

I tried to address what your concern must have been, that I was at risk for falling because narcotics mess with your balance.  I told you I was aware of that risk, that there are no stairs in or around my apartment, and I only use the pain medication when I’m going to stay at home and rest on the couch.  I even held onto things walking around my apartment because I was aware of the risk.  Again, instead of listening to me, you said “well, I’d hate for you to have a lifetime of suffering just for some temporary relief.”  

Words cannot describe what I felt when you said that sentence to me.  Those words haunted me throughout the next 7 weeks of my pregnancy.  Every time I considered taking a pain pill, I heard those words, and I thought I had to choose between my son and myself – a false choice as dulling my pain would not have harmed my son.  So now, not only did I feel like a bad mother to my daughter because (according to you) I was giving in too early and letting her get away with eating whatever she wanted, but I was also a bad mother because I was putting my own needs over my unborn son.  I was so messed up by what you said that I had suicidal thoughts 2 weeks before he was born.  I was in so much pain and felt like such a bad mother for wanting the pain to go away, and such a bad mother to my daughter that I wanted to die.  The fact that that thought entered my head at all infuriated me, and continues to infuriate me.  

My son was born in April 2013 at 37 weeks.  He was and is completely healthy.  I had a gallbladder attack 2 weeks after he was born, and another 4 weeks after.  I ended up having my gallbladder removed exactly 1 month after he was born.  Since his birth, I can no longer take narcotics as they give me headaches, and even migraines.  The aches and pains I felt daily while pregnant are long gone.  

I have had a difficult time bonding with my son since he was born.  His cries literally make me nauseous. I sometimes feel anger and resentment towards him for causing me so much pain during the pregnancy. But that anger is misplaced.  I should be directing my anger at you, for misleading me into thinking I was a bad mother.  I’m a damn good mother because this bothers me so much.  I’m so upset with the words you used and how I responded, that I have been angry at myself and beating myself down emotionally for nearly a year.  Your words damaged so much.  They damaged my relationship with my daughter. They damaged my psyche.  They damaged my self-worth.  They damaged my relationship with my son before it even began.  Thankfully, my relationships with my children have grown beyond the damage. My relationship with myself, however, is taking significantly longer.  I was vulnerable when I heard your words and I internalized them.  It’s taking time to dig the words out and throw them in the trash where they belong.

I hope you never treat another patient like this.  I hope you put aside your arrogance and dismissive attitude and exude compassion instead.  I hope you open your ears and actually hear what your patients are trying to say.  I hope you hear and recognize the fear and uncertainty in their voices.  I hope you take time to build up your patients instead of tearing them down.  I hope you never make another patient feel the way you made me feel.