Monday, February 25, 2008

(Un)Healthy Suspicion of Health Care?

We’ve hit this topic a little in our email discussions about midwifery, but I wanted to revisit it more generally. What’s with the larger-than-average number of Catholic moms who harbor a suspicion against the medical status quo? I wouldn’t pin myself as a “granola” or “homeopathic” mom, but this weekend when I found myself formally declining Pedialyte solution during a late night visit to the emergency room with a 105-degree 18-month-old Bean, I had to stop and wonder. It’s just Pedialyte! But on the other hand, I had explained to Mr. Nurse that Bean drank 32 oz. of diluted juice and had several wet diapers over the course of the day, so why pump him full of dextrose and dyes at midnight just because Mr. Nurse says to? Besides, I was still dealing with the guilt of giving poor sick Bean only watery juice to drink when I saw that Elizabeth Foss was spoon-feeding her feverish 18-month-old ice cubes blended with whole oranges. While homeschooling 6 other children with her husband out of town. She rocks.

Quite a few of us tend toward midwifery and natural birth before obstetrics, natural remedies before medications, observe and wait before rushing to the doctor for sure treatment… and it seems to me that a disproportionately large number of Catholic moms are the same way. Bean had ibuprofen, acetaminophen and an antibiotic for the first time ever this weekend, and this is certainly not the first time he’s been sick. I’ll admit I can be an obnoxiously inquisitive patient or mom when I do find myself or my children under medical care. I’m not proud of being a thorn in the side of the noble doctors and nurses who help keep my family healthy.

So… why? Is it because of a leaning away from things artificial—such as artificial birth control and baby formula (not to compare them morally)—that we lean away from technological solutions and trust our bodies? Is it because we’re subtly influenced by some complicated mind-body unity philosophy that has Catholic origins? Is it because of a more recent cultural trend to get back to nature/back to the earth among religious parents, evidenced also by attachment parenting and the like? Is it because we’re micromanaging, hands-on, stay-home, potentially-homeschooling moms (versus moms who have help from day cares/nannies), so we expect to know exactly what treatments our kids are getting and why? Or is it not Catholic at all, just a swelling trend among a certain segment of moms?

May God bless all the doctors and nurses out there. Maybe our next batch of cookies will be for the emergency room personnel, Saturday pm shift.


Melinda said...

Hi all,

I've been following your conversations (I met M.A. at a mom's discussion group last year) and finding them so helpful.

Re. unhealthy suspicion of health care, I have thought about this subject a great deal because my only sister passed away at 17 after a lengthy medical battle that included both malpractice and the best care that anyone could ask for from nurses and doctors who I love to this day. Like many of you I lean towards non-intervention... I don't rush to the doctor for every bug, I deliver naturally with a midwife. Certainly being Catholic contributes to my distrust at times: how can I fully trust medical professionals who would gladly refer me for an abortion if my baby tested positive for a slew of problems from spina bifida to cleft palate?

On the other hand, with each of my girls there have been things that really had to be treated medically (functional constipation with one, and bronchialitis with the other). So how do I know when to get help and when to avoid it? Do I have to get a medical degree to be a goog mom?

I think of the story of Abraham on the mountain, poised with knife to his beloved son's throat. I never really understood why God would be so capricious, testing Abraham in such a cruel way. But now I see that God was asking Abraham to acknowledge what we all must: that our children don't belong to us. In the end, it doesn't matter what I choose regarding Hep B vaccines, because if my daughter dies of a reaction to the shot or of Hepatitis B, she is going home either way. The more important thing is that I tend to her spiritual health.

I try to remember this as I approach medical decisions (big and small), in the hopes that trusting God will free me from the fear and guilt that might interfere with my ability to make clear-headed decisions. Maybe blind trust in doctors and hyper-enthusiasm for the alternatives are the same idol in different garb, an idol we moms long to worship so that we don't have to go to the mountaintop.

It is not at all easy find the right balance, and in addition to praying for the health-care professionals we rely on, I pray for all the mothers who are not spared on the mountaintop, and who, like my mom, have to try to understand God's love under the most difficult circumstances.

Right Said Red said...

Great topic Juris Mater! You posed so many interesting questions, and I have two "gut" reactions or "answers" to the pattern seen among Catholic mothers.

First, I think many moms begin to question doctors through their experiences in obstetrics and gynecological care. An industry which pushes abortion and birth control on us, and is so critical and unsupportive of abstinence and NFP, creates a skepticism in even the most medical and technologically friendly women. This skepticism results in an alternative approach to obgyn care, and it slowly spills into other areas. For many, questioning a doctor's advice was at one time unfathomable. But once we are put in position where a doctor is advising something antithetical to our faith, we suddenly become quite skeptical. Through reading and research, this skepticism opens up a door for us to question other medical practice areas--such as typical pediatric care. In my own personal case, my experiences during pregnancy and labor encouraged me to read about alternative methods of medical care, which then pushed me into eating more naturally and suddenly I was questioning the protocol at my pediatricians office! It was a slippery slope, but I started down the slope due to my obgyn care and the use of NFP.

Second, I think as Christians we are more in tune with the idea that foregoing instant gratification builds character--and has payoffs later in life. For instance, taking an antibiotic for a minor ear infection may be the best short term solution, but could cause problems later. This sort of long term approach to health and medical care is very anti-cultural, as most parents and people seek a quick fix to problems. I think our faith teaches us to have more patience, and we are then able to bide time to trust our bodies over medical intervention.

All this being said, I think Melinda makes and excellent point in saying "Maybe blind trust in doctors and hyper-enthusiasm for the alternatives are the same idol in different garb, an idol we moms long to worship so that we don't have to go to the mountaintop."

I can't wait to hear what everyone else thinks!

B-Mama said...

My gut reaction to all these wonderfully medical questions was to say nothing. I am a do-gooder, rule-follower, and generally obedient patient. If a doc tells me to do X because of Y, I have a tendency to believe him/her and follow his/her recommendations.

Perhaps I have a blind trust in the medical profession because I so desired to be a physician throughout most of my young, adolescent, and young adult life. I saw healthcare providers in my family making sound, reasonable decisions for the good of their patients and assumed that all healthcare professionals would act similarly.

Then, though, came a malpractice issue involving my labor with my first child, which could have resulted in my sterility! Thank God for the midwife who went outside of her line of duty, caught the problem, and remedied the situation before it became largescale.

Yet even after such an experience, I am still following orders. Am I weak? Am I too compliant? Quite possibly. Am I too much of a "goody goody" and pacifist to raise an issue with a doc. Most likely.

Don't know where that leaves me, but to push myself toward the other extreme, listen, and be more vigilant/educated regarding my and my family's healthcare. Listening to those of you who question often is inspiring to a pushover like me. Thanks!

k said...

I would also throw in that we are a different generation of women. Throughout our education we have been taught to investigate and question and seek out information on our own (or at least that was some of the outcomes of my education). We trust in our intelligence, so in those situations where our something feels "off", we have the courage to make our opinion known.

I also agree with Red that these skepticisms really come to light during pregnancy and childbirth. What a truly fascinating experience to have someone act as though the cycle of life was a disease to be "fixed" and "treated".

I am extremely picky about my doctors having, by luck, found many good ones throughout my life. What I found I look for, what makes them a "good doctor", is their willingness, eagerness even, to tell me what they are doing and why, to treat me as an equal partner in my care and my child's care.

This can get to be excessive as my favorite dentist in my old home town was so eager to share he would constantly make me hold up a mirror so he could point out every little thing he was planning out. It was great and made me less anxious, but after a few visits I had an intense desire to just say "Dude, I trust you, now quit talking and let's get a move on!"

texas mommy said...

At Princeton I was a memeber of the Ethics forum, invited to apply by a daily-mass going Catholic. So I wrote an essay and started going to the dinners, which were mostly vegetarian as there were so many animal rights advocates in the group including Peter Singer.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

As we sat eating our sauteed tofu and tempeh for the sake of the cows, we were having a discussion on the validity of killing handicapped persons. I think I was too much in shock to say anything the first dinner. My many classes in science and public policy brought to light the decision making processes regarding ethics and science, genetics and medicine.

So much of the "ethics" of medicine seem to be determined in the political/intellecutal sphere. So, while I may trust my doctor, he has been taught and indeed even forced by the state to vaccinate my child with a vaccine made from an aborted fetus and now to inject my child with the herpes virus to help prevent chicken pox.

Texas just made national news when our Republican governor mandated the HPV vaccine be adminstered to 6th grade girls. Yes, the vaccine prevents some cervical cancer, but ONLY the kind that results from an STD. There are controversial links between Gov. Perry and the drug comany Merck.

So my suspiscion of health care comes in large part from medical "ethicists" whom we have had the chance to meet and the pharmaceutical lobby. Furthermore, many times medical interventions, especially during childbirth are driven by legal concerns, fear of malpractice, etc. I think my point is that whether out or fear, ignorance or money, the patient's best interest may not always be the first concern.

So yes, I question my doctors. I try to eat well to avoid illness and maintian health, though it's not always possible. But I am sure if/when we have a serious problem or disease which the miracles of modern medicine can cure, I will ask a million questions and then be the first in line for treatment.

As far as childbirth goes, we have already discussed this a lot, but I appreciate the more wholistic approach (physical, emotional, spiritual) that respects a women and her body. But I am also thankful for NICUs!

Sarahndipity said...

Hi, I just found your blog through Mark Shea's, and I love it!

To answer your question - I have absolutely no idea. I've wondered the same thing - it's a mystery to me. I'm a Catholic NFP-using mom and I breastfed my daughter for a long time, but other than that I'm not terribly "crunchy." To me, home birth is absolutely nuts (no offense to anyone!!) I couldn't have an epidural with my daughter b/c the labor just went too fast, but I'm definitely having one with my next baby if at all possible. For me, birth is something to be gotten over with as quickly and painlessly as possible, provided that it's safe for the baby. I would never have a non-medically indicated c-section, for example, (though I admit that’s much less scary to me than labor) because there seems to be plenty of evidence that it’s more dangerous, and it’s not recommended for people who want multiple children. But I have absolutely no problem with medical interventions as long as they’re safe for me and the baby,.

I wholeheartedly believe everyone the Church teaches, but I guess I don't really understand what Catholicism and being "crunchy" have to do with each other. Though there's certainly nothing wrong with being crunchy! I absolutely support the right for people to have a home birth, give birth in a bathtub or whatever, as long as it’s safe for them and their baby. It’s just not what I would choose to do.

Anne said...

just found this blog through a friend. Very cool. :)

I'm 23. I just had my first child about...10 months ago, and I birthed at home with a midwife. For me, learning NFP was a gateway into learning about the beautiful design God created in women. That flowed into a desire to learn about pregnancy and birth and I detested the attitude of the first couple of OBs I saw that pregnancy and birth are diseases/terrible conditions simply to be endured in order to get the "end result"

So I said thanks but no thanks to the hospital and all it's interventions, and decided I'd call them if I needed them. I loved being a client, not a patient, and I loved that my midwife actually knew about nutrition. My homebirth changed my life. :) I think about it everyday. I cannot wait to give birth again.

Like others have said, one thing leads to another. For me, I think crunchiness and Catholicism meld easily because it's what comes most naturally, and I think it respects our bodies and the way God created them. I'm certainly not saying that one HAS to be crunchy to be Catholic, just that it fits so nicely together :)

Maria said...

Love the blog, ladies! I found you through Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog.

As to this post, I don't think this is Catholic phenomena, at least in my experience. I've meet many "medically wary" moms at parks and playgrounds and breastfeeding groups. They tend to be well-educated, urban, and upper-class moms, but not predominately Catholic. In fact, my Catholic moms group has fewer medically wary moms than the almost completely secular breastfeeding group I attend sometimes. I find that demographics play a larger role in this movement than religion, though that often is a factor.

Mary Alice said...

In general I find that suspicion of health care takes time and energy that I don't always have, I am too busy being suspicious of government education.

I agree with the poster who noticed this as an elite phenomenon, but I also think that NFP advocates often lean towards other natural things. Nutrition plays a big role in this, for me the Couple to Couple League book on Nutrition and Fertility was really influential. I also think that breastfeeding advocates find that there are many natural remedies.

I would say that supplements have changed my life, and they were begun at the recommendation of my doctor.

As for a direct link to Catholicism, there isn't one, except in truly ethical matters of healthcare, I think that this is one of many areas where there can be a temptation to become "dogmatic" where no matters of dogma are present.

I tend to over think my birth experiences because I have had many and hope to have many more, but while the "normal" progression of child birth (labor at home for a while, then, go to the hospital) seems painful and unappealing to me, I am still undecided as to whether I will solve this problem with scheduled induction and epidural or midwife and birth center.

One last thing, I want to give a plug to nurses, I have noticed that good nurses make a huge difference in the level of care, and make good doctors better able to do their jobs.