Friday, May 20, 2011


"No one has complained before" is perhaps one of the most sinister things that can be said in casual conversation.
(Ing in a discussion of Damon Fowler of Bastrop, Louisiana on Pharyngula, responding to the comment They respected the majority of their classmates and didn’t say anything,” Quinn said. “We’ve never had this come up before. Never.”)
I don't know  about sinister, but reading this took me back to a day 34 or so years ago, when I heard this from my obstetrician. I had asked him not to call me "honey", "sweetie" or the other endearments he used instead of my name. I didn't expect a positive reaction, but I at least expected a professional one. He appeared to take offense at my request, although to be fair, he did honor it. "Nobody else has ever complained before," is pretty much what he said, with a scowl on his face and his shoulders hunched.

The reason I was in Dr. A's office at all, 70 miles from home, is that the only private hospital that delivered babies in Baton Rouge back then did not allow husbands in the delivery room. Lakeside Hospital in Metairie did. A friend who was a childbirth educator gave me the name of a friend who had used Dr. A for several pregnancies and raved about him. If I had listened more carefully, I would have realized that his partner Dr. M, who she described as "very nice, but more like a brother" would have suited me much better. Dr. M, as I found out during one of my prenatal visits when Dr. A was out birthin' babies, addressed patients by their names and didn't exude the paternalism that made me want to slap Dr. A.

And the reason I was willing to travel to another city to have my then husband with me during the birth and the reason I was willing to confront  Dr. A and not back down was that I was about to have a baby. I  figured if I did not learn to fight for what I wanted before the kid was born, s/he was going to run right over me. Did I turn out to be right. I love my son, and he is a wonderful human being, but there were days in his childhood when I felt like I could go from motherhood to running a maximum security prison without turning a hair. Unlike me, my son has an un-bought and un-bossed attitude that I admired while trying hard to convince him he must never use his powers for evil, only for good.

So was Woman's Hospital going to tell me that I couldn't have my husband with me in the delivery room? No. Was Dr. A going to call me "honey" for nine whole months when I have a perfectly good name that he should know because it was right there on the chart he was reading? No. Did I stand up, look him in the eye, and explain to him in a calm and self-possessed voice that his behavior was demeaning and unprofessional? No. Actually I sat there and cried. But I made my point.

And to be fair, Dr. A was a good doctor. I never doubted his concern for me and my child, his support for my desire to have an unmedicated delivery (which I did) and his enthusiasm for what he did. His use of "honey" and "dearie" was meant to be reassuring, not flirtatious. But no one had complained before, and back in the 1970's, men his age weren't going to figure out all on their own that maybe no one had ever complained before because they were afraid to. Afraid of hurting his feelings. Afraid to be seen as hormonal and irrational. Afraid of complaining when no one else had complained before.
Now of course Woman's Hospital lets husbands, grandmas, best friends and the meter maid in the delivery room, in large part because they had potential patients who had their babies in nearby cities rather than accept Woman's rules. Dr. A served on the BOS of our state university and has a sports museum named after him, so I am reminded of him every time hubby and I go to a basketball game or gymnastics meet. My son is grown and gainfully employed. 

And when it came time for my son to make his appearance, right on his due date, which was a Sunday and so Dr. A's day off, Dr. M delivered him. And called me by my name.

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