Mom Sues Doctor Over C-Section Fight: ‘I Was Treated Like a Child’

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
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Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting.

When Lindsay Scarborough Switzer had her daughter Jane in 2010, the birth went off without a hitch. “I got to the hospital, got an epidural, hung out, and waited for a baby,” the New Jersey attorney, 33, tells Yahoo Parenting — and though a doctor from her practice she’d hoped to avoid was the one who showed up at the end of her labor, her presence was short-lived. Three years later, Scarborough Switzer wound up back in the same delivery room with her second child, a son — first with an attending midwife from her practice, but then, after a shift change, that same dreaded doctor again, who remained on the scene for the final hour or so of labor, which had mom in the hospital for about six hours. Her interactions with this ob-gyn wound up changing the course of her life, leaving her regretful, ashamed, traumatized — and currently in a lawsuit against the doctor, whom Scarborough Switzer says allegedly bullied her into having a cesarean section. Now the mom-of-two shares her story with Yahoo Parenting in hopes of helping other women advocate for themselves. “I can’t be the only person out there this is happening to,” she says.

I had seen [the doctor] a couple of times for checkups during my second pregnancy — she doesn’t like answering questions and basically has one hand on the doorknob the whole time, so I didn’t want her at my son’s birth. I didn’t really feel comfortable around her. But there were so many practitioners, and the reason I went with the practice in the first place was because I was told by another doctor that they had a low C-section rate, and also because they had more midwives than doctors. Plus the office was convenient for me and they took my insurance. So I figured: Lightning’s not going to strike twice, right?

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I went into labor on my due date. Everything felt like it was going quickly. We got to hospital around 9 a.m. and I was at six centimeters. There was a midwife on call and she was pretty hands-off. She just let me do what I had to do, so I labored in the shower, I labored with these little pads that put electrical stimulations on my back because I had back labor, and I was not medicated. Nobody had given me any indication that there was any problem, and I wasn’t continuously monitored.

Eventually, I was up on the bed on my hands and knees and I said, “I have to push.” [The midwife] said to go ahead. Then [that] doctor came walking in out of nowhere. The first thing she said was, “Why isn’t she on the monitors?” Then she went over to a nurse in the corner of the room and said something about my son being too big, and that maybe I needed a C-section. It just came out of nowhere. I said to my husband, “Don’t let her cut me.”

She came over and said, “I’m going to check you now,” and made me flip over and lie on my back. She put her hands in my vagina without asking. She said, “She’s not even complete!” and got up and walked away. I was still contracting.

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I got back on my hands and knees. She said, “This has been going on too long, I want to do a C-section now.” She asked me how big my first baby was and I said 5 pounds, 15 ounces. Then she asked how long I pushed, and when I said two hours, that’s kind of when she became unhinged — a switch flipped. I think she just didn’t want to wait two hours. She said, “Aren’t you getting an epidural?” When I said no, she asked if I wanted a pudendal block. I said I don’t know what that was, and my doula explained it’s [an anesthetic] shot to your perineum. I said, “No, thank you. Why would I want that?”

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Pregnant with her second child. (Photo: Becca Neufeld Photography)

Then the doctor came over to me and said, “I’m trying to help you, and you’re not letting me, and I don’t like that. You’re a lawyer — what would you do if one of your clients wasn’t listening to you?” I asked why she was lecturing me, and she said, “I don’t need to lecture you, I can lecture my kids at home,” and kept talking to me, and I put my hand up and said, “Give me a minute, I’m having a contraction.” She said, “I don’t appreciate this,” and walked out of the room.

I was curled up in the bed and didn’t have the urge to push anymore. My body knew something was going on. I remember my husband saying, “I don’t want that doctor back in here.” But then she came back in — with pieces of paper that she wanted me to sign. She told me it said, basically, “I don’t care if my baby’s brain damaged or dead.” That’s how she said it: “I don’t care if my baby’s brain damaged or dead.”

Then she said something about my daughter — telling a nurse she has problems, which she does not. She didn’t like to eat as an infant and had a feeding tube in her nose, but she’s a totally normal pre-kindergarten kid and has no neurological problems, which this doctor knows. So that was just confusing and scary, because the way she phrased it was like, “We have to do something about these kids,” which sounded to me like she was going to have them taken away.

So she leaves again and comes back with the phone and hands it to my husband. It was another doctor at the practice, who said [it seemed like] a C-section was an option. While my husband was on the phone, she comes up to me and says, “If you don’t sign off on this C-section, I’m going to call legal people who are going to force you to do it.”

At this point, I had an oxygen mask in my hand and an open IV line, and I thought they were just going to knock me out. So I signed it.

My midwife, who wrote everything down for later, came up to me at one point and said, “Lindsay, you’re being bullied.” But I didn’t know what to do with that information. I was naked and in pain and scared, and believing there was something wrong with my baby and with me. Turns out, there was nothing wrong with him. I have a medical expert [who submitted court evidence] who says she was wrong — that she totally ignored the heart trace and that he was fine. [The expert report noted, in part: “This type of deceleration is only significant if they are persistent and repetitive — these had actually resolved at the time the patient was taken for the Cesarean… Apparently the doctor did not know that the brain damage with which she threatened the Switzers is rare — about 1 in 12,000…”]

The surgery was traumatic and terrifying. I asked for double stitches, not really knowing what that meant, explaining I just needed to be able to have a VBAC if I had another baby. And [the doctor] started to tell me why I wouldn’t be a candidate for a VBAC — all while the blue drape was in my face. Then my son comes out, and nobody says anything to me other than, “It’s a boy.”

My husband was totally freaked out. I think he’s got a level of trauma that’s been totally unaddressed. He thought he was going to lose all three of us — that Jane was getting taken away, and that Cole and I were going to die. He’s a cop, he’s a pretty stoic guy, and he’s seen some pretty intense situations. But this he won’t even talk about. He’s a very caring father and husband, and for him not to be able to protect his family I think really hit him hard.

In the operating room, while the doctor was stitching me up, she said, “Do you have any other special requests? You’re very opinionated.” She was laughing and trying to chat with [the staff], talking about going out that night. My husband just threw his hands in the air.

I had been looking forward to meeting my baby for nine months, but this wasn’t about me. It was about what [the doctor] wanted, and not what was best for me or my family or my child. She even testified that she doesn’t agree that she needs to get informed consent.

I thought I was okay for a couple of months — you say, well, I had a healthy baby. But I was having panic attacks. I couldn’t lie on my back in bed because it reminded me of being in the operating room. I was diagnosed with PTSD and an anxiety disorder, and I’d never had any problems before. It sort of manifested slowly in therapy sessions, the realization that something happened to me — that it wasn’t the actual birth or the surgery that was traumatic, but being told I had no choices.

[Now, two years later,] I still take medication for panic attacks and anxiety, and I don’t go to the doctor unless I absolutely have to. I’m a defense attorney and I read medical records all the time, and those would trigger a panic attack, because it would say something like “dissected the muscle…”

Had this not happened, I probably would, at the very least, be pregnant with another baby by now. But I don’t think I’ll be ready for a long time, if ever. I hear about other women who are fine, whether they give birth vaginally or by C-section, and I think in large part it’s because they’re treated like human beings during the process. I was just treated as this inconvenient incubator. It’s not the surgery that affected my life. It’s the blatant disregard for my humanity, and my ability to make decisions for myself, and for my kids.

I blamed myself initially for not sticking up for myself more, but I’ve realized there’s nothing I could’ve done in that moment.

I requested my medical records right away because I didn’t understand the reason for the C-section. [My son’s] heart did slow down after a contraction three times, but it recovered after I was given oxygen and IV fluid. He recovered, and I didn’t need it. I filed a complaint with the board of medical examiners, and I got back a letter saying they investigated and found nothing wrong. But I saw the letter she wrote back and it was full of lies, and made me look like a lunatic. She did admit there was no informed consent.

I started interacting with a lot of advocacy groups, which is how I wound up on the Exposing the Silence Project. And I focused on getting myself better — taking care of the panic attacks, focusing at work.

What it came down to with [my suing the doctor] was this: I can’t be the only person out there this is happening to — and I’m a professional, I’m in my 30s, I’m married, I have wonderful family support. What’s happening to the single minority mom? I’m privileged in every way, and I still got treated like a child who couldn’t make her own decision. That’s when I thought maybe I could fight this and do something about it — and the way that works in this country is through a lawsuit. Lawsuits are why we have seatbelts, lawsuits are why we have car seats. The way I was able to find a lawyer — because [most] brushed me off, saying, “Well, you have a healthy baby…” — was by sending my doula’s notes, because it’s a third-party report and has sort of a detached demeanor. I also sort of speak the language [as an attorney].

I think the only leg I have to stand on is that [the doctor] really [doesn’t believe] that a pregnant woman has the same right to informed consent as a non-pregnant person. She testified that under oath, and it’s very scary. It just confirms that women can be misogynist, too.

I think there’s a judgment that, no matter what, as long as your baby is healthy, you shouldn’t be dissatisfied by your birth experience. I think people are judging me, like, “What’s your problem? You have two children who are beautiful and healthy.” And I do, and I’m very grateful, but my mental health matters, too. It directly affects my ability to do my job, to be a mother, to be a wife, and that all is stemming from this horribly invasive experience.

I mean, if my kid breaks a leg and I take her to the emergency room, I know she might have to have surgery and she’ll probably have to have a cast. If I run down to the cafeteria and come back to find they’re taking her in to get an amputation, I don’t need a medical degree to know that something’s not right. So when I’m 10 centimeters dilated and pushing a baby out, I probably don’t need a medical degree to know I have other options besides major surgery. A lot of people come from a place from let the doctor do her job, they know best. And I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Note: In a sworn deposition before the Superior Court of New Jersey in July, a transcript of which was provided to Yahoo Parenting by Scarborough Switzer, the doctor disputes some of her patient’s details regarding their interactions. She says her reason for recommending a C-section was “due to the persistent late decelerations,” or slowing-down of the baby’s heartbeat, and that the time for “compassionate” communication with her patient had ended, in her opinion. “There is no more holding hands, touching the belly, just no more of that.” As she explains it: “She certainly can refuse the C-section, that is not the problem. I respect patient’s opinion. …[But] I have two patients. I don’t have just one patient …that is why I disagree with the statement of your, of the American, whatever, ACOG [the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists], that the desire of the mother has to supersede the desire of the fetus. I disagree with that. …I have an obligation now toward the baby. I’ve gotta speak for the baby because that is my second patient.”

(Photo: Lindsay Askins/Spot of Serendipity)

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