Dealing With Doctors During Your Vegan Pregnancy
How it all beganů
by Erin Pavlina
When I became pregnant in June, 1999, I couldn't be happier. A year earlier I had suffered an early miscarriage and it took us almost a year to get pregnant again. The life inside me was the most precious thing and I wanted to be sure I made a healthy environment for it. No problem; I was a vegan so I knew I was giving my baby the best possible start in life.
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Enter my doctors
I was part of an HMO where you weren't allowed to choose a physician, you simply saw whoever they assigned you to at each appointment. I had wanted a homebirth with a midwife but our financial situation made that unlikely. I resigned myself to the care of doctors who would change at every appointment, making it difficult for any of them to get to know me or my family.
Revealing my "secret"
I felt obligated to tell the first doctor I saw that I was a vegan. She immediately set me up with an appointment with the nutritionist on staff. Dutifully, perhaps too dutifully, I went. I was pleasantly surprised to find the nutritionist was a vegetarian. But she still admonished me to get enough protein and asked me to consider adding meat to my diet occasionally just to ensure adequate protein. I came home from that appointment in tears because I was confused. I believed wholeheartedly in the vegan diet. I had read Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Dr. Michael Klaper; this was such an informative book, I used it as my bible. My husband reassured me that my diet was fine.
Enter my brother
Word spread rapidly through my family that I was still going to be a vegan during pregnancy. My mom's friends expressed much concern, but I ignored them since they were only annoying my mom and not me. But one day I got a call from my brother who laid into me about adequate protein consumption. He was positive I wasn't getting enough protein. He told me I was harming my baby. I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I hung up from that call also in tears. I immediately went out and bought all kinds of legumes and nuts and binged on them to ensure I got enough protein.
I learn to keep quiet
I stopped mentioning my diet to anyone. Thankfully, I had my husband for support and he was so strong in his convictions that he really bolstered my confidence. I stopped mentioning my diet to the doctor du jour and since they rarely read the chart before seeing me, no one brought it up. I continued to eat healthy and take care of myself and my precious baby. I avoided everyone who had anything negative to say.
Saying no to tests
I could write a book about all the tests I was offered. Before agreeing to any of them, I weighed my options carefully and did my homework on each one. I declined the AFP test and had to endure three lectures about it from three different doctors. I declined amniocentesis when the ultrasound showed a .67% chance of Trisomy 18 (a fatal genetic disorder). I declined the 3 hour glucose test when my 1 hour test came back borderline. At 20 weeks of pregnancy my weight gain was a mere 4 pounds. They were concerned since this was apparently below average. They sent me to the nutritionist one more time and after reviewing my food diary she signed off on my chart that my diet was healthy and adequate and told me I was doing fine.
My doctor loses her temper
At 30 weeks of pregnancy with a weight gain of only 8 pounds, the doctor I was seeing that day went crazy when she read on my chart that I was a vegan. "You'd better stop dieting. You're killing your child," she said. I politely informed her I was not ON a diet, I simply was a vegan. She told me to add some Carnation Instant Breakfast drink to my diet. I told her I couldn't do that. She literally lost her temper and told me she couldn't treat someone who so blatantly was trying to harm her child. She slammed my file on the counter and stormed out. I heard her complaining to one of my previous doctors in the hallway. Here is what I heard her say, "I can't treat this woman. I don't understand her diet and I can't get her to drink any milk. How am I supposed to treat her?" The doctor said, "Her diet is fine. I've consulted with the nutritionist and there's nothing wrong with her diet. Now go back in there and be professional." She came back in and told me she was ordering 3 blood tests to check my vital organs and their functioning. I agreed to the tests, curious to see the results myself. She also told me she never wanted to see me again and to be sure I made my next appointment with another physician. We actually agreed on something. The word in the hallway was that I was a problem patient, that I questioned my doctors decisions, and basically no one wanted to deal with me. They sent a therapist in to see me to make sure I didn't want to harm my baby and to make sure I wasn't a threat to my unborn child. The nerve! One wonders if they ever send the therapist in to see the carnivorous women who, in my mind, are doing far more damage to their children from their diets than I was on mine.
The therapist and I got along great and she also signed off on my chart that I wasn't a threat to my baby. The blood tests measured the functioning of 10 of my vital organs (don't ask me how, they just did). The results amazed the doctor of the day. She said, "Well, in all my years of perinatology, I've never seen anyone with levels as good as yours. Your organs are functioning so well that your numbers don't even appear on the chart." With a new confidence I continued on with my pregnancy. I delivered a healthy baby girl at 38 weeks. To read about the labor and delivery go to: Emily's Birth Story.
The Moral of the Story
My diet was fine. I was fine. My baby was healthy. In medical terms she scored an 8 and 9 on her Apgars. I ended up gaining 20 pounds total during pregnancy and lost 30 within 2 weeks of giving birth. Nice bonus there! So my advice is this:
- Avoid telling anyone about your diet unless you really feel they need to know about it.
- Understand everything about the prenatal tests they want you to take. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks and sometimes they don't. Make an informed decision before consenting. The internet is a wonderful place for information on prenatal testing.
- Stand proud and tall. Be strong in your conviction.
- If your doctor browbeats you, switch doctors.
- If you have the option, find a doctor or midwife who supports your diet fully.
- Do not let any unqualified medical personnel make comments to you about your diet.
- Obtain Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Dr. Klaper. You'll be glad you did.
- Eat healthy. If you are into vegan junk food, like I was, make a more conscious effort to eat whole grains, fruits and fresh veggies before you reach for those donuts and candy bars.
- Exercise at least a little bit each day.
- If you are dealing with an adversarial doctor, try to bring someone with you to your appointments that will help support you.
- Relax during your pregnancy, put your feet up, write a love letter to your baby, and listen to classical music.
Be informed, get the facts, and be proud of your diet. Your decision to have a vegan pregnancy is the healthiest thing for your baby.