A Uniquely Positive Hospital Experience
A Uniquely Positive Hospital Experience
Afraid to say the “V” word during my early prenatal visits, I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about getting vegan hospital food when my baby was born. I had scoped out the area before hand and knew there was a grocery store with a natural foods section down the road that I could send a family member to if I needed something. Finally, at one of my last appointments, I slipped it into my list of questions for the midwife.
“When should we leave for the hospital?” I asked.
“When the contractions are three to five minutes apart,” my midwife responded.
“Will I be allowed to eat during labor?”
“Of course,” she said.
“Are there any vegetarian options for ‘strict’ vegetarians?” I waited, expecting her to be dismayed that I’d not mentioned my vegan diet up until now.
To my surprise, she stated, “Yes, the hospital will accommodate any diet restrictions and we always have vegetarian meals available.” She added, “You are also welcome to bring in food from your home and we can keep it in our refrigerator.” That was it? No lecture? No questions? Perhaps it helped that I appeared confident and knowledgeable throughout my pregnancy. Or perhaps she noticed that I was working as a diet tech which I had stated on a form in my chart. Or maybe it just isn’t so outlandish anymore to be a vegan through your pregnancy. Maybe people finally are realizing that the vegan diet can be very healthy and in fact is usually much healthier than how most other people in this country eat. All my labs were within normal range throughout my pregnancy. I never had a problem with low hemoglobin, hypertension, “gestational diabetes,” or any other issue, and was quite healthy and active.
It also helped that the hospital I chose, Woodwinds, wasn’t the typical hospital I had visited. I had the option to use certified nurse midwives instead of doctors and they even offered water birth and were supportive of natural birth. It was a bit of a drive for us to Woodbury, MN– about 30 to 40 minutes away without traffic. At first our relatives didn’t know why we were going so far when there were two hospitals within 5 minutes of us in each direction. But my mind was set. I basically wanted a home-like hospital birth. I had even brought up having a home birth but my husband was not comfortable with that option at all. And to me, as long as I had a midwife and had the baby at the hospital I chose, that was just fine and with less clean-up!
So when the big day came, I brought my bag full of non-perishable vegan snacks and some soy yogurts for the refrigerator. Of course, by the time I got to the hospital the last thing I felt like doing was eating. I sipped on a sports drink and managed through a relatively short 7 hour natural labor. Our beautiful baby girl was born at 1:30 pm, just a few hours after we arrived.
Unfortunately, I had lost a lot of blood during the birth due to hemorrhage. I rested and ate my snacks and nursed my baby. On the first trip to the restroom, I passed out due to my postpartum anemic state. My husband and a nurse helped me back to the bed and the staff asked what they could get me to eat. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” I said desperately. At that point I didn’t care if their bread contained honey or whey or anything else, I just scarfed it down. (I did read the ingredients later and it was vegan).
Later for supper, I explained that I was vegan to the diet tech and they brought me a vegan split pea soup, steamed vegetables and even a glass of soy milk! It was wonderful. No one ever questioned me about my diet and when the midwife talked to me about how to get my iron up she didn’t skip a beat when I said I didn’t eat animal products. She just encouraged the green leafy vegetables, lentils, and other vegetarian options. I was very impressed!
At my two month postpartum check up, my hemoglobin was still a bit low (around 10) but had gone up considerably since the hospital. The midwife I saw was one I hadn’t met before and she commented “Well this would be easier if you ate meat.” I pulled out the old, “Don’t worry, I’m very knowledgeable in nutrition and have a degree in dietetics so I know which foods to eat,” which I’ve found is a pretty handy little sentence for me. She admitted that hemoglobin does indeed take some time to return to normal and considering how low it was before (about 8.0) I was doing pretty good at getting it back up. I explained I was actually surprised it still wasn’t back to normal because I felt 100% better and no longer felt weak or light headed. She agreed that I was doing well.
So all in all, I had a very positive hospital experience regarding my vegan diet. I know it’s not very often vegans are accommodated so well and not harassed about their eating, especially when it comes to pregnancy and the medical establishment. I am so glad I found a hospital that was so easygoing. It was worth the extra 20 minute drive! Hopefully in the near future every hospital will be so supportive of a healthy plant-based diet and a natural birth experience.