Women’s Healthcare and the Book of Mormon
For as long as I can remember, I have been an extremely passionate person. I am passionate about learning. I am passionate about helping others. I am passionate about animals and the human race and too many other things to list. One thing that I was never innately passionate about, however, was procreating and becoming a mom. Creating a human being and passing on my DNA never felt like something I needed to do in order to find purpose in life. As a former teacher, I had once found purpose in teaching and taking care of my students between the hours of 8 and 3, Monday through Friday, 9 months out of the year. Taking care of children in a compartmentalized way such as teaching always seemed enough for me.
Life’s passions and purpose change with impactful life events. Each person has those moments in life where a light-bulb comes on and their way of thinking changes forever. My atheism started in one of those life-altering light bulb moments my sophomore year of high school. It went something like this: Darwin, finches, S.S. Beagle, epiphany. Studying evolution kick-started a new search for meaning, purpose and answers to life’s big questions. Facts and reason did for me what faith and spirituality could not. It was like a weight was lifted and I was thinking clearly for myself for the first time ever.
As my love affair with atheism blossomed in my early adulthood, unfortunately, so did my chronic illness. I struggled with intense pelvic pain, chronic fatigue and a laundry list of other symptoms related to my menstrual cycle each month for years, never knowing what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. Once my pain became so intense that I was depending on narcotics each month in order to function, my OB-GYN started to suspect I had endometriosis. The only way to definitively diagnose the disease is by performing laparoscopic surgery. Desperate for answers, I underwent surgery in early March, 2015. Not only did the doctor confirm that I did indeed have endometriosis, but it had advanced to stage 4 (the severest form), with my bowel, bladder, ovaries and Fallopian tubes fused together with adhesions. My case was so advanced, the OB-GYN that performed my diagnostic laparoscopy wasn’t comfortable removing any of the endometriosis, for fear of making things worse.
The rest of the month was a whirlwind of recovery, uncertainty and excitement. My partner proposed to me during a weekend get-away for my birthday at the end of the month after 3 years of dating. This was a wonderful distraction from my recent diagnosis and unsuccessful surgery, but also added another one of those twists in life. I knew I needed to improve my quality of life before we started any wedding planning, so I started interviewing skilled surgical OB-GYNs in our area. Living in Southeast Iowa, skilled OB-GYNs are hard to find. I interviewed one after another and had various procedures, such as blood tests, ultrasounds and a colonoscopy done in the meantime. My blood tests revealed that in addition to endometriosis, I also suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I was put on Metformin, (typically used to treat diabetes), to help manage the PCOS. After this additional diagnosis, doctors started suggesting that when I did finally find an OB-GYN to perform my much needed endometriosis removal surgery, that my partner and I start trying for children immediately. You see, endometriosis and PCOS can only be managed, but will never be cured. Once you have endometriosis excised (cut out), it will eventually grow back. Our best option to ever conceive would be immediately after surgery while everything was cleaned out.
This was a hard pill to swallow (literally, have you ever seen a Metformin pill? They’re huge.). While my partner always knew he wanted children, I still wasn’t so sure. This was one of those life-altering events I spoke about earlier; we had only a couple of months to decide if we were ready to become parents, or possibly miss our chance forever. After weeks of discussion, my partner and I decided to hold off on wedding plans (newly engaged, remember), and start trying to get pregnant after my yet-to-be-scheduled surgery. Following this decision, I picked a skilled OB-GYN in a town a short 20 minutes from our Southeast Iowa home and set up my surgical consultation.
At this point, surgical consultations were routine for me and I knew exactly what to expect. I had already met with this OB-GYN and knew he was our best option based on his proximity and skill level. My friends in the area who were his patients raved about him and he had glowing reviews on-line. During the consultation, he asked the typical questions, stated the typical facts and offered the same “get pregnant right after surgery” advice. I shared with him that my partner and I had thought long and hard about our options after surgery and were going to forgo wedding plans in order to start trying for a baby immediately after.
The rest of the appointment was shocking and unforgettable. Another one of those light bulb, life-altering moments. The doctor’s demeanor completely changed after he realized that my partner and I weren’t married. He assumed that since I was wearing a ring and considering pregnancy, that I was already married. I told him that we had decided to conceive after my surgery because it was medically advised and the best option for our future family. While the doctor did agree that the pregnancy was medically necessary, he proceeded to tell me that he morally and ethically would not and could not help an unwed woman conceive a child. Furthermore, if I needed any kind of fertility treatment following my surgery, such as follicle counts, medication, etc, I would have to find another doctor.
I left the office completely stunned and with an appointment for surgery in early October. I wandered out into the parking lot in tears, unable to remember where I had parked 45 minutes earlier. Once I gathered myself a bit, found my car and drove off, I started thinking. “My partner and I have a common law marriage, would that be enough? This has got to be discrimination, right? This is a community hospital, he cant do this!”. I called the office no more than 10 minutes after I had left to discuss my options. My first question to them was if a common law marriage would suffice in order to receive fertility treatment, if needed, and how we would prove that we in fact do have one. The absurdity of this call was not beyond me, but I felt it needed to be done. The nurse that I talked to put me on hold while she asked the doctor my questions. When she came back on the line, she told me that my name change would be enough to prove that I was married. I scoffed. I had known since I was about 14 that even if I ever did get married, my name was my name, and nothing would ever change that. I told them I wouldn’t be changing my name.
The nurse placed me on another hold to share this information with the doctor. After a much shorter hold time, the nurse came back and told me that if I wasn’t willing to change my name, I would need to provide a marriage certificate before receiving any fertility treatment from this doctor. As you can imagine, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had a chronic illness. This was part of my treatment plan at a PUBLIC hospital. It was 2015.
My mind raced the rest of the day as I tried to decide what to do. I tried to comprehend what happened and why this doctor wouldn’t treat me. I reached out to some friends in the area that had referred me to him and told them what had happened. It was then that I found out that this doctor was a devout Mormon. This wasn’t exactly shocking, since Nauvoo, IL was right across the river. Our area has a large Mormon population in comparison to the rest of the United States.
My next step was to see what could be done about this. I talked to a couple of lawyers and some friends who had worked with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. In short, there was nothing that could be done. Although the doctor worked at a public hospital, marriage discrimination isn’t covered under Iowa’s anti-discrimination laws. My choices were to either seek out treatment out of state (expensive and time-consuming), or go through with the surgery with the Mormon doctor locally and hope for the best. I chose the latter.
Luckily, my story has a happy ending. My surgery was successful and any endometriosis that the doctor could see, he removed. Without any additional fertility treatment, I went on to conceive my daughter a short 6 weeks after surgery. I cannot express how extremely lucky we were to get pregnant on our own. In fact, I saw a different doctor in the same office a week before I found out I was pregnant for a follow-up appointment who stated he was absolutely shocked that I had severe endometriosis and PCOS and wasn’t receiving fertility treatment. I told him I was shocked as well, and why my primary OB-GYN wasn’t providing me with fertility treatment. He shook his head in frustration and said nothing.
I still struggle with the fact that I couldn’t do more to hold this doctor accountable for what he did to me and my family. After becoming pregnant, I switched my care over to a local midwives office, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. The few pregnancy appointments I had with my OB-GYN, I felt judged and uneasy. I knew the doctor didn’t approve of my pregnancy and wanted nothing to do with him delivering my daughter.
I went on to have a trying (non-stop vomiting), yet uncomplicated pregnancy, labor and delivery in a caring, non-judgmental atmosphere. I am convinced that my daughter and I are better for it. She will be turning 1 in a couple weeks, but I can already tell that she is a gentle, caring little girl. She came into this world in a gentle and caring way, so this only makes sense. My partner and I are absolutely thrilled to raise her in an atheist home, where she can learn the beauty of diversity, logic and reason.
This story is not an easy one for me to tell. It requires me to share intimate details of my life, such as my chronic illness, struggles with conception and of course, my atheism. While I regret not being able to hold my OB-GYN accountable for what he did, I am glad that I no longer give him my business. I speak out against his actions often, making sure to call him by name to those in our area who may seek out treatment from him. What he did to me was wrong. It was discrimination. If you have had an experience similar to mine within the four walls of the doctor’s office, I encourage you to speak out as well.