Choosing a Pregnancy Practitioner
Jan. 21, 2002 -- Pregnancy kicks off a new chapter in your life, and one of the most important newcomers you'll meet during those nine months -- besides your baby, of course -- is your doctor or midwife. It's this expert who will demystify the incredible changes your body undergoes, answer the gazillion questions you'll have at each visit, and help create the childbirth experience you and your spouse want. That's why choosing a practitioner is probably the biggest decision you'll have to make.
Most couples choose either an obstetrician, midwife, or family physician. Individual styles and philosophies vary, but some basic generalities about each group hold true. Obstetricians offer access to all the bells and whistles that medical science has to offer. Midwives typically advocate as little intervention and as natural a childbirth experience as possible. Family physicians view pregnancy with the same holistic approach as midwives, but since they're doctors, their background more closely resembles that of obstetricians. They'll also continue to treat you and your child after birth.
Think first about the kind of birthing experience you and your spouse are hoping for, then find out which practitioners in your area can accommodate it. Is giving birth in a homelike setting rather than a hospital important to you? Do you want the option of receiving an epidural or cesarean section without being moved? The answers don't always fit into nice, neat categories: A certified nurse-midwife, for instance, might practice in a hospital where anesthesiologists are also available to administer epidurals if necessary; an obstetrician might encourage a woman to walk around and shower during labor and monitor the baby's heartbeat only intermittently. However, the provider and place of birth can narrow your options.
Above all, find someone with whom you feel comfortable, not only because you'll get the most from your prenatal visits and discussions that way, but also because you'll feel more secure during the birth. "You've got to be able to trust that individual," says Cheryl Coleman, president of the International Association of Childbirth Educators[title confirmed]. No matter how scrupulous your birth plan, she says, "when push comes to shove -- literally -- during labor, your practitioner is the one to make the final decision, either with you or for you. If you can't trust those decisions are in your best interest, you won't have a good birth experience."
One of the best ways to find a practitioner is by word-of-mouth, particularly from friends who shared your goals for childbirth. Each professional association also provides names of physicians or midwives in your area. Then visit the candidates and facilities with which they're affiliated and ask questions about their track records and philosophies. The fit between provider and patient is ultimately as unique and personal as the individuals themselves. Here's a look at three women and the different -- yet satisfying -- choices they made.