Parents can be “crunchy” and still believe in science | by Daniella Klebaner | Sep, 2021

Daniella Klebaner

There is a growing false dichotomy between living an affirming, holistic, and gentle lifestyle, and science/modern medicine. This is a problem stemming from fault on both “sides.” Nowhere is this more readily apparent than the world of parenting. As parents, we are crippled by “decision fatigue.” Every choice feels astonomical when it affects your tiny spawn, and these days, there are deep, energy-sucking internet research holes for optimizing each decision. The plethora of information and pressure from other parents to do the right thing is exhausting and paralyzing. Memes abound about the emotional harm of sleep training; the dangers of formula; the toxins in vaccines. And, just as in politics, the divide in parenting can be so striking that you can often tell where someone will fall on each major parenting decision based on a single sentence or photo on someone’s feed.

I am a new parent. I am also a doctor. I love science. I also was raised in an immigrant family and firmly believe homemade chicken broth and hot tea can cure colds. I intermittently co-slept during my child’s first year, took her to see a DO specializing in OMM for nursing issues, was too much of a wuss to sleep train, and regularly recommend acupuncture. I chose to have prenatal care with a midwife but I also chose to deliver in a hospital. My goal was to have an unmedicated birth but my 40 hour labor had other plans, and I’m totally okay with my epiduralized birth that allowed my tired body to sleep a few hours before bringing a human into the world. My child is fully vaccinated on schedule and will continue to be. I got the COVID-19 vaccine the second it was offered to me. Having cared for, and lost, many patients with COVID-19 now, I would do this a million times over. All of this is to say… I don’t really exist on either end of the crunchy vs sciencey spectrum, and neither do many parents I know.

One of the places the “divide” between holistic health and science seems most stark is when it comes to prenatal education, birth and parenting (and yes, this includes vaccination).

As a patient and parent, I have felt dismissed by my doctor and by Raya’s doctor. Most physicians are able to distinguish who is really sick, and are highly competent at treating them. We need those physicians. But what we are NOT trained on as doctors is how to listen to people who aren’t sick, but who also aren’t okay. During my child’s first few months, she developed serious breastfeeding aversions and was diagnosed with a tongue tie. Raya wasn’t on the verge of death, but she was screaming during every single feed, barely eating, and I was at the lowest point of… probably, my life? I sought help from anyone who would listen to me, anyone who heard me, anyone who believed me — now, of course, I look back and question myself for spending money on, in retrospect, therapies with zero evidence behind them that did nothing.

Along my journey, I struggled to find an evidence-based provider who truly listened and understood that what we were going through wasn’t normal. Instead…

-We were told to pursue bodywork. We saw a chiropractor, whose office was full of anti-vaccine books and people not wearing masks in the early days of the pandemic. Their instagram account regaled of toxins in vaccines and the dangers of hospital birth.

-At the pediatrician, we were told “this was just a phase” and to push through it. “This is just a part of her personality.”

-I read tweets from doctors about how tongue ties aren’t real and mocking patients that seek treatment for them

-A lactation consultant encouraged me to eliminate all but 6 foods from my diet without evidence to suggest Raya had a food intolerance or allergy. I was told I had a “gut imbalance” which was affecting Raya. In my desperate, exhausted, sleep-deprived state, I was willing to try anything, so I basically stopped eating. Not so shockingly, nothing worked.

As a doctor and parent, I have also seen how people outside the medical field see people like me, who are vulnerable, and capitalize on that. Chiropractic offices assume authority over a broad spectrum of medical issues despite not having gone to medical school and peddle rampant misinformation. Birth workers tell you all the things you have to fear by stepping into a hospital. You are desperate to feel empowered. You are paralyzed by every decision when it comes to your child’s well-being. You are told to put zero trust in the institutions that issue official guidance. Everyone remotely “medical” is out to get you, to harm you, to get something from you.

In prenatal education classes and on social media forums, I heard:

-That you cannot have an autonomous, beautiful birth in a hospital

-That OBs are the enemy and will push interventions on you

-That only home births are beautiful and have better outcomes

-That most recommended interventions are unnecessary

-That epidurals are harmful

As a resident doctor, I have seen how the system harms all of us. We are sleep-deprived, we are over-worked, we are underpaid. We don’t have enough hours in a day to do our work and to be the doctors we want to be. To be the confidantes and advocates we want to be for our patients. We are taught to fear and look for the worst, because someone has to. Sometimes that leads to over-treatment. But sometimes it saves lives. There is no perfect approach. On my OB rotation as a medical student, I heard:

-That “midwifey” patients are “annoying”

-That pre-written birth plans are “extra” and are a sign of a “difficult patient”

But I also saw:

-C-sections literally save lives

-Exhausted residents working 90 hours a week

-Residents who, 2 years before, would have sat in a patient exam room for 45 minutes, listening to their story and holding their hand — and now, were so tired, burnt out, and busy that the best they could do was a quick cervical check and run to the next C-section.

During my own birth, I again experienced frustration with, and gratitude for modern medicine. My water broke before active labor, and I opted to wait 24 hours to see whether I would naturally progress (the majority of birthing parents do progress without intervention). An OB told me that I was putting my baby at risk by waiting to intervene, and insinuated that by following the midwife’s recommendations, I was being reckless. At the same time, IV antibiotics saved me when I developed endometritis — something that would have killed me a hundred years ago was instead an easily treatable condition. In the end, my delivery was not without complications, but it ended safely, peacefully, and beautifully — my midwife was, in a word, incredible. She was competent. She was a badass.

I share all of this to say… where is the middle ground? I hope I can call on other physicians to truly listen, and to equip themselves to believe patients. They might not be dying, but that doesn’t mean they’re okay, and that doesn’t mean their problems aren’t real. It just means we don’t understand them. And I hope we can be humble enough to admit that there are many areas in modern medicine that we don’t know much about.

But I hope I can also call on people on the other side of this, who have an influence during a global pandemic — birth workers, parents that have a following, just random people who share their thoughts on the internet — to see that scientists and physicians do not, by their very nature, have an agenda to harm you. Our scientific and medical system has always mirrored our society. As our society is racist, so is our medical system. As our society is sexist, ableist, and transphobic — so is our medical system. But that doesn’t make science a lie, or vaccines a conspiracy, and there is ample evidence to show that.

I’m done with my soapbox now, but please consider getting vaccinated, and if you’re scared and have questions — please reach out.

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