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Mommy and Me and Me and Me: The Group Prenatal Visit

prenatal-visitIf you thought you outgrew the girls travel in a pack mentality that forced you to take a girlfriend with you every time you peed in college, this new form of healthcare isn’t for you:

Groups of pregnant women are getting together for visits to the OB/GYN en masse. And according to some studies, it’s helping.

A study performed at Yale University that noted premature births in young, African American women who took advantage of the group healthcare for pregnant women were reduced has prompted the March of Dimes to bankroll more of these programs across the country. One part support group, one part regular healthcare visit, the women still get a little one-on-one time with their healthcare provider (not just OB/GYNs – this story at the Austin American Statesman features a nurse practitioner who does the group visits, which I imagine would be more the norm).

Among the benefits to group visits are the duration – with several women in one room being seen, a healthcare provider is spending a lot more time in proximity to a mom-to-be, providing her more time to ask questions and time to pick up on other women’s questions. The women, all with similar due dates, can get as much as two hours of a doctor’s time vs. the standard ten to fifteen minutes. And while the practitioner is with one mom, the others are bonding, providing the kind of moral support only people in your exact situation can really provide. They’re akin to the support groups many women say offered the seeds to lifelong friendships, and they’re a place to share ideas as much as knowledge.

As a woman raised in a healthcare home (my mother is a nurse practitioner), I can speak to the increase in quality of care for a patient who is better informed or who brings along someone who is better versed in medical jargon. My husband gets good care from his doctors – that’s why we picked them – but he’s the first to admit the care is better when I’m there with my more nuanced questions and a broader grasp of what the doctor is and isn’t saying.

Then again, I’m his wife. As a relative, my presence in the room, or his presence during my prenatal visits wasn’t out of place. There wasn’t anyone else – short, perhaps of my mother with her even more in-depth medical expertise – I would have wanted inside the room during my visits with my healthcare provider.

Be it the nurse practitioner, OB/GYN or nurse, my questions were intensely personal and so were my decisions. Just reading yesterday’s Babble essay on the pressure from the natural childbirth movement on people who are more middle-of-the-road forces me to ask: is a group visit going to force women in the vulnerable state of pregnancy to cave on their own personal beliefs. There are some pretty heady issues that can come up during pregnancy – from the decision to allow or not allow prenatal testing, a possible call by a doctor for an abortion or for some sort of fetal intervention.

What of a woman faced with a diagnosis of fetal abnormalities who is considering abortion . . . but is sitting side-by-side with a pro-lifer in her group appointments? Or, to be fair, the opposite? A woman who is largely pro-life in a room full of pro-choice folks telling her what they feel is right for her fetus?

During my own pregnancy, a car accident gave me the sort of scare that made me change my previously held decisions on the level of prenatal testing I would allow, and I wouldn’t have wanted people other than my husband in the room while I fought with the doctor on my change of mind.

There’s also the annoying mother, the center of attention mother, the stalker mom. You avoid her like the plague at playgroup. Now imagine seeing her every time you have to go in for a doctor’s appointment. Where you can’t avoid her, and you’re focused so intensely on her grating on your every frayed, cranky, throwing up for the last seven months, bloated nerve.

Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t do the group prenatal visit. But if it’s helping moms, specifically improving their healthcare, I’m all for making it an option. Would you sign up?

Image: Homestyle Midwifery

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