A Few More Thoughts on the Problem of Catholic Community

A Few More Thoughts on the Problem of Catholic Community

Since I wrote my piece, Motherhood, Isolation, and the Meaning of Christian Brotherhood several of my favorite bloggers have chimed in with their own perspectives on the topic of helping young struggling mothers by building community within the parish.

Simcha Fisher does a nice roundup of the conversation so far and adds a few of her own thoughts about community: Catholic Community: What, Why, and How? She starts with a question by a Catholic convert from Orthodox Judaism who misses the tight-knit community she has left behind and she ends with some great questions for her readers, asking how community can be formed. Be sure to check out the equally good discussion that follows in the comments.

Dorian Speed jumps in with a positive note: What My Parish Does Well. The Catholic Date night she describes sounds like a very well coordinated event. I think our parish has a sort of movie night for married couples but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have free babysitting and a nice dinner with wine. In the comments Elizabeth Duffy chimes in with a description of what her parish does well, an idea which is almost exactly like one my sister and I brainstormed about a year ago:

every Wednesday night, we have Religious Ed for the whole family. It begins with dinner in the Parish hall. Free dinner. Sometimes it’s really good. Sometimes it’s anemic hotdogs, but it’s dinner, and the kids eat it, and the adults get to visit with one another. Then everyone goes to class. I teach the adult ed. There’s a nursery for babes up to age 3, which my youngest wouldn’t go to for a long time, because it was manned by the DRE’s elderly father, and another old man (but it’s FREE!). So for awhile I taught the class with a baby intermittently on my hip and crawling around on the floor. But pretty soon, he started going to the childcare and really warmed up to the old dudes, and now he loves them. After class, there’s prayer, which is sometimes Adoration, sometimes Rosary, sometimes Mass, sometimes Benediction. Then we all go home around 8 or 8:30. It’s late for a school night, but oh well.

Food, faith formation, prayer: those three elements were what we thought would together make a good program. Having dinner there means you don’t have to scramble to feed the kids and nothing creates community better than a shared meal. The quote from Ratzinger I used emphasized that the original Christians came together in a meal (not the Eucharist but a second non-liturgical communal meal) and I’m convinced that it’s hard to beat. I’m definitely in favor or whole family catechesis, just teaching the kids without catching the parents seems to me a losing proposition. If the parents aren’t passing on the faith there is little chance an hour a week with a catechist will stop the gap. And prayer should definitely be a component of any Catholic communal event. I like the idea of switching up the kinds of prayer to give everyone some experiences of the wide variety of prayer within the Church. To the list Elizabeth gives, I would add Liturgy of the Hours, either Evening Prayer (Vespers) or perhaps Night Prayer (Compline).


Finally, Jennifer Fulwiler has some wonderful stories to share in her piece The Problem with Help from Strangers:

The only thing I would add, that is an extension of what others have already said well, is that I believe that the core issue here comes down to one simple thing:

Nobody wants to accept help from strangers. And the sad truth is that, in many cases, our fellow parishioners are strangers.

Asking for help from someone you don’t know well is always a last resort, which is why so many parish ministries reach out to those in dire situations, such as folks who are hospitalized, in prison, or in severe poverty. It’s hard enough to expose the reality of your life to friends and family when you’re struggling; to have someone you barely know come into your home and see your mess is extremely psychologically painful. It’s one thing to be the beneficiary of charity from loved ones, since at least there there’s a sense that you’re giving something back in the overall context of the relationship. It’s uncomfortable to receive charity when you don’t have an immediate way to offer something in return—so much so that many women would rather tough it out alone.

The other problem I see with thinking of the solution as lying in formally organized parish ministries (within the context of a parish where people don’t know one another well) is that the help isn’t customized to the need of the individual. As Elizabeth Duffy says in her post, there’s no one-size-fits-all kind of support that would help every mom.

[. . .]

Therefore, the problem as I see it is: How can we create parish environments that foster meaningful relationships among parishioners?

There are no easy answers. On the macro level, I’d love to see a push for geographically-based Catholic communities where folks live within walking distance of one another and of the parish church. On the micro level, I think families in their childbearing years would benefit tremendously from choosing one location and putting down roots, not even changing neighborhoods if at all possible. Real communities require years of the same people being in the same place in order to gel. Our family has been at the same parish since 2005 and in the same house since 2007, and it’s only been within the past year or two that we’ve finally begun to feel closely connected to our neighbors and fellow parishioners.

Admittedly, those are pie-in-the-sky ideas, and they don’t offer short-term fixes. But I believe that there are a lot of solutions out there, and that it’s possible to see the Church have a great rekindling of that “true Christian brotherhood” that Melanie Bettinelli describes so well. And I think that finding the right answers for how to help struggling moms—or single people, or infertile couples, or anyone else who could use some support—begins with asking the question, “How can we make our parishes feel less like a gathering of strangers, and more like a family?”

Jen’s piece echoes so much what I’ve been thinking in the last week. I’ve been realizing more and more that if we hadn’t had to move from our old parish four years ago, if we were still a part if that community where Dom and I met, where we were married, where our first two children were baptized, then I wouldn’t feel so isolated and like such a stranger. I’d be getting more support and I’d know who to ask if I needed help.

Thinking back on our brief visit to our former pastor’s 75th birthday party this year, I realize that there, in a parish we hadn’t attended in almost four years, I did have the kind of community I craved. When we walked in the door I was surrounded by people wanting to give me a hug, to gush over how the girls have grown, to meet the boys, to catch up on lost time. One woman I haven’t seen in several years too sleeping Anthony and held him in her lap so I could get myself a plate of food. Several people brought food and drinks over for the kids. It felt like going home.

I had been attending Mass at that parish for nine years by the time we moved away. For the first several years I knew almost no one. Then I joined the young adult Bible Study and found a community—I eventually married the guy who led it. After I was finished with grad school, I began attending daily Mass and met many of the regulars there. Even if they didn’t know my name and I didn’t know theirs, we knew we were community. When Dom and I were married, they all congratulated us. Some of them even gave us wedding presents. They later greeted me when I took my girls to daily Mass by myself. They prayed for me when I had my cancer scare. I taught CCD classes at that parish for a couple of years, Dom had helped with the youth group, later was DRE and had sat on the parish council for several terms. Dom used to go hang out with our pastor, smoking cigars and sipping whiskey. After Bella and Sophie came I was less active in doing things, but I still knew most of the faces every Sunday and most of the names to go with those faces too.

So yes, a great part of my current feelings of isolation are due to having to start over. When we moved to our current location I had a two year-old and an infant who couldn’t even sit up. Within weeks of moving in I was pregnant again and the boxes not even unpacked. My sister moved up from Texas to live with us and because she was here to help with the kids, to help with errands and food preparation and all those other needs, I wasn’t driven to seek help from strangers in our new parish. Because she was my best friend, I didn’t feel a gaping need to seek out new friendships in our new community. Perhaps it was shortsighted to fail to pursue those connections, but in my defense even with my sister’s help I often felt overwhelmed. I did try to join a Bible study, I did try to chat with people after Mass. I did bring home the bulletin and scour it for ways we could connect, things I could join. But very, very few fit into my schedule with small children. Almost everything seemed to be scheduled at 7:30 in the evening, right in the middle of dinner and bedtimes. So I coasted, relying too much on my sister, who with her frail health could hardly bear the weight of my needs. But until she moved back to Texas I wasn’t really aware of the depth of the problem. With her here, I’d been keeping my head above water—just barely. Without her I was sinking fast and too sick and overwhelmed to seek help. And so now I was left with a few handfuls of people who always smiled at us after Mass and told us how beautiful our growing family was; but none of whom I knew well enough to ask for help. They were kind and friendly; but they were essentially still strangers.


And now begins my campaign to try to integrate myself and my family more fully into our parish, to try to plant the seeds of friendship. But I know that with a new baby coming any efforts will be very, very slow in bearing fruit. Still, I see that God’s grace has been preparing the way for answering my prayers for quite some time now.

Yesterday afternoon some of the women organized a cookie swap. It was so low key and such a wonderful community building experience. We sat around and nibbled on food and at the end we each had a box of treats to take home to our families. Many women I’d never met made a point if seeking me out, introducing themselves, telling me about the history of their group. When I got home I felt refreshed and hopeful. Even though I probably won’t be able to make many if their meetings—7:30pm is our family time—I still feel like I’m now a part if the community. And now my name and number are on someone’s list.

The part that I found really amazing was with two different women, both of whom have older children won each came and sat with me for a long time to chat. Each of them felt like a very specific answer to one of my prayers. The first was the woman who had organized the group. She made a point of seeking me out to tell me about how the group had come about. This story was… well, almost dumbfounding. It all began with her spending large parts of her work day driving in her car listening to Catholic radio. One program she frequently caught was Johnette Benkovic’s Women of Grace. Eventually she felt called to order the materials for the study program. After much prayer and careful consideration she approached our pastor to ask if the parish could host the program. He agreed. She waited and then asked again. And then again. Eventually she realized that if it was going to happen she was going to have to organize it. And so with much trepidation she put a notice in the bulletin and reserved the parish hall for an evening and prepared for no one to actually show. She thought at best six women might show up. And yet when she went to the store to purchase what she needed she found herself buying an armload of flowers—twenty bouquets to be exact. It seemed like far too many but she rationalized that she could put them in the church or take them home. When the evening came she arrived at the hall to find our pastor putting out chairs—twenty to be exact. She thought it seemed like too many; but didn’t protest. Exactly twenty women showed up that first night. After that program was over they didn’t want to stop meeting, they wanted the community to continue. And so they’ve been trying to find ways to keep it going and to reach out further to support all the women of the parish. Thus the cookie swap. I don’t think I’ll be able to make many (if any of their Tuesday night meetings. 7:30 still falls right in the middle of dinner and bedtimes. But the once a month thing on Sunday afternoons… that I’ll probably be able to do occasionally. And maybe once I’m recovered from Lucy’s birth I will think about seeing if there are any other young stay-at-home mothers in our parish who might like to come over occasionally for a rosary group or book group or something. Perhaps I’m not really the only one hoping something like that will come up.

But I also wanted to address Jen’s point about the need for stability, the need for young families to consider putting down roots. I love the idea; but am skeptical about how realistic it is in today’s society. Yes, many people are mobile because they like to be so. But many more find themselves moving because they have to.

And that leads me to wonder: will we be able to stay long enough for these seeds to take root and these friendships to bloom? I’ve never seen this house, this neighborhood, thus town as where I want to raise my family long term. And given the nature of the world we live in I wonder how realistic the goal of staying in one location even is. Were not even sure my husband will have a job six months from now or what we’ll do if that changes For us no matter where we settle we’ll be far away from at least half of our extended family since I’m a Texas and my husband is a New Englander.

I think part of the solution is that parishes do have to learn to adapt to a changing culture. The fact is people don’t live within walking distance of their parish any longer. People don’t live near their families. People don’t stay in one place. We should also be asking what parish communities can do to help expedite the process of integration for newcomers. I know in many places parishes have a specific newcomers ministry though it doesn’t seem to have caught on around here. The Church does have to find ways of bringing people into a community and making them feel at home even if they will only be there for a year or two. We need to find ways of helping young families who don’t have extended family to lean on. We need to find ways to jump start that slow process of integration of newcomers into parish life and we need to find ways to make singles and divorced people and all the isolated and lonely and abandoned to find a place in our communal life. We can’t rely on the old forms and the old methods. Neither is it right to just shrug and give up when the old ways don’t work anymore. No, if times are changing then the Church needs to change to—as it always has—to reach people where they are, to become all things to all people.

Perhaps better use of social media in the part of parishes will help younger people who are most comfortable with those form of connections to get a jump on the process of making connections. Many parishes have no websites or websites that are practically useless. Few parishes use social media well. I’m not even sure what it would look like for a parish to use social media to create communities. I do know a few things I have looked for in vain. I would love for there to be some kind of electronic bulletin board for our parish. Where someone could ask if anyone knows of a good plumber or a mother’s helper. Where someone could ask for or offer children’s clothes and toys. Sure, there are secular venues like Freecycle which do some of that. Much of it I suspect is still done by word of mouth. But if you are new to a parish, you know that there must be someone in the community who could fill your need if only you could find them. The younger generation is used to finding those kinds of connections online. Why shouldn’t parishes be at the cutting edge, ready to connect to people and to help people to connect to each other?

In our parish groups and organizations are terrible about letting people know about meetings and opportunities for service. Half the time they don’t seem to list stuff that is going on in the bulletin. I wonder if there is some kind of bottle neck or reason that communication breaks down. I wonder if parishes had someone who was a communications coordinator who could help groups to connect with people via new media, who could help them to create a Facebook page or to post events on the parish website. I know this is going to sound like stereotyping but in my experience too often the parish secretary is an older retired woman who doesn’t get email much less Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus. The pastor is overworked and there just isn’t anyone whose job it is to oversee communication.

This is a piece of the puzzle that Dom and I have been talking about for a while now as he’s helping design parish websites and to get people in the diocese more involved in new media.  Dom tells me about all kinds of great resources out there to help parishes do these things. As usual, though, it’s really a question of how to get parishes to implement them.  I look forward to seeing the Church as a whole learning how to be on the forefront in using new technology to accomplish the old fashioned goal of getting people together for a community meal.



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  • I agree with allison—that sounds not just frustrating and unpleasant, but downright dangerous.

    If there are any silver linings to planning to have a c-section out of necessity from early in the pregnancy, it ought to be that you can work with the same OB from the very beginning (instead of suddenly being transferred to one and having to end a relationship you’ve already established with a midwife or family physician).

    I’ve heard of some people who had positive experience with “rotating” through OB groups that were smaller (say five or fewer OBs), where the understanding was you didn’t know who you’d get when you went into labor unless it was a scheduled section or induction.  But what you’re describing sounds like a nightmare.  I wish I had some suggestions for you, but when it’s all over you might write to your state medical board or something and express your concerns about patient safety. 

    OK, I do have one suggestion, which is to get a copy of your file and maintain it and review it between appointments so that you can more effectively manage the communication about you yourself, since the doctors are not going to do it for you.

  • ooo the file sounds like a great idea.  the only downside is that some offices will charge for that!  does your husband go with you to the appointments? mine did and so he was an extra questioner smile 

    i didnt mention my story.. when i had to have a c section my own Prolife OB was off that his partner made the call on my first csection.  afterwards my OB seemed kind of angry about that decision and kept asking me about the circumstances and had wanted to be called about it.  every day afterwards in the hospital it seemed like he was still trying to get my side of the story of what happened…  if you stick with one OB and have the same philosophies and goals as he/she, then advocate for your doc that day to really get a hold of your regular OB.

  • Oh Melanie, that just sounds so hard! I am so sorry. I agree that getting copies of your records every visit would be an excellent thing: where you live, do they have charts online? We do here, so am wondering of that’s an option for you: you can log in from home and read up on all the notes and orders.

    Maybe next time, having a midwife for primary prenatal care throughout, even knowing about the c-section, would be a good option? Midwives have such a different standard of care; they tend to be far more thorough in terms of communications, and their focus is on whole woman care … Then you’d have a midwife plus surgeon scenario … I don’t know if that ‘feels’ right to you, it’s just a thought. I know for myself, if I knew a csection was a definite, I’d be fine having there be a surgeon who performed it, but someone entirely more of my choosing, for my prenatal care. If you follow me!

    Many prayers for you … I’m so sorry it’s been so difficult. {{hugs}}

  • that sounds dangerous – the lack of continuity of care!  do you think your OB practice would be open to “gentle reminders?” i had the same OB see mewith each visit but he was occasionally quite forgetful, but was open to discussion and questions!  dont be afraid to question stuff—after all, you are in charge of your health!

  • Sounds awful!  Unfortunately, I’m sure your experience is not unique.  Healthcare in this country has become an automated system, and patients are shoved through as if they are on an assembly line.  You (or someone close to you) have to be your own advocate and ever vigilant.  I’m just curious, though, how you’ve ended up with a different OB practice each time you’ve delivered?  I can see when you relocated from north of Boston to south of Boston, but did you have to switch after that for insurance purposes?  Whatever the case, I would suggest asking other parents in your area for recommendations (here’s yet another opportunity to chat up people in your parish! wink ) and/or go on Yelp to see if people have posted recommendations (or warnings!) about practices in your area. 

    Re: ordering all the tests.  It is often a case of CYA (cover your….assets.  wink ).  We live in such a litigious society that doctors are frequently afraid of being sued if they do not order every test under the sun (and yes, many are unnecessary).

  • Melanie,
    It’s really lousy to have multiple providers in a big medical practice. Certainly too late this time, but if there is a next time, try Angie’s List for physicians.  My sole practice Catholic OB/GYN in the Boston area is listed, along with her ratings(yes, she accepts new patients). And although I don’t know where you will deliver or where you’re current physicians are, the plain fact is you will get better care (and more care choices) the closer to Boston you can get.

  • Doesn’t your primary care doctor get a copy of whatever is recorded each time you see an OB doctor?  Normally each specialist sends a copy to the primary care physician.  Can you not have a discussion about these problems with your primary?  Or….is there not some practice complaint manager to help make the process of communication better?  I often wonder if this switcheroo between physicians and lack of communication isn’t due to making things less clear for any lawsuits. All the good obs around here are only doing gyn work these days due to lawsuits and $$$ insurance.

    Sorry,I hate to have to say this….but welcome to Obama”care”.  I was in a military “dependent” “socialized” type care for years and in the near future all will most likely see only nurse practitioners, if that, as first line care, not any expert diagnostician MD.  This will mean there will be more, not less, emergency room overcrowding…and more expensive types of procedures (thus procedures denied) because people will be limited in their number of doctor visits, so early intervention will be limited resulting in developing more serious conditions.  And of course this involves all medical conditions, not just pregnancies.  Again, sorry, but I’ve experienced a type of so called “socialized medicine”!  We had one hour per month for everyone to try to call to make apptmts….couldn’t get in of course so what else, wait in the “clinic” along with the crowd blowing and coughing, or use emergency room!  And it’s not pretty to be hemorrhaging while only one doctor is on call and he is in surgery!  And who comes to your rescue?….an orderly who is taking instructions from the one doc in the operating room!!  You become a number, first come may or may not get the most experienced surgeon…or the one who just graduated….or the one who is only operating under supervision.  Sorry about being the carmudgeon but this new “Obamacare” is a bunch of sh#%t…horrorville for the most vulnerable and worse “care” for all while persecuting and chasing away our current best physicians in the world.

  • Poor Melanie!  Doctors are just… Gah!  They do t think either like scientists or like ordinary people, and dealing with them is maddening.  In my opinion, they’re either young and looking for zebras, or they’re older and see the one zebra that bit them as a young doctor everywhere.  So each doctor will have a different point they fix on as The Important Thing.

    But even good offices get scheduling snarls.  I walked in to my last appointment knowing I was having an ultrasound, but mistaken as to why.  I came prepared with a full bladder, but they didn’t realize I needed an ultrasound until I asked when they were going to get that part done so I could use the necessary.  So mistakes do happen, even in the best of offices, and being clear about what YOU have been told to expect can help prevent them.

    This office sounds like a particularly hard case.  I wouldn’t leave that office till you have your next visit (etc) scheduled and an appointment card in your hand.  And if they complain about the trouble, so be it.  What you describe is Inexcusably sloppy for any physician’s office, but especially sloppy in an obstetrician.

    How close is your doctor?  It might be honestly worth your while to travel a little farther away, to a practice that isn’t run by blindfolded monkeys.  I go all the way down into downtown Houston for mine.  Sure I work down there, my OB is on my commute.  But to deliver, I’ll still have a 45 minute drive to the hospital, but it’s worth it to avoid the practices in The Woodlands.

    I actually upset everyone at my 10 week appointment, because I was late, and jogged the four blocks from the train to the office, which spiked my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature.  But I was worried about being late – all the practices near our house I investigated will drop you as a patient (with no refunds!) if you’re late for more than one OB appointment.  I got roundly scolded by the nurse, ultrasound technician, and receptionist for my pains, but at least I know they won’t kick me out.

  • Mary, How did I end up with a different OB practice for every kid? Not by choice, I assure you. It’s sort of complicated.

    I loved the OB I had with Bella. Actually, at the time I didn’t appreciate that treasure of man, I thought he was rather cold and distant, stereotypical New Englander. But he sometimes chatted with me about Boston College and my degree. He always explained what he was doing and why. He thoughtfully assured me I could have some wine with Christmas dinner without endangering the baby. And when I had my miscarriage and cancer scare he was so very compassionate and just wonderful in every way. He even called me after hours as soon as he got the lab reports back to make sure I knew I was in the clear and didn’t have to worry any longer. Unfortunately, he retired.  He’d been in practice for decades and was delivering the babies of babies he’d delivered. He retired from obstetrics right after I got pregnant with Sophie and I had to find a different practice.

    Then after Sophie we moved to the South Shore. For Ben I did the traveling for 45 minutes to see a Catholic doctor and to deliver at a Catholic hospital. But the doctor had brain surgery and wasn’t able to do the c-section and retired soon after Ben’s birth. And when Anthony came along it just didn’t seem worth it to find another doctor at the same hospital. I couldn’t see making Dom drive the 45 minutes each way to the hospital several times a day to visit me and take care of the kids. So I found a doctor who delivered at the hospital that is five minutes from our house.

    Finding her was such an anxious experience. I didn’t schedule my first appointment until I was mid way through my second trimester. All my anxieties came out in spades and I went into mental gridlock trying to decide which hospital, which doctor, how to deal with pregnancy #4 and OB #4. The result was they handled me with kid gloves not only because of my “advanced maternal age” but also because I hadn’t had obstetric care for half my pregnancy. And it drove me crazy. I didn’t love that doctor but I was willing to go back to her just to have continuity of care for once. When I found out she’d moved to a practice affiliated with a hospital in Boston, I just crumpled and made an appointment with the practice her folding practice was transferring their records to. I’d asked some of the homeschooling moms in the area who they’d delivered with and got the name of this practice, so it seemed a fairly safe bet. I was trying not to get all wound up about it, to be laid back for once. 

    The thing is I have anxiety around doctors. I get so emotionally atwitter I am not a good advocate for myself I know. I forget what I was going to ask, I am not at all good at being pushy. Given my anxieties, I just don’t think having my chart in hand would do much for making me any more forceful. No matter how much I screw up my courage before an appointment, once there I get flustered and confused and well, just forget about everything until I get out the door when I come to my senses and then spend the drive home crying.  And no, Dom can’t go with me, he’s the only one I have to watch the kids while I’m there.

    With all four kids I did not have the OB who was my primary doctor actually do the c-section. With Bella and Sophie and Anthony I actually went into labor and had to take the doctor who was on call that day. With Ben, like I said, my OB had ad brain surgery and they had to get another OB to cover the surgery. At least I got to meet him once in the office before the surgery and I knew he was aware of my concerns and I felt like he was as much in my corner as someone I’d just met could be.

    Of course, with Anthony it worked out really well, the surgeon who was on call at the hospital when I went in was the absolute best OB I’ve ever met with an amazing bedside manner. If she had a private practice, I’d knock down doors to get her to be my doctor. Unfortunately, she just does on-call at the hospital.


  • The tricky thing about sticking with one OB is that this practice doesn’t determine which one will do the surgery until they book the hospital OR, which only happens in the third trimester. Again, their backward way of doing things which places the convenience of the doctors above the comfort of the patient.

    Ellie, I’m not sure I’d have been much happier with the midwives at this practice. They do the same thing of rotating you through them and there are almost as many midwives as OBs. I had my first appt with a midwife and she did not impress me any more than the doctors have. She was friendly but I felt her attention to my prior medical history was rather cursory and something about the whole appointment just rubbed me wrong.

    Kris, No, my primary care doctor doesn’t get anything from the OB. What a world that would be! I’ve never heard of doctors actually communicating with each other directly like that and if you’ve had that you’ve been incredibly blessed. Oh wait… my OB isn’t in the same practice as the primary, is that what you thought? No, OBs around here aren’t affiliated with anyone except the other OBs.  In fact I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the phone with my primary’s office this week and last to try to figure out how to manage my thyroid medication because the OB’s office upped the dose but won’t continue to manage it after the birth. It’s nice to have that straightened out.

    Anyway, thanks, everyone for the sympathy, support, encouragement and all. I’ve got another OB appointment tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes. Say a prayer that I can get some of this stuff sorted out, get my questions answered, etc.

    Geek Lady, Nope. not going to move to a practice farther away—at this point all the practices associated with the hospital are huge group practices and all of the other group offices are a hike from my house—or a hospital farther away either. Four days in the hospital after a c-section with Dom trying to be in both places at once to be with me and the kids. Hard enough when the hospital is only five minutes away! I did that with Ben and it wasn’t worth it. And this time it would be even harder. With Ben at least my sister, with her flexible Starbucks schedule, was here to watch the kids for my appointments. Now it’s Dom taking time off work which is stressing him out because he’s overloaded as it is. Not to mention that a huge part of my frustration is how these appointments are cutting into my already precious time for homeschooling, housekeeping, quality time with the kids, running errands, etc. At least with a practice that’s only 15 minutes away, I can still have some of the morning left after my appointments. If I were traveling half and hour or 45 minutes each way…. Nope, not even going to consider it.

  • Melanie, have you tried making a list ahead of time of the things you want to discuss with the doctor or questions you have when you go in to your appointment?  That’s the only way I can remember what’s on my mind, is when I bring that list.  Don’t be embarrassed and think your question or concern is foolish; there’s nothing you can tell them that they haven’t heard before and this is YOUR time. 

    I really like my primary, but he’s in a group practice.  Trying to get in to see him for a sick call is sometimes like trying to nail jello to a wall.  There’s always someone who can see you if he isn’t available, but I have quickly learned who is good and who is not-good-never-want-to-see-that-person-again.  The office does not present as warm and fuzzy; that being said, I have to acknowledge that things are done.  Calls are returned, prescription refills are processed, referrals are submitted—it’s just that the staff is often abrupt and somewhat terse.  But I remind myself that it’s the care I’m getting that is the most important thing.  I’ve had other physicians tell me that my doctor is a very good primary, so I figure that’s a good sign.

    I agree with Cathy; if you get pregnant again, try Angie’s List (subscription) for OB recommendations or go onto Yelp, which is free.

  • Melanie, I was just wondering if OBs are considered specialists as others….like heart or orthopedics or gastroenterolists or eye/ear/nose/throat, etc…..because in our area (and we’re not any large city – hour out suburbs from Philly) when we see specialists they always ask who our primary is and give some type of report (even if it’s only quickly dictated over some contraption in our presence) for our historical/general records with primary.  That’s especially needed when prescriptions are given.  It looks like OBs though today are a world unto themselves.

  • honestly, it sounds like you might benefit as much from having your mom come for the last weeks of pregnancy as you do from having her help postpartum.  That you need childcare during an OB appointment never occurred to me in my single child myopia.  I’m sorry. 🙁

  • I didn’t have time to read the responses, but I just wanted to send you big cyber hugs. I had the same practice with my pregnancies. They would have once a week meetings about their high risk cases, so that everyone would agree and be on board on how to approach. But even then, it was hit or miss for me. One doctor wanted lots of ultrasounds because of the risk of accreta and to see if the placenta was moving, some of the ultrasounds said I had low amniotic fluid, but then one OB didn’t agree, one OB said I had high blood pressure, another said I needed to have the shot to develop the baby’s lungs, but other said no because of my gestational diabetes…it was a roller coaster ride.

    I seriously was anxious before every appointment. We had so many scares, so much medical treatment, advice, counter advice, misinformation.

    So I don’t have an answer, but just lots of prayers and hugs! This is truly a time when you have to leave in the hands of Jesus and His Blessed Mother! Jesus I trust in Thee was my constant prayer, and I read the words of Our Lady of Guadalupe all the time.

  • This sounds all too familiar, except that I didn’t switch OBs. My OB practice has dramatically changed over the years. When I had baby number one over thirteen years ago, it was a small five doctor practice and you knew everyone. Now, over twenty OBs and midwives. You never see the same one and the receptionists can’t even pronounce the doctors’ names. And it stunk. As you say no continuity and no time for the patient. I suspect more and more practices will turn into this type, but like you, if I have any more babies, I’m going to go looking for something else.

  • Thanks so much, Jen. After today I can really use the hugs. I’ve been through the wringer and no doubt. When I got out to my car after my appointment after I finished unleashing all the expletives I’d wished I could hurl at the stupid unhelpful people in the office, I found myself spontaneously praying to St Gianna Molla: “St Gianna, I wish you could be my doctor!” I think she must be a good advocate. She was such a caring physician.

    Maybe you have a point about there being actual differences of opinion about what care options to pursue and that’s why I’m getting different answers about the purposes for the ultrasounds. But that makes me wonder about how necessary they are at all, you know?

    Oh my goodness today was an unmitigated disaster. First off, I went to the wrong office. Both offices are in towns that start with W and I got confused and was sure I was supposed to go back tot he one I went to last time. They grudgingly got me in to see the nurse practitioner. I’d have been better off not seeing anyone. She was the least compassionate, least helpful person. Absolutely the worst possible choice to see me in the mood I was in today.

    Now I know I was dumped in her lap at the last minute, but she obviously hadn’t looked at my chart at all. She didn’t know I’d had an ultrasound on Monday until I mentioned it. Didn’t know I was scheduled for a follow-up ultrasound next week.  All she had to say was something about keeping track of fetal movement and oh if I went into labor I might want to go to the hospital and they won’t stop it because I’m full term. She didn’t know I was scheduled for a c-section until I brought it up.

    But the thing is it wasn’t at all unusual. It’s been par for the course that they don’t discuss tests done on previous visits unless I bring them up. When I challenged that the NP said that the doctors at the hospital are consultants and they trust them to co-manage my care. SO I guess it doesn’t matter if no doctor in the practice ever looks at the tests! I’ve never had doctors so casually ignore any responsibility to keep me in the loop about my own treatment. Heck, I keep wondering who exactly is managing my care if no one is keeping track of what’s been done before or planning out what needs to be done in the future. It feels like taking a class taught entirely by substitutes and the real teacher never makes an appearance. Every week I keep thinking the next appointment will be the real one. And it never is.

    So I was trying to get this nurse practitioner to help me sort out my confusion about the ultrasound. When the doctor at the hospital told me I needed to come back next week, I asked if it was necessary that the ultrasound be done at the hospital or if it was something that could be done at the doctor’s office. I know they do ultrasounds there because my first ultrasound was done in the office. The doctor said I should talk to the office but she didn’t see why not. But I should go ahead and book one at the hospital for next week just to be safe. So I did. And when I asked about rescheduling to the office, the NP just said well if it’s scheduled at the hospital there must be some reason they want you to do it at the hospital. You need to just keep the appointment you already have. So I tied to explain that the doctor had said it was ok to do it in the office as long as the office could get me in. And she seemed to not understand. She said the doctor hadn’t made a note to that effect on the paperwork she had hunted up only after I began to cry in exasperation at her general unhelpfulness. Finally my persistence ended with her going to talk to the doctor who was int he office that day and getting an ok for me to move the ultrasound to the office. Then I proceeded to try to get her to pin down for me what other appointments I am going to need before the baby is born. She sort of dismissively said, well, one a week. No thought about my specific case, just the reflex answer. And when I tried to press her about an appointment in Christmas week—seriously? Is it necessary? She just reiterated the party line. Then she pretty much washed her hands of me, saying she had nothing to do with scheduling I’d have to talk to the receptionists, that was their job. And she stood up and walked out. She was done with me.

    Not once did she acknowledge I was sobbing, ask me what was wrong or how she could help, or at all seem to notice I was a human being who was obviously overwhelmed and needing some TLC. Nope. I felt like I was a problem that had been dumped in her unwilling lap and she was going to do the bare minimum to get me out of the office as quickly as possible.


  • The sad thing is, though, that I’m not so sure the care would have been all that much better had I seen a doctor. But now they can say the whole thing was my fault and if I’d just gone where I was supposed to go the doctor could have answered my questions.

    Never mind the whole unhelpful attitude that the receptionists are the ones who manage appointments and the practitioners don’t get their hands dirty even to the minimal effort of writing out a note about when the patient is supposed to be coming back. Never mind that they don’t do reminder phone calls before appointments—no that would be helpful!—and would have helped jar my memory about which office I should go to.

    Never mind that their whole attitude can be summed up as “self-service” medicine. The nurses don’t weigh you, there’s a scale in the bathroom when you go to leave your urine sample. Nothing to write it down with, though. You just have to remember. Oh and today I was supposed to get my Group B strep test. Imagine my total consternation when the nurse handed me the swab and pointed me to the bathroom and told me to do it myself. Seriously! They couldn’t even be bothered to make sure the swab was done correctly.

    Kris, I haven’t seem many specialists but it does seem that obstetric care doesn’t feel a need to keep a primary care in the loop. I don’t know if that’s universal or just here. I can only recall one time having an OB’s office volunteer to send a blood test result to my primary.

    Jordana, Yes, I think this is the way most of them are going. And they seem very defensive when challenged on their way of doing things. Sadly, I’m not confident any of the other group practices in the area will be measurably better. I just know that I feel like I’m on a downward spiral. I’ve been at least vaguely dissatisfied with my level of care with each pregnancy, but looking back the previous OB always seemed head and shoulders above the current one.

  • Now THAT is a horror show, Melanie.  I can’t believe it—they tell you to do your own swab??  Why don’t you just pay yourself the co-pay while you’re at it?!  It sounds like an absolute amateur hour and you’re not at ALL getting the care you should be getting.  I have never heard of a physician telling the patient to weigh herself, take a throat culture, etc. 

    If it were me, I would totally post this experience on Yelp.  You can do it under a pseudonym, but people should be warned about the unethical practices they are engaging in.

  • Melanie, wow, I hardly know where to begin. What you are experiencing is **not** acceptable medical care! I am so sorry. It all sounds like genuine incompetence.

    If it is at all possible with your health insurance: please consider making the effort to find a different practice before the baby comes. i realize that sounds like a tall order, I understand how overwhelming it is, and how challenging when one is shy, or has a hard time with this sort of thing (as you’ve shared with us). But this is your baby, your body, your present and future fertility … Just … If it is at all possible, see if you can find another practice. It isn’t too late to change, it truly isn’t. I’ve known women who have changed doctors (yes, for c-sections, too, going to a different practice) at the 11th hour, and they were **so** glad they made the effort.

    Big {{hugs}} I am so sorry.

  • Melanie, I had to change practices 2 weeks before my 3rd baby was born.  I didn’t have a c-section though, and it was stressful at the time, but the care was so much better.  My husband did alot of the phone calling since I am like you and introverted so he helped me.  Maybe it isn’t possible for you, but at the very least someone needs to be made aware of the low quality of care you are getting. I switched hospitals too, and went to meet the nursing staff right before I had the baby.  It all made me feel a little more in control.  Now, this was 16 years ago, so maybe the medical system is just too far gone at this point, I don’t know, but you are in my prayers, and I hope some inspiration can come to you to help you with this situation.  God bless.

  • Melanie, I had my last three babies with a huge practice.    The thing is you must insist on seeing the same doctor week after week.  Don’t take no for an answer.    I also had a backup doctor if my doctor of preference was not available.    As someone mentioned above, the only thing is that you may be meeting in the delivery room the doctor who delivers your baby.  To me, not a big deal.

  • Wow. I know I’m late here (the illnesses over the last two weeks got me way behind on my blogreading) but that OB office sounds positively insane!

    The 4 different OBs who delivered my first 4 were all in the same office. I never knew which would be on call when I went into labor, but I had met all of them. I had favorites and less favorites but as it was a Catholic OB office, everyone was generally on the same page and I never had any real trouble. How many doctors does your OB office have that they seem incapable of handling themselves much less patients or babies?

    I have never heard of a doctor office being that dysfunctional. I’m not sure I would be able to hide my frustration as well as you have. If they asked me my weight, I’d probably lie by 50 pounds just to see if they noticed. Doing your own swab? Good grief! If they were going to do that just why couldn’t they have given you the swab last time and let you do it at home and drop it by the office? It sounds like they might treat their own employees the same way they treat their patients. What a mess!

    I realize your hospital might only have large OB groups but is there another one you could try (for future I mean)? Could it hurt? Could it be worse?

    I’ve gotten a bit tired of all the tests and routine appointments myself. I haven’t said it out loud because the thought of another pregnancy would result in rude comments from my mother, but if am ever pregnant again, I’m definitely looking into a home birth. I know that isn’t an option for you, but I sympathize with being sick of the amount of tests and appointments that seem unnecessary. Fortunately this time around my OB has been mostly reasonable letting me skip a 3rd trimester appointment that was supposed to be every 2 weeks but it is still a 1.5 – 2 hour excursion for every appointment. I have one this Friday (for my strep b test) and am kindof hoping I’m in labor by next Friday so this Friday will be my last before giving birth.

    I know when it comes time for the baby to be born, my husband is my best advocate, so at least Dom will be there then to help you then! They are making the end of your pregnancy so much more stressful than it should be. Hang in there. Two weeks and you can tell them to get lost. (sort of) smile

  • Unfortunately, what you are describing sounds pretty typical for government healthcare – which is what we’ll all be getting with Obamacare. “Care” perhaps is a misnomer. I read your post without surprise, since my experience has been so similar, although I blessedly didn’t have complications. Three of our kids were delivered at military facilities by military drs whom I had never laid eyes on until they were assisting in labor. One was a resident who had never seen a natural birth. The other three were delivered in areas without a military medical facility in proximity. With my first I saw military lpns for my appts, but delivered at a civilian hospital with a stranger. For the other two babies, I went to civilian practices, one of which I loved, which I paid extra for. But that dr was on vacation when I delivered, of course, and the dr for baby 4 didn’t make it to the hospital in time, so the nurse and my mom, a labor and delivery nurse, delivered the baby. I’m not sure why I’m sharing this long story, except to say that with government healthcare, you can’t rely on doctors to manage your case. Sometimes I wonder if Americans haven’t been spoiled by the medical attention we received in the past, but on the other hand, our health attests to efficacy of that attentive care.