The Delivery Woman
Life as an OB-GYN can be unpredictable, especially when you're also married to one
Photo by Hilary Schwab
Dr. Jacqueline Apgar’s three young children are used to their parents’ hectic schedules. She and her husband, Anders, are OB-GYNs, so “I’ll be home in 30 minutes” can easily turn into two hours. Apgar still remembers when her oldest child, now a sixth-grader, was little, and Anders called from the hospital. She hung up and told her daughter that Daddy wouldn’t be home for a while because he was delivering someone’s baby.
“How many centimeters is she?” the 3-year-old asked with a sigh.
Apgar, 45, delivers two to four babies during a typical shift at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville. But she once delivered nine in a 12-hour period. “Listen, I’ve delivered your baby, everything’s fine, everything’s good, I’ll be right back,” she’d tell one patient before running to the next room. She and her husband—both of whom work for Capital Women’s Care but in separate locations—finagled their schedules to make Tuesday their day at the hospital. “We have our hot date on Tuesday,” she says, laughing. “He buys me a little lunch in the cafeteria and it’s sometimes the only time we get to talk during the week.”
The Darnestown couple met in 2000, when she was finishing medical school and he was completing his residency. She’s often asked about her last name—her husband’s great aunt was Virginia Apgar, an obstetrical anesthesiologist who introduced the Apgar score, a five-point assessment of a newborn’s health, in 1952.
Apgar, who divides her time between offices in Rockville and Bethesda, gets all sorts of questions from patients. “I’ve had women call from concerts to see if that music was going to hurt their babies,” she says. “ ‘Is my baby going to be deaf?’ No, you’re OK.” She understands the worry. “To that person, that’s their whole world.” Apgar calls her own first pregnancy “an
eye-opener.” She was confident that she’d know what to do if a problem arose, but terrified because she’d seen what can go wrong. “I got a dose of my own medicine, of ‘oh, this is how scared people are.’ ”
In recent years, Apgar’s seen changes in her field, including patients posting on Facebook from the delivery room. She’s fine with moms hiring photographers for their deliveries, but she doesn’t allow video. “I don’t want to be explaining to the camera what I’m doing in a shoulder dystocia to save your baby’s life,” she says of the emergency procedure when a baby is stuck during delivery. She’s had patients turn to Pinterest for ideas on preparing for a delivery, including one woman whose labor included wardrobe changes. “If that makes her less anxious, great,” Apgar says. “As long as everybody’s safe.”
“I grew up thinking that everybody wanted to be a doctor. I loved playing paramedics. I loved the smell of the hospital. I loved going to the doctor. If you asked my mom, she never thought I’d be anything else, from kindergarten on.”
“There’s not a place we go—restaurants, stores, school functions—where people don’t come up and say, ‘You delivered me—look how big the baby is now!’ My kids sometimes get so frustrated with us and our schedules, [but] they have this huge amount of pride for wow, my parents did that.”
The Hard Days
“You just don’t ever forget the losses—the ones that come in and think that they’re in labor, but we can’t find the baby’s heartbeat. You can hear it down the hall, that guttural scream. It never leaves you, and it haunts you. And it makes you just try and be better for the next day. I’ve had two patients recently that lost a baby late in the third trimester, and one that lost a sweet boy for multiple anomalies three months after he was born. And I got to go to his funeral, and I got to be with Mom, and I got to go through her next miscarriage, and then I just got to deliver her healthy boy.”
“I usually tell patients: Pick one thing to be anxious about today. I’m not going to tell you not to be anxious because it’s impossible. You’re already a good mom by being anxious about your baby. It’s 40 weeks of a roller-coaster ride. Some people have really difficult high-risk pregnancies. For others, it’s almost too easy—‘I don’t even feel like I’m pregnant’—and some get anxious about that. ‘Deep breath’ is the biggest thing I can tell people.”
The Big Picture
“I need to know: How are you? Is your child doing OK? I have a patient who was struggling with some things in pregnancy. I have to stand back and say, ‘Is there something else going on? Why is your blood pressure elevated? Do you have preeclampsia?’ Well, no, her [older child] was just diagnosed with autism. If you see a patient in a vacuum, anybody can do that. There’s a lot of psychology to my job.”
Associate Editor Kathleen Seiler Neary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.