I write the Apgars and weight on a sticky note as I survey the delivery room one last time. The new mom is staring in awe at the baby in her arms while dad is nearby trying to dry up his tears before the extended family descends on the scene from the waiting room. I reassure myself with a glance at the monitor confirming that mom’s vital signs are stable, as I quietly make my way to the door.
“Wait Doctor! Don’t leave, yet. We need a picture of you with the baby!” They insist.
Internally, I cringe. It’s 3 am. My hair resembles that of a Dr. Seuss character due to hours of wearing a surgical hat and my eyes are a swollen mix sleep deprivation and caffeine overload. But outwardly, I smile. I realize this moment isn’t about me, it’s about the parents preserving the memory of the birth of their child.*
At mom’s six week postpartum visit, she—like most of my patients—proudly hands me a copy of the picture, requesting for me to put it on my “wall.”
My office is lined with baby pictures, like almost every OB/GYN office in America. After 10 years in private practice, walking down my hall is a virtual scrap book of my life. As I see the faces of the hundreds of babies I’ve delivered, I can’t help but smile.
Recently, more and more offices are removing the baby pictures from their walls over for concerns for patient privacy. A recent article in the NY Times notes how most large hospital corporations are requiring physicians to take down photos out of fear of HIPA noncompliance. The article quotes Rachel Seeger, a spokeswoman for the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services as saying “A patient’s photograph that identifies him/her cannot be posted in public areas” unless there is “specific authorization from the patient or personal representative.” It states that unless written permission is obtained, the pictures are illegal.
Patient privacy should be taken very seriously. But is displaying a picture of baby, which was given to me specifically for that purpose, truly a breach of trust? Can there possibly be a small ounce of common sense left in this over-legislated world?
I adore the pictures as well. Some pictures make me laugh, as I remember the delivery of a baby that splashed me with a tidal wave of amniotic fluid, which sadly I’ve learned tastes like coconut water. Other faces are a reminder of a delivery tainted with tragedy; these evoke a silent prayer for patients with loss. Most of the pictures bring a simple smile and a moment of gratitude that I’ve been blessed to be a part of so many miracles.
But just as the birth isn’t really about me, neither are the baby boards. When women come back for their second and third pregnancy, I often see them hoisting up their tots to show them their own baby picture on the wall. “Look, there you are! That’s you with the doctor that delivered you!” they say with a grin. The toddler often responds with a squishy faced grimace of disbelief and a chuckle. If they can’t find their picture (we get so many, we actually have to rotate the photos) they are disappointed.
The purpose of the baby boards is to celebrate life and bring a small moment of joy to those walking by, not to expose someone’s private health information.
For now, my office walls will continue to display unflattering pictures of me at 3 am holding crying babies, fresh from the womb, still coated in coated in creamy vernix. These pictures bring us joy and my patients want me to display them. Some say it might be illegal, but surely that is not the spirit of the law. There are real problems in health care right now that need addressed, baby pictures on my wall isn’t one of them.
*any patient references are used with patient’s permission or are a fictions conglomerate of multiple patient encounters.