George McQuilkin, who has delivered thousands of Hoboken newborns since opening his practice here in 1986, never goes anywhere without his shortlist of patients who are approaching their due date. He also never turns off his cell phone at night. And he never, ever, orders a Caesarian section unless he believes it’s absolutely necessary.
“Sometimes OB’s are quick to order a C-section for some reason,” he said from behind a simple desk in the simple back office of his Washington Street practice. While his assistant, Pam Skalaban, suggested that some doctors these days schedule the surgery so they can avoid a long labor and get home in time for dinner, McQuilkin recalled a time when he almost called for a C-section, and then thought better of it.
“There were some circumstances; the mother hadn’t had a child in 9 years and she’d had a tummy tuck and some other work, so there was a little bit of concern,” he said. “But sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this is a very natural thing.”
“[Childbirth] is a blessed event; it should be respected and celebrated.” - Dr. George McQuilkin
McQuilkin’s memory of each baby he’s ever delivered is no accident. It seems that he is simply that in touch with his patients. In an age where insurance costs and health maintenance organizations dictate that doctors take on perhaps more patients than they can handle, McQuilkin has developed a reputation as the type of OB that delves fully into all aspects of a woman’s pregnancy.
In 2012, he was given the Patients’ Choice award for Most Compassionate Doctor by Vitals.com, a title bestowed on only 3 percent of the nation’s 870,000 physicians.
McQuilkin said that although he values the knowledge he gained in medical school over 30 years ago, he disagrees with one tiny aspect of the curriculum.
“They teach this phrase, ‘detached concern,’ which I don’t really understand,” he said. “I don’t really think it’s possible. They say you’re not supposed to take your work home with you, but how can I not?”
When asked where his compassion comes from, he recalled his background in midwifery, noting that midwives often develop close relationships with the mothers and newborns that they work with. Midwives are laywomen who help women through their pregnancy and sometimes through childbirth.
“I was delivered by a midwife myself, and I trained with them during school,” he said. “Those experiences have travelled with me throughout the time I’ve had my practice.”
Given his reputation, McQuilkin now runs his practice primarily as referral only. Because of this, he often finds that his patient pool has become a bit incestuous. More than once he’s met with a pregnant mother who was actually delivered herself by McQuilkin years ago.
“It’s become sort of a generational thing,” he said. “It’s become a bit of a family, because I feel like now I’m connected to the same families through different generations.”
McQuilkin briefly discussed how the world of women’s health has changed over those generations, and named breastfeeding and nutrition as two of the areas around which misconceptions commonly arise.
He said that it’s important to consume more calories to account for the baby, but also noted that it’s important to not “go crazy.” He encourages new mothers to breastfeed, noting that it not only increases nutrition for the baby and the mother, but also creates a “skin-to-skin” connection that could lay the groundwork of a relationship between mother and child for years to come.
A ‘blessed event’
In line with his opinions towards breastfeeding, McQuilkin said he wished that society looked differently at pregnancy, especially surrounding issues like hospitalization and maternity leave. He often advocates for the spread of birthing centers -- medical facilities built specifically for childbirth, where mothers in labor are free to walk around, feel comfortable, and have the entire staff focused on them.
“This is a blessed event, it should be respected and celebrated,” he said.
But, like all OB’s, McQuilkin has experienced failure and the tragedy that accompanies it. When a mother miscarries or a delivery results in anything other than what was planned, it hits McQuilkin hard.
“With any outcome that’s less than what you’re hoping for, it can be devastating. You feel like you’ve never accomplished anything to help anyone,” he said. “You need to just start over again.”
And despite the outcome, he said he always schedules post-natal checkups, even if the baby doesn’t make it. The first step to starting over again, he said, is grieving.
“I don’t talk to them as a psychologist or even as their OB,” he said. “I bring them in to see how they’re doing and I mourn with them.”
But, as with any physician worth their license, the majority of McQuilkin’s deliveries end in celebration.
“These babies are little miracles,” he said. “They’re so small but one day they will grow up to become a productive member of society, and that always brings tears, usually tears of joy.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org