After having my third baby last week, I am writing a post on how OR has helped me navigate pregnancy, labor, and birth. Here is a few ways that OR has enhanced my experiences with having babies.
A solid OR background gave me the necessary knowledge about statistics to wade through all of the pregnancy advice out there and keep my perspective. Much of the advice is silly and not evidence-based (like keeping your heart rate < 140 bpm, not lying on your back in a low-risk pregnancy, omitting all caffeine, avoiding certain foods, etc.). Yet some of the best pregnancy advice (like eating your vegetables and staying active) is rarely verbalized.
A solid OR background also means that my educational background alone makes me a likely candidate to avoid most pregnancy complications (education of the mother is almost always a statistically significant factor that is negatively correlated with most adverse pregnancy outcomes).
I know that pregnancy statistics based on aggregate data are almost useless when on my third pregnancy. It’s all about correlation at this point.
After having two labors shorter than average, my midwife told me not to necessarily expect an even shorter labor. After some discussion, I realized she was explaining that anecdotally, she has observed that most women experience regression to the mean after very short labors. That makes sense. If I had a good draw the last time, the odds are, I won’t get as good of a draw this time. In general, buying into the Flaw of Averages is a bad idea for preparing for labor. Few labors are “average.” However, I don’t have a good approach for managing the anxiety that comes along with having to prepare for a myriad of labor realizations. (I ended up having my shortest labor this time).
I have found Bayes rule to be extremely helpful for managing prenatal anxiety. Many screening tests are performed during pregnancy. The one that perhaps causes the most anxiety in expectant moms is the quad screening test, which attempts to screen for Downs syndrome and spina bifida. Given that the test comes back positive, for example, a baby has about a 3% chance of having Downs Syndrome (although I recently learned that these odds vary according to the age of the mother). My quad screen tests came back negative for all three pregnancies, but I was prepared not to panic just in case. A similar screening test is done for gestational diabetes. I had a false positive once and took the dreaded three hour glucose test. That was no fun, but again, I knew not to worry.
My last two deliveries took place at the tail end of a brief surge in births at the hospital (births should be a Poisson process–see my post on the exponential distribution). This meant that all of the recovery rooms in the hospital were occupied by the time I needed one (!) Luckily, I was able to get into a room both times, although this time, I am indebted to two kind nurses who pulled a few strings for me. My hospital stay illustrates that hospitals still need lots of OR for planning hospital beds. (My hospital stay also suggests that OR could be used to schedule meal deliveries, schedule infant inspections, and organize hospital discharges).
With regard to hospital discharges, the bottleneck in the process is waiting for someone with a wheelchair to take me and baby to the car after discharge. This was also true three years ago after my last birth. I would have thought that the bottleneck would be scheduling the “important” stuff, like the pediatrician’s checkup of the baby and the nurse’s checkup of me. Despite being tired after having a baby, I couldn’t help but start to model the hospital system and mentally note where they need to make improvements.
And most importantly, decision analysis methods confirm that it was a good idea for me to be fruitful and multiply.