Truth is, I’m too caught up in my own life. Today we had our first OB/GYN appointment at the U of C Hospital. I didn’t sleep last night, obsessing over all the questions I had for the doctor, and all the things that could possibly go wrong, the least of which was, what if we hated the doctor? Sarah found it all exciting, and smiled the whole way to the hospital like we were on our way to Six Flags. We held hands in the waiting room, surrounded by women in varying states of pregnancy, most of them alone. Where were the husbands?
When we checked in, and the admitting nurse asked Sarah a battery of questions:
Have you been getting headaches? (No.)
Have you eaten soft cheeses or fish with high levels of mercury like king mackerel? (No.)
Drinking alcohol? (A little.)
Have you and your husband been tested for HIV? Tay-Sachs? Cystic Fibrosis? (No, no, and no.)
When was your last period? (Don’t know exactly. May 19th?)
Eventually, we were escorted to a small room where a nurse took Sarah’s blood pressure (106 over 64, a little low); weighed her (141), and asked the same questions the woman in reception had.
When did you have your last period?
Sarah seemed less certain of her answer this time, and when the nurse left the room, I said, “I can’t believe you don’t know when you had your last period.”
Sarah shrugged. “Who keeps track of these things?” Before she could mention the fact that I have never once noticed when she was having her period, we were ushered into another small room. Dr. Harth came in. She was a patient, soft-spoken African-American woman, about 45, with two teenaged kids of her own. We had a good feeling about her. For the third time, Sarah answered the same questions, but Dr. Harth managed to ask them in a way that made her sound more like a concerned family member. Until she got to one question in particular.
“When was your last period?”
Sarah looked in my direction. “May 19th, I think.”
Dr. Harth turned to me with a serious look on her face. “Would you mind waiting outside for a moment?”
At first, I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t. So I returned to the waiting room and fumed silently. The pregnancy books said that a lot of men felt like outsiders at these OB appointments-and now I did. I had planned to ask every question I could think of, and now I wasn’t even being allowed in the room.
Here is the conversation that went on without me.
Dr. Harth: Does your husband abuse you?
Sarah: [uncontrollable laughter] My husband couldn’t even kick his horse when I took him riding on our honeymoon.
Dr. Harth: [silence, intense look]
Sarah: Jeff is wonderful. If anyone’s more likely to get abused in the relationship, it’s him.
Dr. Harth: [long silence, intense look.] That’s good. I have to ask that question. You’d be surprised how many women answer yes.
That was that, and I was invited back in. I sat and stewed while Sarah asked Dr. Harth every pregnancy-related question she could think of-episiotomy rates, her take on natural childbirth, what percentage of her deliveries were by Cesarean-and she patiently answered them all. She eventually won me over, in the easiest way possible: by directing her responses at both of us.
We got called into the ultrasound room, where Sarah put on a hospital gown and sat in a chair with some weird plastic pedals on the end. She saw me staring at them. “Stirrups,” she said, putting her feet up. When I kept staring, she glared at me. “What?”
“They don’t look like I expected,” I said.
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know. Something metal, I guess.”
Sarah sighed. “Are you disappointed?”
I was, somehow. Then my eyes came to rest on a long white rod next to Sarah’s chair. Something about it looked vaguely ominous, and as I was trying to put my finger on what it could be, the technician walked in. She had done 40 ultrasounds already today, and was all business, going through the same drill: “Have you been pregnant before? Have you been tested for HIV? When was your last period?” Et cetera.
It was all pretty grim. When the woman began to slide a surgical glove onto the scary white rod, my throat constricted. Before I could protest, she slipped the instrument into Sarah’s crotch and it disappeared. I winced, bracing for a blood-curdling scream from Sarah. Nothing. She didn’t even look mildly inconvenienced. That was when I realized that I had no idea what an ultrasound was. I had thought a doctor was going to rub some jelly on some instrument and put it on Sarah’s belly, not violate her with a monster vibrator while I watched.
Sarah squeezed my hand and pointed at the TV monitor. There was a giant blank space and inside it was a tiny gray . . . something. It looked like an olive living in a grapefruit, or a smudge on the surface of a barren planet. But even I could see that in its center, something was pulsing. Alive.
“There it is,” the technician said, with the enthusiasm of a lamppost. Then even she softened, and her face broke into a big smile. “It’s got a strong heartbeat.”