Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflection: First time to the OBGYN

I had asked Athena if she wanted me to join her on her first visit with the obstetric gynecologist. She said she'd appreciate the moral support. Unfortunately She couldn't see someone she knew. Before she became pregnant, Athena and I had just moved into an apartment together. I was moving across town while she was moving halfway across the state. Hence she had neither a job nor insurance. Fortunately she was able to jump through all the necessary hoops to get state aid through the a Healthy Families program.
***Tangent: To anyone that believes all state run medical care exists only for abuse and is completely ineffective I have but one retort: my son could not have received prenatal care nor even been born without it.***
It is worth mentioning that Athena has an aversion to doctors. It is, in fact, a very very strong one. She would not go so far as to turn away help that may save her life but it would be fair to say if she doesn't absolutely need a doctor she won't bother with one. This relates particularly to large medical institutions. I did mention that I work for a large university before so you may see where this is going. As we approach the giant medical complex I can see the tension in her body increasing. We make our way successfully to the gynecology waiting room and sign in. There are small children running around playing and more pregnant women than I've ever seen in one place before. As a man I've not spent much time near gynecological medicine. I imagine this may be a close facsimile to the experience of a woman in a welding shop. I'm one of two men present. Both Athena and I are rather exhausted. We have been for weeks. At this point in the pregnancy all I can see is a blackhole in my future and I am steadily walking toward it. Trying to make the best of things we chat a little and tell a joke or two. Our choice to sit with our backs to the rest of the room may not have been intentional on Athena's part, but I admit I didn't want to look at children and pregnant women to be reminded of why we were there. I hadn't taken the reality of what was happening in yet. I was still very invested in distracting myself.

When filling out the paperwork for her patient history Athena asked me "am I seeing a midwife, or a doctor?" I had no idea. We asked the receptionist and figured out her appointment was, by default, with a doctor. We were both very puzzled as to when this choice had been made, and why no one let Athena be the one to make it.

When her name was called Athena and I went to follow the nurse. Stopping in the hallway before getting to the examination room the nurse took Athena's blood pressure. She was hooked up to the machine (it was an automatic pressure reader) and sat in a chair. The cuff inflated, deflated, reinflated, deflated, reinflated, and gave an ornery *boop* sound before completely emptying. The nurse came back, glanced at the machine, hit a button, and walked away. Inflate, deflate, inflate, deflate, *boop*. Several minutes later the nurse came by again, realized the machine was broken, and took Athena's blood pressure manually. That time it was done in less than fifteen seconds and we were escorted into the examination room.

A few minutes late a young woman walks in who I assume must be interning. I am woefully incorrect. Our doctor introduces herself and shakes both our hands. I must now say in my defense it was not only her apparent youth that made me think her an intern. It was her footwear. Knee high boots with three inch heels do not strike me as footwear typically worn by professionals who are walking and on their feet all day. The miniskirt seemed a bit inappropriate as well. After all, as a gynecologist, who was she trying to impress? Let's face facts. She's not very likely to get a date from a pregnant women she treats, so why wear the deep V-neck sweater showing off her lack of bra? Moving on. After a little conversation and flipping through her chart the doctor mentions a note that we are making an adoption plan. "Yes, that's correct," one of us responds (curse my poor memory). "Well, let's do an ultrasound, bloodwork, and something-something." It took a moment for it to register that she meant do an ultrasound now. When the nurse wheeled in the machine and handed the doctor a wand attachment that begged for the nickname "Violator" my face made three little "o"s. At no point in this process had the doctor explained anything she said nor had she asked us if we had any questions. I'm not sure if I had ever felt as sorry for Athena as I did in that moment. A few measurements were taken, a prescription for prenatal vitamins written, and in less than fifteen minutes total the doctor had managed to confuse, violate, and insult both of us. The final twisting of the blade came with one word on her way out the door. "Congratulations."

The doctor had specifically noted earlier, directly asking us in fact, that an adoption plan was in the works. "Congratulations." She had slipped out the door before I could react. I wanted to grab her by her highlights and pull her down to a chair. I wanted to lecture her about the gross insensitivity she'd displayed. I wanted to grab her by the head and shake it until she understood. We didn't plan this. We don't want this. We shouldn't be here! But we're dealing with it. We're being responsible. It's taking everything we have to put one foot in front of the other and survive but we're doing it! This is so hard that I lock myself in the hardware room at work to cry, but I'm still here! Every day takes everything we have but we got to this appointment. We even put up with being treated like cattle on a conveyor. We're trying so hard to do the right thing! "Congratulations." One word and it felt like every sacrifice we'd made had been spat upon. I wanted to breathe fire and melt the building down to glass. "Congratulations" meant this shouldn't be hard. It meant we shouldn't make the adoption plan. "Congratulations" meant we should choose to parent and give up everything we want for each other. "Congratulations" meant she was too busy to attempt understanding us or any situation she'd not found herself in personally. "Congratulations" meant we were too alien to matter.

On the way out of the office, when scheduling her next appointment, Athena inquired with the receptionist about the midwife practice and what the differences were. After a very brief description she decided to make her next appointment with the midwives, to which the receptionist responded by winking and say "[g]ood choice." Athena had to tell me about that conversation later in the car. At the time I couldn't hear anything. The doctor's statement had thrown me into a state of semi-shock. I could tell people were saying things around me, but I couldn't understand any of it. It wasn't until I was outside of the building walking to the car that my brain hit "record" again and I was fully aware of my surroundings.

P.S.A. If you're a pregnant woman and anything written above relates to your experience, consider asking about a midwife practice. An online search for midwives in your local area often yields positive results and nurse/midwife practices are often covered by medical insurance. Give it some thought. Have a conversation. It could change your experience of pregnancy.

***Athena's Response*** 


  1. Thanks for sharing your voice. I have been an Adoption Professional for 9 years and have pushed hard to bring birth father's involvement and rights to a place of equality within our agency. I appreciate you sharing your experience, thoughts, and insights on your personal journey.

  2. Two things. The first is that if it weren't for government/state funded programs my daughter would not have had prenatal care. Her birthmother had just started a new job when she found out she was pregnant and was not on the company's insurance yet.
    The second is that I had to fight back tears reading this post. My daughter's birthmother had originally planned to keep her, but eventually decided she couldn't and placed her with us. I can't even comprehend the decision she made or attempt to empathize. I have said thank you in as many ways as I can think of...but thank you will never come close to saying it...

  3. I remember how complicated it seemed to set up the insurance to cover care. How they make you wait a couple of months in the first trimester before they allow you to come in for a first visit. They want to wait so if you'll miscarry they won't have to bother talking to you.

    After dealing with all that I finally show up for the first appointment which was exactly as described. A nightmare, an outrage, a very bad experience physically and emotionally. If I had it to do over again I would never have done an ultrasound on the first visit. Indeed I do not recommend any pregnant woman considering adoption do so. The ultrasound wand was freezing unwelcome presence that did show a tiny thing moving around in my body. That was not comforting it scared me.

    That doctor had zero bedside manner and I wish I had lodged a complaint about her. At the desk on the way out they asked me if I was getting the introductory paperwork package for midwives or doctors. I thought nothing could be worse that what I had just been through so I went with midwives. My experience with them was so much more caring, respectful and helpful.

    I love midwives. I also want to beat the crap out of that doctor with the freezing ultrasound wand until she begs to change professions.


What do you think? I'm curious.