After having to wait until around the eight week mark in my pregnancy, I finally have my first doctor’s appointment. The wait has been long. I’m not even sure what the culmination of this wait will be. My hands are shaky, my breath uneven, my brain swimming with half-thoughts. I’m going to this part of the appointment alone, assuming it will be mostly a routine physical exam, and not of interest to Jason. He agreed to join me after his class to offer what support he can. On my way out the door, I lock up the house, making double sure the door is secure, and walk up the street to our neighborhood hospital. It’s lucky for me that the doctor’s office is a block up the street; I am grateful it gives me the chance to walk off some of my nervous energy.
Upon entering the women’s pavilion of the hospital, I am engulfed by the cavernous walls, the maze of hallways, and the directories of a million different doctors. A fireplace roaring, tables and chairs splayed about, and a trickling fountain are all laid out strategically in an effort to emanate an air of coziness, welcoming patients in. Families gather around a food counter, enjoying sandwiches and steamy cups of coffee. Others seem to relish the sense of community in this lobby; I find it all dizzying, confusing.
A woman at the information desk points me in the right direction, and I make my way into the elevator. Rising to the fourth floor, I leave behind the spa-like entrance for the more sterile waiting room. The walls are white; pamphlets strewn around act as decoration. A small flat-screen TV hangs on the wall, which normally might be comforting, welcome distraction; however, this TV stuck on the infinite loop of medical advertisement shows is neither. Instead, I take my mind off the stark surrounding by filling out forms. I try my best to tap my memory for details on illnesses and surgeries that happened years ago, and return the clipboard to the receptionist. This short distraction wasn’t nearly long enough, and I sit down in the same chair with nothing now to keep my mind busy.
The wait is painfully long, marked by each passing second ticking on my watch. I watch several other women come in, strolling right up the receptionist desk, looking far more confident and relaxed than I feel. As everyone finds a seat, it seems as though we are strategically aligned around the room, such that no one is sitting next to anyone else without a “buffer” chair between. One couple enters with a small baby, joining the rest of us. The newborn, so tiny and fragile, fits snuggly in it’s carrier. The man is juggling the roles of supportive husband and doting father so well, holding the baby and the door simultaneously. He gently rocks the baby, cooing and making silly faces as it starts to fuss, so the woman can have a spare moment to sign her papers. Seeing that man conjures an image of Jason as a loving daddy. In only eight short months, we’ll be the adorable couple who takes the baby everywhere. Jason will be the doting husband who comes along to my appointments and carries the baby. This comforting thought lingers a moment; I enjoy the peacefulness it brings, and I want so much to prolong it. In a few moments, though, I remember where I am. I have barely a moment coming out of this daydream before hearing, “Laura!”
My name sounded foreign, bellowed from the homey, short, rotund nurse standing across the room. After waiting for what felt like eternity, I finally can break out of this ring of waiting patients. “We need a sample,” she calls. It takes me a moment to gather my things, and as I look up, I notice she’s gone. What am I suppose to do? Where am I suppose to go? I start to walk to the doorway from which she came, peering around the corner, but afraid to go any farther. I get to the scale, and there are a couple women already waiting there. I try peeking around the next corner without making the others feel as though I am looking at them. Or worse yet, looking at their weight on the scale. I pull myself back. Still no sign of the nurse. Being new to this game, and office, I can’t figure out what she wants, and where she wants me. I am unsure of where to go next. I stand there for the next couple minutes, looking around nervously, darting my eyes quickly in either direction, trying to not obviously look around so as not to make other women uncomfortable. My cheeks feel flushed. My feet shift side-to-side. I start to think, isn’t this against privacy regulations? Calling my name across the waiting room and barking orders at me for all to hear? Nevermind the embarrassment she’s causing to patients, to me.
“Can I help you?” A soft voice flows out of a nearby office. I see the top of a woman’s head, but I don’t see a body to go with it.
“The nurse called me back here, but I’m not sure where to go.”
“Let me find her and we’ll figure out where you should go,” she replies. She comes out of the office, tall and slender. She has a friendly expression, with hair framing her face that was once dark but is fading to gray. She looks at me over wire-rimmed glasses.
She is so kind, allowing me the second comforting moment today. Turning on her heel, she is only gone briefly, and appears pleased with herself upon returning for solving this problem. The rotund nurse shows up again.
“I asked you to give a urine sample.” Her tone is less than friendly.
“I’ve never been to this office before. I don’t know where to go.” I try to remain pleasant, despite my confusion and her callousness. I cannot contain my irritation building with the rotund nurse.
She senses my fragile emotional state, a toxic mixture of irritability and anxiety, and she begins to soften a bit.
“Ok, follow me. I’ll show where the restroom is. I need a sample in one of the plastic cups in there. Use the Sharpie to write your first and last name on it. Put it in the gray metal door when you are done, and come back out to the waiting room.” Her instructions, like her, are terse.
“Thank you,” I respond in feigned gratitude. There is a short line for the restroom, so I find my place at the end. Looking up, I realize I’m waiting behind the doting husband I saw earlier in the waiting room. His wife is struggling with something in the bathroom, and he is nervously waiting with the baby. The nurse comes back after several minutes, and calls to the woman. She goes in, and helps the woman out and to an exam room. I feel like I am a part of whatever is going on, even though I do my best to keep to myself. Taking one step to the side helps create more distance, and hopefully privacy. I’m standing there as if I’m a witness to a crime, wanting to know what is going on, but trying to not be intrusive. I wonder about this nurse’s privacy competency. I’m guessing she missed that day of training.
Finally, it’s my turn, and I quickly get the sample put into the little silver door to nowhere. After being ushered to an exam room, I am asked to undress and put a gown on. In the small room the bright, florescent lights provide a spotlight on me sitting in my almost-too-small paper gown, as I awkwardly pull at it to prevent cold drafts from hitting my skin. Anxiety is quickly rebuilding. I’m wishing Jason had come along for this part to offer comfort and distraction. No good reading material is available, other than a poster on the wall advertising the usefulness of a flu shot. At least I took care of that at work, so one less worry for today! As I’m reading through a detailed list of flu symptoms, a sharp knock at the door startles me. I never know if I should answer that knock, or if it’s more of a courtesy. The door would open no matter what I say. So, I sit quietly, and not a second later, a woman walks in. I recognize her immediately, and I realize it’s the friendly woman who saved me from my own embarrassment earlier.
“Hi, I’m Monica, the nurse practitioner,” Did she just introduce herself as if we never met? Is this on purpose, or does she really not remember what happened 10 minutes earlier? To clear up my puzzlement, I’m choosing to believe the former is true, to set her role clearly as the doctor figure, and not just the random helper in the hall.
“We’re going to do an exam today, and I’ll try to give you an estimated due date. It could be wrong, so when you go in for the first ultrasound we’ll be able to adjust the date if it appears to be off by more than two weeks either way. I also have a bunch of information for you on various tests and steps that usually occur during the course of a pregnancy, so you will be prepared for what’s to come.”
With this information, I start to feel calmer. My anxiety always is the worst when I feel ill prepared for something. Knowing as much information about a situation as possible is a good neutralizer. I feel my breathing start to slow, my nerves start to retract, my palms start to become less clammy. Hearing that I will soon have a more accurate due date is even a bit exciting. Every step of this is making it more real. I’m starting to believe a living being is in there. I may even be excited and a little giddy.
My skepticism returns when to figure out my due date, Monica pulls out of her pocket a paper wheel that spins, reminiscent of a dial-a-meal card from the Richard Simmons diet plan. Seems less-than-scientific, and I feel like I did just as well, if not better, using a prediction calculator on the Internet. I try to let myself trust in science (if I can call the paper wheel such) and doctors. After all, they do this much more often than I do.
We wrap up part one of the exam, which ended up being brief. Monica says some final words,
“Well, everything seems good. Based on my prediction, the estimated due date should be May 2, 2011.” Monica shuffles around in a folder of papers. “We have some forms to go over. One that I have to review with you is the form that states we talked about testing for cystic fibrosis. It is not required, but some people like to know if there is a chance the baby is affected by this. It’s a simple blood test if you are interested. We could do it today.”
A pregnant pause fills the air. The thought of our baby having something like cystic fibrosis was not even close to being on my radar. I don’t know of anyone in our families that have genetic disorders, much less cystic fibrosis. Even if the test results came back positive, what would that change about us having this baby?
“Hi, Babe,” is what I hear when I return to the waiting room for a brief wait until the next part of the appointment. I look to the sound, like a dog trained by Pavlov, and see Jason sitting there, ready to join me for the second act. A relaxed smile stretches across my face. I sit down, hold his hand, and feel the relief washing over me.
“Hi, Jase. I’m glad you are here. So far, so good. My estimated due date is May 2, but she said it could change after we have the first ultrasound. She also offered me a genetic test for cystic fibrosis, which I turned down. I hope you are OK with that. I just didn’t see the point.”
“That sounds fine. I would have decided the same thing. Sometimes having too much knowledge isn’t such a good thing,” Jason agrees.
Once we are called back to another office, we find ourselves with a new face: a nurse who is warm, slightly batty, and has a wholesome grandma attribute. We need to provide an extensive medical history, which I expect would be the case in this step of the process. I have done my share of baby-related website reading, and I am prepared to divulge information about medical and mental health issues in the family as well as my own childhood health ailments.
“There is a history of high blood pressure and stroke, mental health issues, autoimmune disorders.” Monica is writing furiously as I run through the ailments I can think of, whether or not they seem relevant. She barely looks up, so I continue, assuming she is keeping up. “Jason’s father was…”
Immediately, her eyes are locked on mine, which is startling, “On Jason’s side of the family?” I barely nod and she retorts, “Oh, I don’t need to know about that. I only need the baby’s mother’s side.”
I am taken aback. If I have to divulge my family’s health issues, it only seems fair to do the same for Jason. If half this baby is made from his genes, his story is just as important as mine. They must know what they are doing. I am still feeling my way through this process, which has a steep learning curve. The nurse writes down the few items from my family history in my chart, and promptly closes the folder with gusto, as if to shut the door on that chapter of the appointment. Despite her finality of the subject, the uneasiness lurks in the room and in my head. I am detail oriented, and want everything to be done as completely as possible. This feels incomplete. Even though I don’t understand, I try to accept it and move on.
“Well then, we’ll do blood work to verify your blood type, and to test for various other infections that you could be carrying, including HIV. Then, you’ll be done for today. On your way out, be sure to schedule an ultrasound.” The nurse does not seem aware of my disappointment in the missing health history, and pushes the appointment along.
As we approach the hour-mark of being at this appointment, I’m tired of all the poking, prodding, and invasive questions. My eyelids are heavy, and I feel slower moving than when I started this endurance-race of an appointment. Grabbing all my things, including the folder of information from Monica, my arms are loaded up. Jason and I stop at the window on our way out to make my ultrasound appointment, and find that they have an opening in two day, on Friday. Coincidentally, I have off work on Friday, so the timing is perfect. As we leave the building, back through the modern-chic lobby, I can’t believe that this was only appointment number one, with many appointments yet to come.