I love going to my appointments with Dr. Betsy, my lesbian elder obstetrician. At least I think she’s a lesbian. You never know. Being so gay in such a gay place for so long really does make everyone seem gay after a point.
Another thing -– have you noticed that I call all my female doctors by their first names (Dr. Besty, Dr. Wendy) and the male doctors by their last names (Dr. Waller)? What the hell is wrong with me? Self-hating internalized misogyny? I actually think it stems from a place of comfort -– I am much more at ease with females in general. I feel relaxed, and it’s not that I don’t respect their authority but more like their authority isn’t something that’s being used against me. I’m generally uncomfortable around guys and can’t access that friendly spirit that would lead me to call Dr. Waller by his first name, even though I dig him.
But does this result in me undermining the authority of the female doctors, regardless of my intentions? I think it might. I will, however, continue to call Dr. Betsy Dr. Betsy, because this column is confusing enough as it is, don’t you agree?
Anyway –- Dr. Betsy asks about Dashiell, who wasn’t able to come to my appointment that day. Somehow her age, and our age difference comes up -– nine years, with me the elder. “It’s good to have a young person in your life,” she says with a little knowing squint. Is Dr. Betsy not only a lesbian elder obstetrician but a lesbian elder obstetrician cougar?! Cool.
Also worth noting –- before Dr. Betsy joined me in the exam room, her nurse issued a series of questions to me, one of which queried if me and Dashiell were related by blood. I guess they have to ask!
I have to ask if Dr. Betsy will please please please give me an ultrasound so I can peek at the baby. She feels my recent-miscarriage pain and rolls into the exam room the junkiest, jankiest ultrasound machine. It’s hooked up to a PC and the wand is rather small, but I’ll take what I can get. Only, after a bit of fudging around with it she can’t seem to get it to work, and has to fetch another doctor, Dr. Austin, to help her with it.
Dr. Austin is younger, with glossy black hair and a very outgoing, happy attitude. She is also an OB, and I’m glad to meet her because when it is time to push this baby out, who knows what doctor or midwife will be there to catch it? I wish I could have a meet-and-greet with every possible baby-catcher at the hospital. I feel so bonded to Dr. Betsy I really hope it’s her in the delivery room with me, but if it winds up being Dr. Austin that’s cool, too.
Dr. Austin slaps the ultrasound machine around and gets it working and we all gasp and coo at the tiny, tiny being forming in my uterus. Everything looks good! The heartbeat is strong and growth is on target.
Dr. Betsy gives me a vag exam and makes the shocking pronouncement that I have a long, wide, good pelvis, excellent for childbirth. No way! No way ever did I expect such a thing about myself. I’ve always been on the small side, and I didn’t get any sort of womanly shape until I was like 30, and even then you might laugh to hear me call it "womanly."
When people tell you all your life how little you are you really internalize it, at least I have. So I’ve been a bit worried that childbirth will be difficult if not impossible -- like, what if I’m just too small and the baby won’t fit through the exit? But no! All this time my smallish body has been harboring a long, wide pelvis perfect for child-bearing! Right on! It’s wild how much hearing this changes my attitude about pushing a person out my nethers.
Dr. Betsy asks if I have any questions and I admit I am concerned about that one nipple I got pierced by a student at the cut-rate piercing studio back in 1994 for $25. I haven’t had a ring in it for decades, but I wonder if it will negatively impact my breastfeeding ability. Dr. Betsy says nope; milk might come out through the piercing, but regardless, the baby will navigate around it. Awesome. Then Dr. Betsy drops some non-awesome news: I’ve gained too much weight too quickly, and I need to slow my (cinnamon) roll.
But I’m pregnant! Every voice inside me howls. Don’t I get to just eat and eat and eat whatever I want?
“Really?” I ask the doctor sadly. She shrugs. Dr. Betsy is by no means a small woman herself, so I don’t think she’s trying to keep me skinny for skinny’s sake or anything like that. “You don’t want to gain an extra 10 pounds if you can help it,” she says. But really –- why not? I feel pretty good about just letting my hunger and my body do whatever, and just figure it out (or not) after the baby is born. Or, more, likely, in two years when I’m done breastfeeding and eating like the lactating animal I will become.
“Just try to eat carrots, and hummus, and nuts,” Dr. Betsy suggests. What’s funny is, before I got pregs I ate seriously healthy. I mean, aside from the regular batches of chocolate chip cookies I’d bake for me and Dashiell, the dinner I prepared for us regularly featured kale as star of the show, with some brown rice and supporting veggies. I ate mostly like the dancers from "Showgirls."
Toward the end I was even having kale smoothies for breakfast, like Gwyneth Paltrow. But once I got pregnant I switched to bagels and cream cheese for as many meals as possible, supplemented by cheese ravioli. Also burritos, heavy on the sour cream. It’s just what my body wanted, and what didn’t make me nauseous to think about. In my white-food heaven, the thought of eating kale, or any greens, even a salad, was totally repulsive.
“Okay,” I said mope-ily. On the bright side, the doctor affirmed that I could indeed have sex and orgasms. I know a nurse at the fertility clinic already approved this, but I needed multiple assurances that I was not going to kill my growing fetus with my libido. Finally, I show her a mole on the back of my ear that she recommends I get biopsied, pee in a cup, and then leave, calling my mother on my way out of the building.
“I have to watch what I eat!” I cried. “I’ve gained too much too fast!” Part of why this bugs me is also that I’m not 100% sure the doctor had my correct starting weight, since it has gone up and down so much over the past year, what with the meds and the miscarriage and all. My mother commiserates with me, launching into her Tuna Fish Sandwich story, one she will continue to repeat throughout the duration of my pregnancy:
When my mother was pregnant with me, her doctor was super strict about only allowing her to gain some ridiculously small amount of weight, and when she came in to his office heavier than he wanted, he scolded her, because that was what doctors did to women in the early 70s. “I don’t know how I gained so much,” my mother said in her defense, to which the doctor replied, “I’ll tell you how it happened –- you put a knife in one hand and a fork in the other.”
“What an asshole!” I gasp at my mom, and she laughs. After that she was basically dieting, but after each weigh-in with Dr. Ass she would go to the deli and have a tuna fish sandwich, French fries and a Coke, and she lived for these afternoons because tuna fish sandwiches, fries and Cokes were all she wanted to eat while pregnant. My poor mom! I will grow less sympathetic as she continues to repeat this story again and again and again in the coming months.
“Well, you don’t want to have too big of a baby,” she reasons with me. “I don't know how everyone is having all these big babies nowdays, 9 pounds, 10 pounds! You never heard of that when I was pregnant with you, babies were like 6 pounds.”
“Well, everyone was smoking,” I told her. My mother was allowed six cigarettes a day during her pregnancy with me, and she hoarded them. In the coming months the Tuna Fish story will be replaced by the Red Rocking Chair story, when she repeatedly recounts how the "big Irish nurse" who stayed with her through almost all her labor had allowed her to sit on the red leather rocking chair in her office while she was in labor. So my mom sat there, rocking and chain-smoking. Then she had to go back to her room, and her roommate (roommate! How horrible!) was screaming in such pain that it gave my mom an anxiety attack. The big Irish nurse had gone home and my mom, totally alone, finally asked for something for the pain.
“And give her something too, please!” my mother begged about her screaming roommate, to which the nurse replied, “Oh she’s so high she doesn’t even know where she is.”
My mother got a shot in the butt and pushed me out a couple hours later. When the big Irish nurse came back to the hospital, she told my mom that if she’d only been able to stay by her side my mother would have been able to do the whole labor med-free. Though my mom didn’t seem to mind the meds: “They gave me a shot in the ass and I was flyin’ high,” she recounts happily. And there is the story of my birth.
On the way home from the hospital I stop at my local co-op and pick up a bag of baby carrots and a thing of hummus.
“Have you had this hummus before?” the man at the register enthuses. “It’s amazing!” I’m doubtful that any hummus can really be that amazing, and I really wish I was picking up a thing of cream cheese to be dipping my carrots in, but whatever. I do what the doctor tells me.