MICHELLE TEA: "Talking on the Phone Is For Teenagers"

KNOW WHAT’S AWESOME? HEALTH INSURANCE, I tweet, feeling the sensation of my life changing as my life is being changed.
Publish date:
July 27, 2012
getting pregnant with michelle tea, fertility, insemination

Hiccupping Maca and fearful that the rotten, root-y taste of it will never fully leave my mouth, I take a bus to the Marina, where my new gynecologist, Stella, is. Stella is also Dashiell’s gynecologist, and Dashiell like all manly women does not dig a gynecologist generally, and the fact that she loves Stella says a lot.

This is my first appointment not at a free clinic in years, and I’m psyched! The insurance card in my wallet feels like a toy. I’m going to get SO HEALTHY! I’m going to get my disgusting skin tags removed -- ugh, I can barely say the phrase, it is so grisly -- I’m going to get a check-up, I’m going to get a mole screening, I’m going to get my teeth cleaned and maybe I will even follow through on my molar implant, a process I started last summer by having the tooth removed, and then stopped, leaving a giant gap in my mouth. If I can find a way to fake a migraine to get insurance-covered Botox, than I’m going to do that, too!

But first comes my vagine and my fertility questions and my gonorrhea test with Stella. Except, when I get to the front desk the young lady informs me that Stella is not there and my appointment has been canceled. “Didn’t you get our message?” She asks. “We called you.”

I don’t know when I stopped answering my telephone, but at some point my cell became a gadget used primarily for texting and scrolling through Facebook while stuck on a bus. Like any bad housekeeping habit, not answering your phone swiftly spirals out of control. The voice mail messages pile up, you know they do, and the more they pile up the less you want to check them. "Surely, anyone who really needs to reach me will contact me via email or text," you tell yourself. Who wants to talk on the phone? Talking on the phone is for teenagers.

Fuck it.

“I didn’t get the message,” I tell the receptionist, hyperventilating. I have swiftly moved into desperation mode. I’m breaking out in sweat. Even my eyes are sweating. Oh wait, eyeballs don’t sweat, those are tears. I’m an instant mess. “I really need to see someone,” I hiss. “I might have been exposed to an STD and I need to be tested.”

I look around the clean, quiet, calm Marina-neighborhood office. The waiting room is actually down the hall, walled off with a tasteful glass partition. At my old clinic, the gay free clinic, the waiting room is RIGHT THERE, so all your business is heard by all. Not that it’s any big whoop. Might have an STD? “Me too, girl!” exclaims basically anyone sitting there beneath the DIY art of hearts and vibrators -- the elderly butch dagger with her growling service animal; the crazy man fighting with the staff about how he is not going to pay his bill even though they keep telling him he doesn’t have to; the tweaker-hooker shuffling through magazines and humming atonally. Even, perhaps, the staff, whom you regularly see out at queer events, drinking a beer.

Honestly, my years in the public health system have surely left me a bit PTSD, quick to go off the rails when something goes awry, like my visit with Stella this morning. In the public health system in can take FOREVER to see a doctor. If anything gets canceled -- which it frequently does -- you are left back at square one, delayed for a week or a month. I’m ready to fight for my right to be seen today, even though it’s my own fault this happened because like an alcoholic on a bottom, I have just stopped answering my telephone.

But, guess what? I’m not at the free clinic. I have been elevated to the elite class of the insured. And it IS a class. Thanks to my particular girlfriend and her particular good job, I’m in. The receptionist has barely clocked the haywire shift in my demeanor. She’s too busy trying to HELP ME. And plus, this not being a free clinic, probably patients aren’t routinely losing their shit all day and so the possibility that I might be unhinged hasn’t occurred to me.

“Dr. Becky can see you instead,” she tells me sweetly, and urges me toward the waiting room with its frosted glass partition and racks of magazines. I take a seat and collect myself. It’s amazing how, when I really think of myself as pretty fucking together, how ready I am to come apart. The people here want to HELP ME. Amazing! Not that free clinic workers don’t want to help, too -- they probably want to help more than anyone. But days working with a demographic with such intense, chronic physical and mental challenges, being overworked and no doubt underpaid, having your funding so threatened that people are doing burlesque shows and bake sales to keep you in business -- it just creates a different environment for all. This clinic is positively serene.

And guess what? Dr. Becky is able to see me even sooner than Stella would have. She calls me into her office, which has a great wooden desk and is filled with optimism. She is fumbling with a computer, something new for her, they just switched everything over to their laptops and she’s adjusting.

Dr. Becky is kind of hot. She has a streaked blond bob with bangs and highlights. She’s wearing a tight black dress, short, with a cut-away at her sternum. It would almost be inappropriate except she’s wearing a tight, long-sleeved shirt beneath it, and leggings and leather boots. She’s totally relaxed and friendly and amazingly I do not feel like a dirtbag in her presence. Not that it would be her fault if I did -- that’s my low-rent baggage. But still, I don’t.

Dr. Becky.

Dr. Becky is wearing the silver bean necklace from Tiffany’s that Anne Hathaway’s character wears in "The Devil Wears Prada," which I know all about because it has been my sister’s signature piece of jewelry for years. I feel like this is an omen of the highest degree.

Dr. Becky asks me all the questions doctors ask you, including what medications you are currently one. “Generic Celexa,” I tell her. “And, Clomid that I bought off the Internet.” I wait to be scolded, but Dr. Becky is fascinated and a bit amused. I think she might admire my can-do pluck!

“Where did it come from?” She asked. “Mexico?"

India,” I say proudly. I explain my possibly exposure to The Clap, filling her in on my pregnancy attempts.

“That is so great that you have a known donor helping you out!” She smiles. Is this bougie doctors’ office actually as non-judgmental as my queer free clinic? This is too good to be true!

We leave her spacious office and move into an exam room that has the latest Vogue in the magazine rack. I put on my paper gown and get my blood pressure taken -- it’s low, I can keep eating a shit ton of salt, yes! Dr. Becky jokes about the paper gown.

“We were going to have plush spa robes, but we didn’t want people to then associate a nice spa experience with getting a pap smear.” She examines my breasts and compliments my tattoos. “Prudence Never Pays," she reads the text around the heart that is above my heart.

Girl Afraid

“It’s from a Smiths song,” I explain, confident that Dr. Becky will know who The Smiths are. “I got it in Manchester, England. Where they’re from.”

"I was more into The Dickies,” she says. “But I think I’m a little older than you.”

Dr. Becky is PUNK! What is this alternative world I have rabbit-holed into? I actually feel cared for and like Dr. Becky and her people want to help me. Not like a burden to be shuffled out quickly so as to quickly shuffle in the next burden.

I realize that this PTSD has been a big part of my aversion to going to a fertility doctor. Not just the scary money-pit potential, but also the assumption that I would on top of that be treated impersonally, like a problem, being shuffled around, always with that haunting feeling that you are not getting the best care, or all the facts, the actual sensation of falling through the cracks as you fall through the cracks. It didn’t occur to me that I could have a positive experience of health care. KNOW WHAT’S AWESOME? HEALTH INSURANCE, I tweet, feeling the sensation of my life changing as my life is being changed.

As I’m having the deep revelation that my entire life is a process of ferreting out my various PTSD and then healing it, Dr. Becky has her hand up my snatch. She presses down on my abdomen with her free hand. “Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” She asks. “Your uterus is enlarged.”

WHAT? Dr. Becky is an OB/GYN. Clearly she must understand the deep anxiety, the seesaw of hope and despair a lady rides while trying to get knocked up. Surely she would not whimsically suggest that I COULD BE PREGNANT if that wasn’t a serious possibility.

“When did you last test?” she asks.

“I got my period, and stopped,” I told her.

“Some women mistake their implantation bleeding for their period,” She says. “You should test again. I’m writing down that it’s at six weeks, but you might have a tilted cervix and I’m not getting the best read on it.”

Don’t I have a tilted cervix? No, a smiling cervix. I have a smiling cervix. I think. Why can’t I keep this information straight, it’s important, right? My cervix is the happiest place on earth. I want to kill Dr. Becky for reviving my dashed hopes, but I love her too much to hate her.

I want to text this new development to Dashiell immediately, but I also don’t want her to get her hopes up, too. We can’t both have our hopes up! Then we’ll both be sad, later! Controlling future sadness is a full-time job, is it not? In the interest of honesty and open communication I tell Dashiell everything. Of course I do. We can’t have one of those bad relationships where people lie to each other to protect each other from having a feeling. No way. Like it or not, our hopes are up.

“I don’t do OB anymore,” Dr. Becky tells me, “but I’ll be your GYN wench until you’re pregnant and then I’ll hook you up with someone really great.”

As she says this I understand that Dr. Becky fully assumes that I will, at some point, be pregnant. This continuously amazes me. It actually scares me, how much it amazes me, because I realize how deeply I don’t believe it’s possible, and then I fear that I’m energetically blocking my efforts. God damn it.

Dr. Becky, GYN Wench

I go downstairs in the building to the Lab for my blood work, and am again amazed that no one is drooling in the corner or yelling or recovering from heroin-borne flesh eating bacteria or simply pissing themselves. The Lab is totally not heartbreaking. I use the bathroom, which does not feel filled with disease, and when I wipe myself I find a gob of cervical mucus on the toilet paper. This is perfect, because Quentin and Rhonda are due at my house any minute!

I hop the bus back home and intercept Quentin climbing off his own bus, a copy of The Nation rolled in his hand. The insemination is quick because everyone is busy. Rhonda is so truly sad for me upon seeing my French Press in the kitchen -- it’s one of those teeny, one-cup French Presses -- that I almost cry, and wonder if the Clomid has in fact made me a bit moody.

“You poor dear,” she says, brimming with compassion. “Is that all the coffee you get to drink each day?” I nod pitifully. She brings me a Vogue and I lay there in my bed with my hips on the pillows.

Later Madeline calls and I give her the scoop on my doctor’s appointment.

“Dr. Becky knows the Doctor I have an appointment with at the fertility clinic!” I exclaim. “She says he’s one of the best in the country!” I also tell her about my weird, new hope that I could be six weeks pregnant, and about my fear that I may not ever get pregnant, and my fear that this fear is making me infertile.

“It’s in god’s hands,” says my sister, who is not religious but spiritual and psychic. “All you can do is pray. Why don’t you try that?” Her voice is gentle and it makes me cry. I fall asleep that night praying to my Stevie Nicks Higher Power for a baby.

Are you there, Stevie?