I got pregnant after having moved to a new state. I didn’t have a doctor who was familiar with me at my disposal, so I had to start a new patient-physician relationship. Initially, it didn’t seem like a big deal; I just needed a doctor. It took a while before I realized I was putting my life and my baby’s life in that new doctor’s hands. It was that realization — and that fear — led me to fire my OB at 38 weeks pregnant.
The physician’s office I initially chose had five female obstetricians. I was told I would have one primary, and that all the other physicians were OBs I'd see at least once throughout my pregnancy so that they had some familiarity with me in case they were called on duty in the event of emergency. I was impressed immediately with that policy. All female doctors? Amazing. A built-in system so that you aren’t scared to death if your own doctor isn’t available when you actually go into labor? Genius.
The 40-week journey started out simply enough. I went in for my first appointment at eight weeks, which I was informed was standard. I have a blood-clotting disorder, so I ensured they were familiar with slightly high-risk pregnancies. I had a heightened sense of fear the entire pregnancy — I mean, a blood clot is often unable to be detected, and can kill you pretty fast — but they assured me all was well.
And so our march to baby began.
I went into the office again at eight weeks for another appointment.
I went back at 12 weeks. Then again at 16.
And so on and so forth, per the timelines set by the medical professionals entrusted with my care. Each time I got to the office, my doctor received me and asked if I had any questions, and then set off on the business of measuring my baby's growth. She checked my belly size, then moved her hand over my abdomen. She checked the charts and gave me the tests and sent me for an ultrasound. She always made sure to ask me if I had any questions — but I never had any. I didn't know what questions you're supposed to ask when you're pregnant.
I decided I'd push them a little for information on my blood disorder and how that would affect my delivery, since it'd been hard to get my doctor to go into that very thoroughly. Her colleague brushed my concerns off similarly, but not before she said, "She has talked to you about when she’ll be scheduling your C-section, right?"
To be honest, most women who are pregnant for the first time probably don't know what to ask, unless they've read up on the matter thoroughly on their own. (And even still, there are large gaps.) For me, there were a million issues for which I needed the answers: Why do my pelvic bones hurt? What is happening to my skin? What are the odds I'm going to die? But I didn’t know how to ask. And that's where I fault my former doctor. She didn’t grasp this. She didn’t arm me with much of anything, really. I needed her to sort of act like a walking, talking pamphlet, giving me a rundown of pregnancy with bullet points and summaries, and then encouraging me to bounce questions off of her as she addressed each of issues I raised.
I was more than halfway through my pregnancy when I started to feel uncomfortable with how little I knew. I’d giggle and allude to my worry of getting a blood clot, or my terror over the impending labor, and she’d tell me not to worry, that we’d get to that when it was time. I sat with my discomfort for longer than I usually sit with it. Normally, when I don’t feel right about something, I abandon ship fast. I've spent too long on sh*tty boats in sinking waters to play with fire at this point in my life. Yet, I stayed. I liked that my OB had two little boys and that a picture of them with her husband sat in the cold, sterile room where she saw me. I liked her shoes. They were the gray TOMS I'd been wanting. I liked that she was pretty, and smiled just the right amount, and didn’t ever seem disappointed in me. Looking back now, I think I wanted both to be like her and for her to like me.
But the straw broke one day when I was in for a regular appointment. One of her colleagues was doing rounds with me and we were chatting. I decided I'd push them a little for information on my blood disorder and how that would affect my delivery, since it'd been hard to get my doctor to go into that very thoroughly. Her colleague brushed my concerns off similarly, but not before she said, "She has talked to you about when she’ll be scheduling your C-section, right?"
What I really needed was her to remember her first pregnancy, and all the ignorance it inherently comes with. I needed her to ask me more thoroughly: What are you feeling and what are you scared of?
I almost slipped off the metal table in shock. A C-SECTION? Um, no. I'm pretty sure you've got this all wrong, because obviously my doctor would have told me if she were going to schedule a freaking C-section for me! A C-section has never even been mentioned as a possibility! But I didn’t say any of that. I quietly shook my head that no, we had not discussed it quite yet. Then I walked out of the office, grabbed my phone, and started Googling wildly. I was going to find another doctor.
I made an appointment with a new office and put the request for the transfer of medical information through. There was a part of me that wanted to call my old doctor's office and ask for her personal voicemail, or attempt to send her a personal message — an apology for leaving, and an explanation: I needed more. It’s OK that you didn’t give it to me, but I needed more.
Sadly, the truth is that I felt like I was just a number to her. Her 10 o’clock. Her noon. Her 9 a.m. "20-week pregnant lady." I’m sure I mattered, but I can't help but feel like maybe she was just cranking through pregnant patients. And this was my first fear-filled pregnancy, and I needed so much more than my doctor gave me. What I really needed was her to remember her first pregnancy, and all the ignorance it inherently comes with. I needed her to ask me more thoroughly: What are you feeling and what are you scared of? I needed what we all need to feel understood: empathy.
So I didn’t leave her a message and I didn’t write her. I acknowledged what I needed, and got it somewhere else.