Your doctor’s appointment this week was the first that felt less than magical, the first where the nurse and the third new obstetrician you’ve met told you little you didn’t already know.
You stepped on the scale, as you always do, and looked down to find that you’ve gained another eight pounds. At this rate, you’ll gain eight-to-ten pounds a month, until July. You try push down the bits of body dysmorphia that plague you, the parts of yourself that sometimes keep you from eating until twenty minutes after the intensity of your stomach’s growling has become too difficult to bear.
You can’t imagine yourself forty pounds heavier. You can’t imagine your daughter occupying that much more space. She seems large enough, larger than anything you’ve known, at the one-pound she weighs right now.
After the weigh-in, you waited. You sat, slightly longer than usual, as the nurse hunted down a less staticky Doppler, as she pushed the wand into your skin with a bit more pressure than you or your daughter liked. The girl hid her heart; she’s already learning. You both heard her moving away from the weight baring down on her, and now, you know to chuckle when you hear the swish, the record-skip.
“That’s movement,” the nurse needlessly informed you. You pursed your lips and smiled fakely in response.
“She’s testy,” the nurse frowned, and you bristled. You’re already taking offense on your daughter’s behalf. “She’s active,” you contested. “Very active…”
Because you’ve already decided you don’t like this nurse, with her loud-talking, her flitting in and out of the exam room door, leaving it open while you lie there with your shirt up, your gel-slathered abdomen exposed, and her complaints that your daughter’s moving too much, you know not to tell her the things you’ve learned about the girl since your last visit: that she likes Dairy Queen; that an Oreo Blizzard elicited her first swift kick; that she’s a night owl; that when she begins to move, you imagine her squaring her shoulders and wiggling her fingers and knocking her knees, fascinated at all these new gangly appendages and her ability to control them; that the larger she gets, the more she scares you.
And then you wonder why you’d ever consider telling a nurse any of this at all. These seem revelations reserved for her other parent. But you know, having talked to him again the night before, that he still isn’t ready to hear them.
When the doctor comes in, she seems detached and hurried. She’s holding your chart and the sight of it makes you cringe, because you know what’s in it. You hope she won’t do what your other secondary physicians have done: regurgitate the facts you gave about the father, three months ago, on your initial visit.
The last time you were here, the doctor you saw was male and kindly, with warm hands he made a show of sanitizing as soon as he walked in the room. He wore a bowtie under his white coat and one of the first things he did was look down that at that chart and say, “I understand the father’s no longer in the picture? And you… broke up as a result of the pregnancy?”
You sighed, because if you’d known this would bear so much repetition, you may have spun some less hurtful yarn. But that was the thing: this narrative sounded just as manufactured as any other: a nameless partner, ostensibly living in California and working in film, began to believe the relationship wasn’t worth it, the moment he discovered you’d decided to keep his child.
During that visit, your aunt was present. “They were together almost nine years,” she added, though I’m pretty sure that information was already there.
I never bother repeating it; it seems the most implausible detail of all.
The doctor furrowed his brow and said, “Really.” He looked back at the chart, with an almost imperceptible nod. “That is an odd response.” He smiled up at us. “These men,” he mused, “they always run, don’t they? In one way or another…”
You wanted to be cynical then. He was being condescending, wasn’t he? Pandering. This was faux-empathic mockery. This was him telling you what he’d already decided you needed to hear.
But it didn’t matter one whit whether he meant it. It was what you needed to hear—and you needed an impartial male to say it, perhaps even one of a different race and class, a different generation and marital status. You needed reassurance that you weren’t the only one being held accountable for the girl growing inside you, that there could be a universality to abandonment, dating back decades, centuries, civilizations, that occasionally, rejection just might be unpreventable.
It was comforting.
He’s different, you tell yourself, than the other male doctor you met, who was slightly older, far more detached, and firmly conservative, when he’d told you, after reading the same notes on your single status, that keeping the child was commendable. “We don’t really believe in abortion here….”
Now, you think you may prefer them both to the woman before you now, firmly pressing into your left side, swathing the Doppler wand in her other hand, rushing. “There,” she said, listening to the heartbeat she found near your pelvis for all of three seconds. She charted the heart rate at 158 and told you your uterus had stretched past your navel, without taking an exact measurement. She made a generic observation about the unseasonable weather, then asked if the nurse had given you paperwork for the glucose test you’d need to take in three weeks. After this, she said you were free to go, if you didn’t have questions. You didn’t.
You hopped off the table, feeling empty in the absence of the requisite reassurances you’d come to expect from these appointments. She’d been perfectly professional: efficient and quick, but entirely unconcerned. You felt faceless, herded and hustled, and because she’d failed to reference it, you were also without history.
This is when you began to worry about that thing your initial prenatal nurse told you: this was a physicians’ partnership; anyone obstetrician whose name was on the door could potentially deliver your child. This was the first time that statement had caused you panic.
It’d been months since you’d met with your primary ob/gyn, a young, petite, cherub-faced Black woman with shoulder-length hair, owlish spectacles, and blush slightly rosier than her plump and darling cheeks required. You’d forced yourself to make your subsequent appointments with the other partners, so that if theirs were the hands reaching into you, those hands would be familiar.
Now there was a hole in your plan. You and this doctor were as strange to one another as you were before you met, when she was a thumbnail brochure photograph and you were scrawled notes in a chart. What if she’d missed something? What if you never saw her again, between now and the day she’s paged to coax your kid into the world?
In the end, you know it won’t really matter, as long as the doctor at the helm ferries you and your daughter safely to shore. But it’s all so very odd, entrusting this sacred at task to any of four physicians who only know the parts of you that appear in the margins of their carbon parchment.