In a room marked “Triage,” on the Labor & Delivery floor at St. Mary’s, the nurse led us to an alcove, behind a blue curtain.
I was told to sit in a wide leather chair, the color of caramel, and asked a number of questions in quick succession: why did your doctor send you here? What is your height? What was your pre-baby weight? What is your current weight? Allergies? Medications? Due date? Have you felt the baby move today? I answered them all as quickly as they were asked.
I was there as a precaution. My obstetrician sent me, immediately following my prenatal appointment, where she diagnosed me with gestational hypertension and ticked off a litany of possible outcomes and procedures I might need to undergo in the two weeks left until my due date. She’d tossed around terms like induction (“which could take days, if your body’s resistant to the process…”) and “brewing” and preeclampsia. She also mentioned that, because I was measuring one centimeter smaller than I should, she was ordering an ultrasound in nine days—that is, of course, if I don’t go into labor before then.
There were other instructions: go to the lab and have blood drawn each week. Head over to Labor & Delivery twice a week, starting that day, for exactly the exercise this nurse was prepping me for.
I kept most of this to myself, limiting my discussion with the nurse to one-word responses. Neither of us seemed game for small talk.
I was too busy imagining labor and how most of it would occur on this very floor—sooner than later, if results were unfavorable here.
She took my blood pressure with an electric machine and as the cuff loosened around my biceps, we read the red numbers together: 121/81. “Well, it’s normal now,” she said, wryly. “I’ve cured you.”
I smiled, as she placed two tranducers on my abdomen: one to monitor your heart, the other to seek out contractions. A wide white band of elastic held each in place, as the nurse reclined the chair, elevating my feet.
She told me she’d return in twenty minutes, before ducking out and into the larger ward.
I stared at the machine to our left, with its running scroll of paper filled with crimson grids and crinkling black lines, searching for drastic dips or spikes, as though I could decipher their meaning. The orange numbers on the LCD screen fluctuated as a heart icon flickered, then disappeared beside them. I placed a hand just under my diaphragm and nestled further into the comfortable chair, basking in the room’s sterile chill. The coldness provided quite the contrast from the impermeable heat of my apartment, with its constantly, yet futilely whirring box fans. I think we were both giddy at the cooling-off of my skin.
Behind another curtain, a different nurse began to prep another mother. This was her third child. Her blood pressure was quite a bit higher than mine, but she seemed in rather good spirits.
After her test began, I realized that the sound of your heartbeat was indistinguishable from the sound of her child’s. The only distinctions were the scratchy asides of your movements, which were frequent and amusingly frisky.
I’ll miss that when you’re born, all the time I spend guessing at what your jutting appendages are saying about your personality and all the calm I feel when I touch any bit of skin and you push up from underneath it.
Non-stress tests, as my obstetrician explained them, are to ensure that the baby’s still happy in her environment. “If you don’t pass the test, we may have to get her out of there.”
The idea that my uterus could become a menacing place is alarming. But what’s worse is the knowledge that there are no non-stress tests that can so concretely gauge your happiness on the outside of my womb.
I will have to tend to that myself.
At the end of twenty minutes, the nurse returned to tell me things looked fine. She unhooked the elastic band, removed the sensors, and handed me a napkin to wipe away gel.
For now, my warm, round body’s still a happy place for you. For now, I’ll savor the sensors and squiggles, reassuring me you’re well.