When I was expecting my second child, I decided to replace my capable, but ultimately chilly, obstetrician with one who was warmer. As queasy and tired as I was, I spent the early weeks of my pregnancy doggedly interviewing every mom I knew -- and even some I didn't -- for possible leads. At last, I found the doctor of my dreams.
Where my first doctor had been taciturn and detached, Dr. Coleman was demonstrative and chatty. Where my first doctor had rushed through exams, Dr. Coleman moseyed. Where my first doctor had interrupted, Dr. Coleman listened carefully. Plus, she was from Georgia, six feet tall, and drop-dead gorgeous.
Which is not to say she was perfect.?? She was chronically late for our appointments. Very late. Presumably this was because she was chewing the fat with another patient while I cooled my heels in a blue paper gown, studying a diagram of the uterus. But since every one of my prenatal exams began with a big hug and lots of talk about how I was feeling, I always forgave her. Also, she had a beguiling tendency to throw her blond head back and laugh so hard that I could see her tonsils.??I like that in a doctor.?? Dr. Coleman used a lot of folksy expressions that, as an almost lifelong resident of the West Coast, I didn't always quite get. "I'm like a dog with two tails," she said when I admired a photograph of her 2-year-old. And during an off-season heat wave: "I'm feeling rode hard and put away wet!" This only added to her charm. When communication was vital -- like when she explained how my planned induction would go -- she spoke clear, recognizable English. "Your first labor was fast," she said. "This time will be faster."
My friend Kimberly, also pregnant, wasn't convinced that a frosty personality was grounds for dismissal. "A good bedside manner is irrelevant," she counseled. "What matters is a healthy baby."??But I wanted the first person to see and touch my baby to be my doctor and my friend. "It's not as if we're having our tires rotated here, Kimberly," I teased her. "We're giving life. We deserve to be handled with care."
"Maybe so," Kimberly laughed. "But I still say competence is more important than warmth."
"Of course it is," I said softly. "But what if you could have both?"
A doctor when it counts
Although my husband had heard a lot about Dr. Coleman, he didn't meet her until she arrived at the hospital the morning of my induction. I could see right away from his slack-jawed expression that I hadn't adequately prepared him for the experience of being bear hugged by an O.B. who looked like a Miss America contestant and sounded like a hillbilly.
"You two look like a coupla long-tailed cats in a roomful of rocking chairs!" she said, and then threw her head back, laughing.
Once the Pitocin kicked in, my labor went lightning quick. After just two hours, I was ten centimeters dilated. Dr. Coleman hurried in, and, moving faster than I'd ever seen her, she scrubbed, snapped on gloves, and stepped into position.
"Y'all ready to have a baby?" she asked.
I nodded and tried to smile, but a strong epidural had left me light-headed. Suddenly I wasn't feeling ready at all. I briefly wondered if I might be sick, but there wasn't time. "Push," directed Dr. Coleman on my next contraction. She counted slowly, "One...two...three..." She kept going all the way to ten -- but I didn't. "I can't!" I gasped. I had no sensation from the waist down; my muscles wouldn't obey me.
"Yes, you can," said Dr. Coleman, her blue eyes suddenly sharp.
I tried weakly to push for two more contractions but made no progress.
Then Dr. Coleman got right in my face. "When I tell you to push, you PUSH and you do NOT stop until I say stop!" she shouted. "Understand?"
Awed by her fearsome drill-sergeant impersonation, I could only nod. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband's mouth actually fall open.
"You can do this," she said more softly now. "Ready? Now, push!"
With my confidence restored to its rightful owner, I did as my doctor commanded. As I focused on the job of getting my baby out, my panic and self-pity began to recede. I reached deep inside and pushed as hard as I could against the awful numbness. Then I pushed harder.
I could do this.
Ten minutes later, Max was born, and Dr. Coleman was back to her old self. "Just look at him!" she crowed, grinning widely as she carefully wrapped my baby in a prewarmed hospital blanket. "He's as pretty as a speckled puppy!"
As she settled Max on my belly and watched me caress his tiny face for the first time, tenderness flooded her perfect features.
"This is my favorite part," she whispered.
I met and held her bright-blue gaze for a long moment before turning my attention back to my newborn son.
"Me, too," I said.
Jamie Pearson is a freelance writer.