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What Does That Even Mean? (On Dealing with the Doctors)

The day before my wedding, and two hours before the wedding rehearsal, I was driving back from picking up extra wedding favors when a nurse called to give me the update on my pregnancy blood work. No HIV, no STDs of any kind, no this no that.

“Great… Excellent…,” I chirped. I knew this stuff.

Then she said, “You did, however, test positive as a carrier for Spinal Muscular Atrophy.”

I pulled over.

“What the hell is that?”

She said that the chances of my partner carrying were slim; they just needed to get him in and test him. Could we come in tomorrow?

“I’m getting married tomorrow. I’m in New Hampshire.”

“Can you hold?”

“No, wait! What” -- Musak. Endless, excruciating smooth jazz.

I was crying. Whatever it was that she’d said sounded bad, and I was stuck on hold.

When the nurse finally picked up again, she said she wanted to put my mind at ease and get my husband’s results by the end of our honeymoon. She sent us to a lab nearby, where we squandered an hour before they realized they couldn’t take his blood because the lab to which they’d send it was closed for the weekend.

My parents’ house had by this point filled with relatives. Once back from the lab, I raced past them and into the bathroom to splash myself with cold water and apply some mascara. My aunt, a physician’s assistant, knocked, and I told her what had happened.

She scoffed, “Psh. Don’t worry about that! People have been carrying this genetic stuff for centuries without even knowing it. This business of making babies has gotten excessively thorough. You have nothing to fear. Forget it. Hell, when I was pregnant with Will” -- her 16-year-old son -- “the doctors told me there was an eighty percent chance he’d be ‘incompatible with life’, that his lungs would collapse and he’d die at birth.”

“Okay, wow.”

“Go out there and get married. Don’t give it another thought.”

We later found out that my husband is not a carrier for SMA, but that was after the doctor’s office had us meet with a “genetic consultant” who hardly looked us in the eyes, and immediately began drawing pictures of genes and mapping out our family trees, and telling us that we ideally would have gotten DNA screened before conceiving.

Come on.

After this, I decided that my aunt is right. Our baby-making culture is overly thorough. I love seeing the ultrasound pictures of my growing baby, but I don’t love being shuffled from room to room and hearing a bunch of garbled medical euphemisms for “Your baby is healthy” every time I go to the doctor. It’s ridiculous to be told that I have a 1 in a million chance of delivering a kid with Downs Syndrome and that this next test will further reduce that risk. No it won’t! It’ll just give me another number. The fact is, the kid is coming, and he’s fine, and there’s not a whole lot the doctors can do right now except observe the process. I’m glad the medical system is there to intervene if things get complicated, but I think the system has complicated what’s usually a pretty straight-forward process, and I am personally taking an internal, mental stand against that.

Of course I worry about totally absurd things (I just got stressed out -- did I harm my baby?), but I’m going to enjoy this pregnancy, enjoy the fact that my body knows how to do this miraculous thing it’s doing. I’m not going to neglect my doctor’s visits, or ignore any medical advice, but I’m educating myself about all of my options in the coming months, and the next time someone’s not looking me in the eye while talking about my health, or the health of my baby, I’m going to (politely) call them out on it.

Have any of you experienced something similar? Have you shifted your approach to, or attitude about, your pregnancy midway through? How do you stay connected to the miraculous aspect of what’s happening in the midst of the technical swell?

I’m looking forward to hearing your take on this!

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