“So do you have any questions?”
I shrugged my shoulders. My mind was blank, my body felt numb. “Is there anything I should know?” I timidly responded.
“Not unless you feel like you’re having a problem. Otherwise we will see you back here in a month.” I left the office in a daze. It was my third day back from South Africa and I was 12 weeks pregnant. The local OBGYN was able to fit me in for an appointment to make sure everything was going well with the baby. I hadn’t been to a doctor since I found out two months before while I was living in Cape Town. In fact, in the six years I lived in South Africa, I hadn’t been to a doctor (with the exception of one visit to the clinic after breaking my foot, where I was told it wasn’t broken).
They started with the ultrasound. I wondered if the baby was still alive or was even there at all. The three home pregnancy tests plus the nausea and exhaustion all seemed to add up to a baby, but what if? The nurse covered my skin with a cold gel and pressed the sonogram against my stomach. Before long I could see the vivid outline of a profile; the nose, lips, belly, fingers, and toes. A tiny hand moved in such a way as if to wave hello. A life was there, and I was responsible for keeping it safe.
Next came the blood work, the urine test, then the pap smear. I didn’t even ask what it all was for, my mind was too clouded to think for myself so I let the strangers at the obstetrician’s office think for me instead. Everything was moving so fast. A week before my entire existence was rooted in Cape Town, where I passionately took on a PhD and a therapeutic non-profit organization. I had an apartment, a dog, a fiancé, a career I cared about, with the beach and the mountains down my street. It all crumbled so fast and in a such a traumatic way that it left me totally numb.
The next couple of months went in a similar way. I walked through life like a zombie. I’d show up for my routine check-ups, without any questions of my own, without ever questioning the interventions which were being done to me and my baby. Then one day I woke up. I had experienced unexpected bleeding and felt absolutely terrified. I called the doctor in tears and she advised me to go immediately to labour and delivery at the hospital. It was just me now, responsible for this life on my own, and I thought I had already messed it up. I had never felt so alone. I called my mom and asked if she could go with me, I was fortunate to have her support. At the hospital they immediately hooked me up to a machine where they could monitor for contractions and listen to the baby’s heartbeat. It was still there! After that I waited patiently for 2 hours to find out that everything was fine with the baby. Although I was relieved by the news, my tornado mind was spinning fast. I realized I hadn’t made a single choice regarding my pregnancy up until that point, except for my initial choice to keep my child. I wanted to be treated like a woman going through a beautiful natural experience of pregnancy, not someone who had a life threatening disease. What were all of these interventions for? I hadn’t even bothered to ask before, and the doctor hadn’t bothered to provide me with the information.
In a state of panic I headed over to the obstetrician’s office. I politely asked for my medical records and for an explanation of what they meant. The woman at the desk told me that I needed an appointment. I broke down into tears in the waiting room. “I just came here from the hospital. You don’t understand, I’ve been through so much,” I explained through the sobs. “This pregnancy wasn’t a peaceful start and its just me now, I want to know that my baby and I are going to be okay. Could you please show me my records so I know that we are okay.” She told me to take a seat and a few minutes later she came out with my records.
“See this means that you are healthy, that your tests came back fine.”
“And what about HIV?”
“And this page means that you don’t have HIV.”
“So we are going to be okay?”
“Yes you are going to be fine. Go home and get some rest.”
Mortified by my public meltdown, I left the office. I decided I would wake up now and start making my own choices about my health and the health of my baby. I needed to find a place which could support the spiritual and physical components of my pregnancy, not one which treated it like a medical intervention. I wanted to be supported as a person, not a number. I started educating myself about my pregnancy and the different options available and was fortunate to find a midwife whose outlook on pregnancy and birth was aligned with my own. At our first appointment together she spent over two hours at my home talking to me about my pregnancy, health, and nutrition. We created a birth plan that felt comfortable for me which supports a natural birth process. When I asked my Obstetrician if he would be a co-carer and deliver the baby at the hospital in case of an emergency, he immediately refused. He told me it wasn’t in his business model. Of course, I had forgotten that I was a business commodity in the healthcare system which had somehow lost sight of the person, one which values the patient who decides not to think.
Every day I envision a healthy pregnancy, a peaceful birth, and a beautifully healthy baby. At 32 weeks his constant movements remind me that together we are safe and healthy, and that I am no longer alone.