I glanced up past my shoulder, squinting my eyes as I looked at the screen. “Does everything look OK?”
The ultrasound technician hovered above me, probing my abdomen with uncomfortable force. “I’m just the technician. All I’m allowed to tell you is if you’re looking at a head, an arm, or a leg. You’ll have to call the nurse later on if you want any results.”
My husband held my hand as we silently watched the screen, trying to detect concern in the technician’s wand movements.
I gasped as the technician squirted more gel on my tender stomach. I squirmed, wondering when we’d be done so I could use the bathroom. This was taking forever.
And then it was done.
And then I waited.
The patience I acquired in those few hours of waiting was my first taste in pregnancy. Waiting. Always waiting. That was the name of the game.
The nurse’s tone on the other line was one of boredom. “Let’s see … Halteman … Halteman … Halteman. How do you spell that?”
She pulled up my record. “Ah yes. There you are. Hmm. Interesting.” She did not sound interested. “OK. It says here your baby has some sort of cysts …” Cue the first freak out. “What? Cysts? Where?”
“Hmm. They’re called bilateral choroid plexus cysts. You’ll have to get those checked out.”
I felt light-headed. My husband glanced at me and watched the color drain from my face. I took notes, trying to hide them until I got off the phone.
“OK. Can we set up an appointment for that? Was there anything else found? Is my baby OK?” I stammered on, wondering what other bad news she was about to bore herself with and scare me to tears with.
“Hmm. That looks like that’s it.”
“OK, great. Well, not great. But at least that’s all. Can we set up that appointment please?”
“Oh wait, I almost missed it. It also says that you have a succenturiate placenta and that you have a velamentous umbilical cord insertion.”
I couldn’t speak. Slowly, carefully, I penned the rest of my notes so that I’d be able to look everything up on my own. Obviously, I wasn’t getting any answers today unless I took matters into my own hands.
“Anyway, we can get you in tomorrow at 3 PM for that follow-up appointment, and you can ask the midwife any questions you might have.”
Again, we waited. My husband tried to quell my fears, but as he left for work I started searching for answers. How could they have been so casual about this, I thought. I read horror story after horror story. I tried to stop, but I wanted to prepare myself for whatever terrible news we’d be given.
The next morning, I expected answers. My husband and I arrived early. I thumbed through the baby books, looking for more information. From my Google search, I learned that I’d now be considered “high-risk” and that we’d need additional testing to see if my baby might have Down syndrome or Trisomy 18.
As if a running theme for the week, the midwife was cold, unresponsive, and rushed. “We’ll run an alpha-fetoprotein blood test today to make sure those cysts are not of concern, otherwise, you’re good to go.”
“But what about the umbilical cord? And the double placenta? Those are more concerning to me. I was reading online …”
(This is where she stopped listening.)
“… I was reading that indicates that there may have been a twin? Is that true? What about labor? I was hoping to have my baby at the birth center, but that seems unsafe now. What if the umbilical cord detaches? How are we going to monitor the cord from now until birth? Will I need a c-section? How are high-risk patients treated differently?”
Yeah, I did my homework. She was unimpressed.
“Listen, everything is fine. The birth center is fine. We’ll do another ultrasound on the choroid plexus cysts, otherwise, everything stands as it was. You won’t be treated as a high-risk patient.”
I left the office more upset than when I walked in.
I looked up at my husband with tears in my eyes. “I can’t go back there. I need a new doctor. No … I need a new hospital.”
My husband looked surprised. “What? She said there was nothing to be concerned about! You can still have the baby at the birth center! That’s supposed to be great news!”
But it wasn’t. I wanted to believe her, but I knew that I never would. I would never feel safe or comfortable in her presence. And even though it was halfway through my pregnancy, I began making phone calls.
I was lucky, so very lucky, to have options. I know that isn’t always the case in smaller towns, but I was living in a large city at the time. I settled on a large teaching hospital — one of the finest in the country.
A week later, we walked through the huge hospital doors. “It’s like a city in here,” I whispered. There were stores and coffee shops. Multiple coffee shops. “Let’s get me a fancy decaf coffee before my appointment!”
The doctor arrived in the room and asked me to explain my situation. I told her everything — about the cysts, the placenta, and the umbilical cord. I told her about my Google searches and the frantic feeling I was left with. I told her that I felt completely uninformed and I wanted to be part of the conversation.
I told her that I really wanted an all-natural birth, but that more importantly, I wanted a healthy baby. She seemed truly concerned.
I breathed a sigh of relief as they explained that I would be put into the high-risk category and that they would, without fail, keep me in the loop. Again, I left the office crying, but this time, they were tears of relief.
From then on, the care I received was exemplary. I was treated with respect, every single time. I felt safe and comfortable.
In March, my baby was born, healthy and happy. I was able to have the all-natural birth that I had wanted. I was very carefully monitored my entire pregnancy, to the extent of twice-weekly non-stress tests in the last month. It was probably excessive, but it made me feel at ease. The doctors made me feel like a part of the team, not an outsider or a pest.
I always encourage pregnant women (or anyone at all, for that matter) that if they are not comfortable with their care provider, to seek someone new. It’s worth the time and effort to feel safe and comfortable.
Sometimes seeking a new doctor will mean traveling a further distance. It’s always worth checking out that option, then making a final decision based on your initial visit with the new doctor. Other times, it may be a matter of switching from a doctor to a midwife, or vice versa. Perhaps you’ll have to ask around at your birth classes for doctor recommendations, or it may be as simple as switching days of your appointments so you can see a new doctor at your clinic.
So, whether you’re four weeks pregnant or 36 — trust your gut. You won’t regret it.