Prods & Pokes of Pregnancy

During pregnancy, you get kicked, poked, prodded and rumbled by the little bundle of joy you are cooking and while that can be extremely painful (for instance when your muscle detaches from your rib bone), it's nevertheless one of the best experiences in the whole world. It's a truly miraculous experience when your tummy rumbles with a seismic surge and you feel that there is another conscious being inside you as opposed to merely knowing abstractly that you are housing the most lovable parasite you will ever meet.

The other prods and pokes, by your doctors, are not comfortable nor as inviting but necessary.  I am not one to believe that just because birth is natural, we don't need to medicalize pregnancy and childbirth. After all, the number one mortality factor for women for, oh, let's see, ALL TIME, has been childbirth and child and infant mortality has steadily decreased with better medical care. The infant mortality rate in the United States does not fare well compared to other countries and all the states in the top ten of lowest infant mortality have unsurprisingly very good health care systems for their citizens, including Iceland, France and Sweden. The issue in this country, despite the prevalent literature of over-medicalizing, may actually be the converse, the fact that many mothers are left without adequate care due to an inefficient and iniquitous health care system.

As most issues in the US, the US should be seen as a mosaic of different and completely contrasting value systems and services. For instance, my OB's office is located in Tribeca and my hospital, Presbyterian Lower Manhattan, is in the Financial District and we are fortunate to have good health insurance. The average resident mother of Mississippi, I would wager, would have a different experience - but then so would someone in the city with different insurance. This medical segregation is a reprehensible state of affairs of which this country, which espouses pride and describes itself with an assortment of superlatives, should be ashamed.

For me, however, prods and pokes have been the way to go. From my first visit, my OB made patently clear to me that, " (I was) in Tribeca, (I was) going to be tested for everything." Boy, was she right. I fainted my first appointment when they took ten vials of blood and on waking up, was high as a kite, with my husband carrying me home as I laughed at everything and was the best audience for a shy, novice comedian. Viewed as high risk due to a past thyroid issue, I had numerous ultrasounds in my first trimester which were performed vaginally. From the second trimester, the ultrasounds could be performed on my stomach, which was more pleasant, although I could understand why my son complained and squirmed against the prying eyes of the paparazzi. They push down hard! The more he resisted, the more they pushed. In the end when we realized they were just  trying to snap a picture, having confirmed all was picture perfect during the anatomical scan, my husband and I called off the hounds. To the sonographer's disappointment, we left with a 3D picture that showed an extremely abstract face, which we decided not to share with the grandparents, but all we cared about was the fact that we saw two lobes of the brain, two eyes, two arms, two fingers, ten fingers and ten toes, two kidneys and a healthy beating heart and the absence of any dragon wings and the like.

A pattern I've noticed is that they decline to tell you when you're about to be injected, prodded and poked. Maybe they like to see the surprise on your face when you're told, after being over the moon that you were now elevated to stomach-only ultrasounds that in fact, you had to take your clothes off and have a more painful examination to see whether your cervix was "competent."  Thankfully, my cervix passed the test, albeit through the discomfort, I was also quite nervous about the ability of my cervix. It had never taken such an exam before - I doubted it studied and if it were anything like its host, it would have cut class, sneaked a smoke in the valley of the high school and only crammed the weekend before the test. Last week when I was told they were going to do a routine Strep swab (again, without any warning) and she went for equipment, I tensed up and was surprised it was really just a swab, barely three seconds and much easier than a Pap smear.

Apart from blood tests, urine tests and vaginal probing, you even get the benefit of vaccines. This surprised me most of all, because I thought that you weren't meant to have vaccines when you were pregnant.  I was hesitant at first, but my doctor explained to me that our son, who we understood would be born with a weak immune system as all babies are, would be born at the height of the whooping cough and flu season and that my husband and I, and even my mother, who graciously agreed to come help us in the first couple of months, all had to get the vaccine. Our son would get the antibodies through me, while "primary care givers" ie me, hubby and mum, would need to be protected also in order to protect him. Now, I'm all for vaccines, after all, they've ended epidemics and wiped out many diseases, such as smallpox and polio, although recently an anti-vaccine craze has seen polio rates rise. See, vaccines only work to eradicate a disease if we all take it, which people don't seem to realize. In Europe, where I was born, a baby has a vaccine passport and they will knock on your door if you refuse to vaccinate your child. However, there are some vaccines that I think are a bit overdone. The only time I took a flu shot was when it was made a condition of my green card. But back to our V-day. While I was hesitant, I decided to take the doctor's advice - after all, she had been to medical school. It would be like her arguing case law respecting employment discrimination to me. So, I handed over my arm. The biggest surprise that day, however, as I was by now used to being surprised with what seemed like impromptu exams, was that my hubby was asked to take the shots as well. He was floored, used to simply sitting there and watching me get poked and prodded. He complained about his arm for days, which provides solid evidence why we are the sex that carries and delivers the child.

The worst test - well, I should qualify with thus far - is the Sugar Surprise. Every time you go to your OB, you give them a sample of your urine. They check for bacteria (UTIs are common in pregnancy), protein and sugar levels as well as your hydration levels. While gestational diabetes is a real threat they have to investigate, surely the urine would reveal at least whether you were in a risk group? However, it's standard that around week 26, you arrive at the OB and they tell you with a smile that you must ingest some glucose and wait around for an hour to have your blood taken. I had just had coffee and a blueberry muffin (not my healthiest day). Ingesting that glucose was extremely difficult and I was near a rampant rage by the time my blood test came around and would have charged like a bull in the Pamplonian encierro had I any energy (all the better for everyone else). I failed the test and was told to return for a stricter one. I had to fast twelve hours before it so they could take my blood whilst I was fasting and then I had to ingest the same glucose drink and then wait three more hours while they tested my blood each hour. By the time the fourth hour came along, I was near to faint and extremely nauseated. My darling hubby came to pick me up. I was shaking. We went straight to eat, which seemed like a fantastic idea at the time, but halfway through my meal, I began to pass out again. I spent the majority of that day sleeping on our couch and leaving my clients in the lurch, not having planned I would descend into such a stupor.

I found out later that nearly 20% of women fail the first test and have to undergo both - why not just give us one day of hell and have it over and done with? I would wager a price tag determines the conclusion of that issue.

It's week 36 now (home stretch!) - I wonder what other prods and pokes are waiting for me before the Big Day.


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