When I was pregnant with our first child nine years ago, I assumed that anyone who had completed at least one year of medical school could probably deliver a baby.
I mean you see it all the time on TV. People have babies in the subway, in taxi cabs, on the sidewalk, in the woods. Some stranger who is walking by stops to help, and Mom and baby are fine.
So, I opened the book of HMO docs and randomly chose the female OB with the most normal-sounding name. I was really happy when at 41 weeks they sent me to the hospital, and I found out that my favorite of the four doctors who were part of that practice was the one on call.
But 24 hours later, I would wake up from a drug-induced sleep to the startling reality that delivering a baby isn’t as simple as it sounds. Sometimes things go wrong. And sometimes, once things start going wrong, everything seems to go wrong.
I found out that delivering a baby can be highly risky to a mom and her newborn. The baby doesn’t always want to move down that dark tunnel called the birth canal. And then it’s no longer a matter of catching a baby, it’s a surgical procedure.
And I found out that not all anesthesiologists are created equal, either. Most are probably trained to make sure the patient is completely numb BEFORE the doctor starts a C-Section. And I found out that it’s even possibly to slice vital organs while performing what sounds like a simple surgery.
So, when God blessed us with our second child, I no longer cared about nice sounding names, pretty maternity suites that served cookies before bed or the gender of my doctor. Nope. A friend recommended her doctor who she described as “nearly a plastic surgeon” when it came to performing C-sections.
Thankfully, this older male doctor came equipped with a delightful sidekick. A midwife.
Doris, the midwife, was perfect in every way. She listened when a hormonal prego woman suddenly burst into tears. She would hold your hands and pray for you at each visit. She was there every step of the way, even if your baby was coming out “the sunroof”, as she described it.
Doris was a cute, blonde, runner in her mid 30s when I met her. She didn’t get married herself and have her first child until she was close to 40. And over the years, I have thought many times about some of the last words she said to me after I had my third child, my daughter, at the age of 36.
Doris asked me if we planned to have any more children. “I’m just too old,” I said. Even then, I was labeled as “high-risk” and sent for Level 2 ultrasounds to make sure everything was going OK.
“You are not even CLOSE to being too old,” Doris reassured me. In fact, Doris reassured me about everything all of the time.
“You can do it.”
“It’s going to be fine.”
Those are the kind of words you expected to hear from Doris.
In the years since I had my daughter, Doris got married and moved away and started her own family. The older doctor who delivered my second son retired and was replaced by a younger doctor. And he hired a new midwife, who I will call B.
This younger doctor doesn’t have the best bedside manner. I always feel nervous when I talk to him. I don’t know why.
But for my third C-section, he cut an incision and sewed it up so beautifully that four years later, my scar is nearly invisible. What he lacks in personality, he makes up for in skill with a sharp instrument and sewing utensils. And I learned the hard way, that when you are having a C-section, a good surgeon is far more important than a nice personality.
So, when I found out I was pregnant, I called his office to make an appointment with B, the midwife. I told the receptionist I thought I was pregnant and gave her my birthdate: 4-21-69.
I assumed she would sound some sort of alarm and request that I come in for an exam immediately. Surely, she would put it all together that I was only a few weeks short of 40 and see the urgency in my case.
“B is in your local office on Tuesdays. Her next opening is in two weeks. How about April 21st?”
You want me to wait two weeks? April 21st? I gave it a moment’s thought. I really didn’t want to wait THREE weeks until the following Tuesday. My 40th birthday. How ironic.
Couldn’t I come in just one day earlier. When I was still in my 30s?
So, there I sat in the waiting room for my 5 p.m. appointment on my 40th birthday.
I tried to keep my head low so the pregnant women sitting elbow-to-elbow in the crowded waiting room wouldn’t notice me.
I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I was afraid that someone would see my fine lines and wrinkles and make an announcement to the packed room.
“What is SHE doing here?”
I buried my nose in my book, but I couldn’t get myself to read a single word.
Finally, the nurse called me back. “Um. We don’t have an exam room available yet, but since you have been a patient here for such a long time, we wanted you to come on back and give us a urine sample. You can just wait back here until the next room opens up.”
Whew! I escaped the waiting room!
Finally, it was my turn in the exam room. And B came in to chat.
“Well, happy birthday!” she exclaimed.
My eyes were full of tears. I know it must be hard to understand. I’m so grateful to be pregnant. I know other people struggle with infertility. Or they don’t get married until later in life. And they would trade spots with me in a heartbeat.
It wasn’t that I was sad. Or upset. In fact, I was overcome with awe and wonder.
But at that early stage I was really struggling with fears about how I would handle being pregnant, how I would make it through a fourth C-section and all of the negative things I had read about “advanced maternal age“.
I was really needing Doris more than anyone at that moment. I was wondering if they could give me her phone number. I kept replaying that conversation we had four years ago.
I started telling B what was on my mind.
“Let’s just not worry about all of that,” said B. She’s a very nice woman, a few years younger than I am. She’s attractive and likable and seems to do a good job. But she’s definitely NOT Doris.
“Let’s just take this a day at a time. Let’s just focus on today. Your birthday. You don’t need to look too far ahead. Let’s not worry about the birth or what it’s going to be like to have a baby.”
Why not? I was thinking.
“Let’s just make sure the baby is viable.”
Oh, I get it. I smiled and nodded. OK, sure. Let’s just make sure.
I was cracking up on the inside. Oh, how Doris never in a million years would have said those words.
I’m just so happy that I know who is in control. It’s not me. And it’s not B. And He will get me through whatever comes my way.
And I really don’t have to worry. And I CAN think ahead. And I can plan. And I can even listen to her make such comments and just laugh inside. And I can even do it without Doris. She was a big help, but I suddenly realized she wasn’t the one who gives peace.
As I left the exam room, my chart must have exchanged hands a few more times.
“Happy birthday!” said another nurse.
“Happy birthday!” exclaimed the receptionist who made my next appointment.
It was a happy birthday. And it’s been a happy 14 weeks so far.