While the U.S. is getting its underwear in knots over airport pat-downs, here in Mexico I’m starting to long for a little hands-on treatment. From my O.B.
Yes, it’s gotten to the point—34 weeks, to be precise—that I look at those stirrups a little wistfully. I know this sounds weird, and maybe I am. After all, I actually request TSA pat-downs when I travel pregnant. I won’t say I enjoy them, but to me they feel more human than the sci-fi gadgetry I’m opting out of, and I know that the backs of another woman’s hands aren’t going to give my unborn child leukemia.
Dr. O is a sweet man and, by reputation, an excellent doctor. So I don’t know if he is being polite by keeping his hands off of me, if he thinks he’s building my trust before we get to the inevitable up-close-and-personal part of childbirth, or if it’s totally normal not to conduct a full physical examine on a pregnant woman in Mexico. Or maybe the exam is a first trimester procedure and he’s assuming my midwife back in the U.S. took care of it. When I’m being paranoid, I think that he doesn’t care; if the time arrives and my machinery isn’t up to the task at hand, he has plenty of his own (“Scalpel!”). In any case, the longer things go on chastely, the harder it becomes to ask. And the more uncomfortable I fear it will be when he does lay me down.
Back in the U.S., my midwife measures my belly and then she feels the baby with two hands open on my skin.
“Here’s his little bum!” she’ll tell me, and she’ll help me find it too.
Dr. O doesn’t even touch my belly with his hands, and really we don’t even look at me when I’m getting examined. He runs an ultrasound wand over my bump and we all watch the television screen on the wall.
“His stomach?” Dr. O asks about a fuzzy black area on the screen. He knows what the organ is, but he wonders whether “stomach” (rhymes with “spinach”) is the correct word in English.
“His bladder?” he asks (rhymes with Nader).
I know. Ultrasounds are like metal detectors. Theoretically, if properly operated, they don’t do any damage. Usually. Or so far as the researchers, who have little incentive to find out otherwise, have found out otherwise. I should avoid them too. But they’re kind of addictive. A glimpse of face, a foot, that intricate spine.
“DEFINITELY a boy,” says Dr. O.
I smile. I want to be a good patient, an agreeable patient. I tell myself I’m saving my fights (cutting in the delivery room, bottle-feeding in the nursery). I hope this is true, although I know there are a lot of potential barriers to Dr. O and I communicating well under pressure. For now, we enjoy the cool, dark room and focus on the measuring amniotic fluid and the length of a tibia.
In film theory, there’s something called the suture. This is a word like denouement that professors always say in their best imitation French. The suture is the seam (i.e. stitches) between the imaginary world of the screen and the real. When an actor on the screen suddenly turns and speaks directly to the camera, the suture is broken and we remember that we’re an audience watching a movie.
Ordinarily, I’m in favor of a strong suture when I’m watching film. I want to be carried away from reality. I want to leave my puffy, uncomfortable body beached on a pile of pillows and instead be some lithe girl Brad Pitt is about to kiss.
But in the exam room of my O.B., I’m a little more partial to reality. This is about my body and the body contained, for now, within my anatomy. Of course, Dr. O knows just how to bypass me—with an ultrasound wand or scalpel—and in so doing, he can avoid seeing or touching more than a few inches of my stretched pale skin peeking through a hospital gown.
I suppose this sounds lovely to lots of people: clean, sterile, distant; the barrier of self and other clearly demarcated and uncrossed; a surgical field with unbreached suture. And I don’t know any women who long for an opportunity to put their feet up in obstetrical stirrups. But I suddenly find our cordial distance unnerving. And I do not want to be unnerved.
There is much to be said for technology, for the victory of the medical mind over bodily matter, but there is much to be said for the human as well. And for touch, particularly when there are so many ways to misunderstand one another.
I want Dr. O to know that I am strong, that I carry the scars from the birth of my first son, but remain unafraid to give birth to my second. I want him to know that I trust him and my own body as well. I want him to know that, whatever he expects of me, I am not going to flinch.
His machines may measure my pulse, but they do not know my heart.