Today was my first doctor’s appointment. I arrived at the hospital a little late to see the waiting room teeming with pregnant women. Big pregnant women. Frighteningly so. I thought, is this what I have to look forward to? Scary. I went to the reception desk, told them my name, which made them frown up. I was used to it, since I look like I could be Nigerian, so my accent and name often throws people off. I told them I was here to see the midwives. See, no one had told me a name to ask for, just “the midwives”. The receptionist looked disturbed and asked me was I here for the antenatal clinic. I said no, since I had never heard of the word antenatal and it sounded like after pregnancy. I was to find out that antenatal meant prenatal as the receptionist gave me a card with the letter P and the the initials ANC for Ante-Natal Clinic and told me to sit down.
Ten minutes later one of the midwives came and called all the women for the Ante-Natal Clinic into the conference room. I didn’t know what to expect as I walked behind the women waddling into the room. Surely I am not supposed to be here. I’m not even showing and these women are about to drop! The midwife asked for someone to start the session in prayer. Prayer? Really? After that we had a safety moment. Mmmmkay. Then the midwife started talking about perineums, episiotomies and epidurals. I thought, whoa. Aren’t they going to ease a sister into this. What is a perineum? It sounds painful. I started to feel sick. Next up was a presentation on family planning. “What is family planning?’ one of the midwives asked. One of the biggest women who looked extremely uncomfortable as she shifted in her seat half seriously answered, “planning to not have another baby.” The midwife met her answer with disdain. Of course it wouldn’t be planning to not have a baby, family planning is only for spacing of babies. Ooookay. She went through all of her options, male condoms, female condoms (which I had heard of but never seen), birth control pills, diaphram, implants, injections, etc. I noticed that she didn’t talk much about tubal ligation, which by looking around the room, some of those women probably needed to know about. One of the women asked why she didn’t recommend the natural method of determining your safe period. The nurse answered, “if your husband is on rotation in Escravos and he comes home and it’s not in your safe period, will you push him away?” I started to feel sorry for these women if this was the only discussion they were able to have around family planning.
During this discussion, I noticed that the midwife was having discussions with individual women, an interview of sorts. Every once in a while I would hear the conversation and I wondered, why aren’t they having these sessions in a private room. What if a woman had some private questions about her pregnancy? In the background, they had a movie playing showing actual childbirths. Oooh – the baby comes out and they lay the baby right on top of you, blood and fluid covered. Is this what the miracle of birth looks like? I want the Hollywood version where the baby comes out clean and shiny.
Finally, after watching women go in and out to the laboratory and other places, I asked one of the midwives what was going on and if I was supposed to be there. By then, I had been there for over two hours. She took my last menstrual date and calculated that I was 6+ weeks pregnant. She said that I shouldn’t have come until I was 8 weeks but she would talk to the doctor. My frustration happened over again. Why would they schedule me if I wasn’t supposed to come here. After another 30 minutes she said I should go ahead and get a scan (I had to figure out that this meant an ultrasound) and bloodwork. I couldn’t find the right room to go to and got sent to three different rooms before I went to the bathroom in tears. After a few more tear-filled conversations with one of the nurses that I had met previously, I finally got all of my bloodwork done, swabs taken and was ready to take my ultrasound.
The ultrasound was in a small cramped room with the bed crushed up against the wall. The room was only as wide as the bed, and my feet touched the wall when I lay down. I’m sure the sheets had not been changed from the last 10 women before me. The doctor/nurse put the gel on my belly with no warning. I jumped from the shock of the cold. Her and her assistant looked at the ultrasound pictures and murmured back and forth to each other. The one with the wand moved around my belly and I wondered what they were seeing. The assistant clucked that it was too small. Finally, they turned the screen to me and showed me the sack but the baby was too small to be seen. The doctor explained that the baby seemed to be smaller than expected so I explained that I knew the exact week of conception so the dates matched up. He answered a few questions that I had and I finally broke free, emotionally traumatized but relatively unscathed.
Upon reflection, this wasn’t how my first prenatal visit was supposed to go. I was supposed to meet other pregnant women in the waiting room, particularly other working women and exchange numbers and antedotes about the difficulties of starting a family and working. Not sitting in the middle of a free clinic session being traumatized by pictures of crowning babies and ignored by the other women. I was supposed to be led into a bright room with a happy nurse who explained what was happening and each step of the process. Not wandering around the hallway dazed and confused. I know this much. I can’t have my baby here. I have to go back home. For my own sanity’s sake.