Second Ultrasound

We went for our second ultrasound yesterday. We were led into a small room painted a sad shade of blue-grey, lit by fluorescent tubes mounted under a bank of cabinets and the glow from a large, flatscreen monitor mounted in front of the sounding apparatus. The air was hot and stuffy, and smelled dusty. Grit lay in the corners of the linoleum floor. Besides the machine and the cabinets there was only an angled table with stirrups, like something an extraterrestrial might use for inserting an anal probe. S had to strip from the waist down and lay on the table, her legs up in the stirrups. Normally being in a small room while she took her pants off would excite me, but here it felt strange, not sexual at all, almost scary, a premonition of what it must be like to see someone you love be reduced, in the eyes of medical community, to just a body with a set of symptoms to prod and poke, examine and diagnose. She asked me to turn away from her and stare at the monitor. We didn’t touch.

Two operators came in. There was just enough room for the three of us to stand. I turned from the monitor to see what was going on and saw the younger of the two lubing up a wand, which she would insert for the ultrasound. Again I thought this would be more exciting, but it was sterile and cold and I turned back to face the wall and kept that position the rest of the time I was there. When they inserted the probe the screen filled up with grey and white shapes – abstractions. The view zoomed around, as I guess the operator was moving the probe.

“You have infrequent periods?” the older woman asked.

“Yes.” S said.

“Mmmhmmm.”

“That’s why we’re here – we need to verify the age of the embryo.” S explained.

On the screen I saw the elliptical shape of my wife’s uterus in the left hand corner, but I didn’t see anything in it, just a black hole. They kept panning around it, keeping it out of focus.

“What are you looking at?” S asked the younger woman, who was operating the machine.

“Your ovaries,” she said. “You’re going to feel a slight pressure.”

The machine beeped and the view zoomed in. They made measurements using a little clicky tool, but I couldn’t tell how they knew where to click – everything looked like grey static to me.

“Mmmmm,” the older one said.

“Yeah,” the younger one responded. They talked low, almost in a whisper.

For a moment, things got real. Everything ok here ladies? I wanted to ask. Why am I not seeing an embryo in that uterus? Where’s the f*@$ing baby!!? Then they switched the view to infrared and the egg shaped uterus, still off center, glowed white. I calmed down. It wouldn’t be hot like that if it was empty.

And of course it was fine. They finally, after a few minutes of poking around the ovaries for whatever reason (they never explained why), zoomed in on the embryo. And what we saw was amazing. It’s not just an abstract bean shape anymore – now it has arms, and a definable huge head, and a recognizable back. It looks like some small creature out of Alien, and it actively moved around. They put its heartbeat up on the screen and we could hear it. The embryo is nine weeks and one day, which corresponds almost exactly to the last ultrasound, three weeks ago. In one week it becomes a fetus. So far, so normal. Phew!! It was wonderful to know its in there, growing, existing.

But I couldn’t help noticing the wet spot from the lube left on the paper covering of the table when S got up, and feeling distressed. I had heard that OB/Gyn offices weren’t women friendly, but didn’t realize what that would feel like until we were there and I saw S up on the table, legs spread vulnerable. Why does it have to be this way? Though I’m pretty sure I saw a man’s name as the head doctor (surprise surprise) all the people we encountered in the office were women. Why wasn’t the place nicely painted, and cleaner, the temperature moderate, with warm fuzzies on the stirrups so my wife didn’t have to rest her legs against the cold plastic? Why weren’t the operators more communicative? They knew what they were looking for and what they were doing, but I wished they had taken the time to talk us through the process. And of course I berate myself for not being more proactive and stopping them – though I would have felt like a pain-in-the-ass for doing so, for getting in the way of their jobs. Why is our health care system so cold and dehumanizing?

We meet with the midwives in three weeks. I’m hoping they put a more human face on this process.

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