C’mon, you didn’t really think that I was going to say, did you? 😉
The big 20-week ultrasound happened on Friday, June 21, 2013. At 3:00 PM, it was a sunny afternoon on the first day of summer, a perfect day to be a 20-week-old fetus. Bingo was technically only chronologically 17 weeks and four days at that point, but gestational age is measured on its own special scale that races Bingo ahead to 19 weeks and four days. And 19 weeks and four days is apparently plenty old enough for a 20-week ultrasound. It lacks logical sense, but that’s just the way it goes in Fetus Land. Roll with it!
The clients at this ultrasound clinic were statistically likely to be pregnant via the traditional method. You know, one passionate evening and bam, an accidental fetus! A free, run-of-the-mill, traditionally-created fetus. The reception staff referred to the clients in the lobby as ‘patients’ and ‘husbands’, as though the men in the room could not in this context be anything but. Indeed, seated near the entrance was a straight man in dress slacks and a tie talking business into his cell phone as a straight woman in a sundress beside him crossed her sandled feet at the ankles and gazed glazed-eyed toward the carpet. They wore wedding rings. PartnerA and I do not wear rings, nor did either of us arrive that afternoon with a husband. Uh oh.
I chose a seat against the far wall as PartnerA approached the reception desk to check-in. Immediately, the receptionist curtly announced that I, not PartnerA, would need to complete the patient intake paperwork. PartnerA ignored her and printed her name at the top of the form. Her undeniably female name. Then PartnerA handed over her insurance card bearing the same undeniably female name. The receptionist glanced at the form, then glanced at the card, then glanced up at PartnerA, then glanced back at the form, and a switch flipped in her head. “Oh, uh, uh, um-” she stammered. Then, “How many weeks are you?” she inquired, eyeing PartnerA’s rounded belly beneath her men’s polo shirt, undoubtedly attempting to reconcile reality with her initial perception of PartnerA as male. Embarrassed and uncomfortable, the receptionist then swiped PartnerA’s intake form from the desk and dashed away out of sight down a hallway toward the exam rooms, perhaps to warn the ultrasound technician of the apparently baffling gender presentation of her next patient. To warn the technician that our fetus might be a tiny male with a tu-tu or a tiny female with a tool belt as though straight women’s uteri glow gently in reassuring, sex-conforming blue or pink and ours? Green? Purple? RAINBOW?!!
Shortly thereafter, the ultrasound technician appeared and summoned PartnerA from the lobby. I shifted to stand from my chair as well but the receptionist reappeared just in time to stop me in my tracks. She pointed out a sign posted on the wall:
PATIENTS: Please note that family members are not permitted inside until after the ultrasound technician has completed the measurements.
WHAT?! As PartnerA followed the technician down the hallway toward the exam rooms, I sunk back into my chair in the lobby, I was stung by the harsh exclusion. I’m not just a ‘family member’. I’m Bingo’s parent! No matter. The receptionist pointed out the same sign to the other patients’ husbands. This cruel policy applied to all family members regardless of relation or gender. Indeed, this clinic forbade anyone but the technician and the patient being present during the ultrasound. I was told that I would be permitted entry at the end to “see a picture of the baby”. The heartless demeanor of this ultrasound clinic’s staff stung. Their attitude was the polar opposite of the unwavering care and inclusion offered by the fertility clinic’s doctors and ultrasound technicians. I was used to a very different standard of service, one in which Bingo was as much my baby as PartnerA’s and ultrasounds were a family event, not a private medical procedure. Undoubtedly the husbands with whom I now shared the lobby were similarly disappointed, but I was doubly defeated because I carry with me the perpetual insecurity about the fetus not being genetically mine. Resigned, I waited as I was told.
And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. I tried not to think about what I might be missing — Bingo’s tiny face, tiny fingers, little movements on the ultrasound screen.
After an eternity, I was finally called into the exam room. Unlike at Clinic One where there are designated partners’ chairs in all of the ultrasound rooms, there was no place for me in the room at this clinic. The technician directed me to stand at the foot of the table by PartnerA’s feet. I squeezed PartnerA’s toes through her red Converse sneakers, offering what support I could from this awkward assigned position.
The ultrasound that followed in my presence lasted all of 45 seconds. Unlike at Clinic One where the technicians always allow time for oohing and aahing as though this is the most important fetus ever to have been featured on that screen — because to you, it is the most important fetus — at this clinic, no one showed an ounce of sensitivity. On the screen, we saw our baby; the ultrasound technician saw just another occupied uterus. The technician was very clearly bored.
“This is the head,” she began, sliding the wand over PartnerA’s belly. “Nose. Mouth. There’s its stomach. Heart. Kidneys.” The technician sped through the internal organs as though reciting them was a race. She didn’t pause long enough for me to identify a single one on the screen. “There’s its bladder. It’s a __________. You can tell because you can/can’t see a penis*. And that’s its hand up there near its face.” The technician abruptly pulled the wand away and tossed PartnerA a handful of paper towels to wipe the gel off of her skin.
Wait, what? Did the ultrasound technician just reveal Bingo’s sex? Boy/girl had been rattled off so rapidly that I had to close my eyes for a moment and repeat to myself the technician’s words to be sure that she’d actually just said what I’d thought she’d just said. “Stomach, heart, kidneys, bladder, boy/girl, hand.” Yes, yes the technician had just revealed Bingo’s sex. Like that. Without any lead-up. Without even any affect in her voice. Like one of the precious few details that we are able to know about our soon-to-be child was nothing special. PartnerA and I both looked at each other, equally taken aback by the abrupt delivery. Perhaps our soon-to-be-child was nothing special to this ultrasound technician, who earlier told PartnerA that she did dozens of these exams every day. But for PartnerA and me, this was our first child, and we only had one opportunity in a lifetime at this very moment, and that was it. It was over.
I tried to assuage my disappointment with perspective: The fetus is healthy. That’s the most important thing. We are very fortunate that the process was this ‘easy’ for us (‘only’ four IUIs), and to date, Bingo is thriving. We are very lucky.
As PartnerA buttoned her pants, I reached for the offered ultrasound printouts eager to see the multiple-angle 20-week images that my friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and blog friends always show off. I was excited to ooh and aah over the classic clear profile shot featuring Bingo’s 20-week tiny nose and 20-week tiny mouth.
Then I looked down at the printouts and was disappointed anew. Instead of the anticipated multiple-angle 20-week images, there were just three images, all taken at the exact same angle. The first two were too blurry to even make out a human form, and the third, while slightly better than the other two, was not exactly the perfectly-formed 20-week fetus photo that everyone else seems to get. Later, I had to enhance the image with Photoshop to increase the contrast so that at least some of Bingo’s individual parts were identifiable.
PartnerA and I left the ultrasound clinic and stepped outside into the late afternoon sunshine. I felt excited to know Bingo now a little bit more than I had 30 minutes before. There isn’t much that you can know about a fetus, so knowing its sex is a biggie. I also felt disappointed. Disappointed for having been excluded from the bulk of the ultrasound appointment. Disappointed for having gotten a technician who couldn’t have cared less about our excitement. Disappointed that the only time we would see Bingo during the second trimester was this 45-second glimpse. Disappointed for The Big Reveal to have been delivered so nonchalantly. Disappointed that the long-awaited 20-week ultrasound images were blurry. Later, PartnerA told me that at one point while I was still banished to the lobby, the ultrasound technician had called the fetus “difficult”. From the ultrasound clinic, we made our way to the nearby library (where we Googled 20-week ultrasound images and confirmed that yes, everyone else gets at least one classic clear profile shot) and then to the thrift store where among itty-bitty onesies and teeny-tiny shoes I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit better. After all, what’s the most important thing? A reminder to be grateful was right there front and centre on the thrift store shelf:
Following the 20-week ultrasound, PartnerA and I announced the news to the world via Facebook. While her immediate supervisor already knew, she also told her coworkers and I decided that the time was right to tell my immediate supervisor about Bingo’s existence. I then promptly requested two months leave from work as of Bingo’s arrival. (The response to that request is forthcoming.)
* We had chosen in advance to learn the sex of the fetus. PartnerA had noted our desire to know on the patient intake form. So it isn’t that the ultrasound technician announced it, but rather, how she announced it that was so upsetting. As for the fill-in-the-blank _________? My Facebook response to those who inquire is this: As for those asking ‘boy or girl?’ — odds are it’s one or the other, probably. 😉