If Clinic One is the Costco of fertility clinics, then the midwife clinic to which we transferred after is the small town general store. A general store of the sort that sit, chipped red paint fading, at the fork of two dirt roads cut through a thick wall of evergreens 30 minutes from the nearest sign of modern civilization. The sort of place that offers everything from fishing bait and firewood to quarts of milk and Band Aids, with a rusted, mud-splattered pickup parked outside, and its interior wood paneled walls adorned with kitschy metal roosters and retired license plates.
The midwife clinic features a closet-sized waiting area with seating for eight, including a wooden window seat on which tired cushions rest. The upholstery is a dated nature motif in dark shades of navy, maroon, and rust. The bulletin board in the entryway features dozens of overlapping pastel fliers for mommy-and-baby events and classes. Well-loved stuffed animals line the windowsill. Instead of medical office monthly subscription magazines, clients are invited to borrow from a library of dog-eared prenatal paperbacks. The examination tables are made up to look like twin beds, each with its own mismatched throw and pillowcase, lending a cottage-y atmosphere. A wind chime announces clients’ arrivals at the door.
By city bus, the midwife clinic is an hour commute from my office located in a nondescript concrete plaza on the side of a busy six-lane street. I had been once before for PartnerA’s 17-week appointment. That afternoon, with PartnerA leading the way, we arrived apologetically 40 minutes late and soaked up to the knees after a series of public transit mistakes and determined but misguided speed-walking in the pouring rain in the opposite direction of our intended destination. Forgiving, DietCoke (D.C.), PartnerA’s primary midwife, agreed to proceed with the appointment despite our tardy arrival, yet rushed through it at a breakneck speed seemingly uncharacteristic of someone whose profession regularly requires hours-long stretches of patient thumb-twiddling. Later, PartnerA told me that D.C. often seems rushed, even when the client isn’t three quarters of an hour late.
For PartnerA’s 21-week appointment, we ventured to the midwife clinic independently, each from our respective offices. After the last appointment’s preceding travel debacle, this appointment, I made sure to have detailed directions queued on my cell phone and a list of correct city bus routes in-hand. Predictably, I arrived at the clinic 25 minutes early. PartnerA was nowhere in sight, so I found a shady spot on a metal bench and pulled out my book.
I’m currently reading a book called Raising Cubby by John Elder Robison, the author of Look Me in the Eye and Be Different. The book is a memoir about the author’s experiences as a parent with Asperger’s. As of this year, the DSM-IV’s Asperger’s is no longer a clinical diagnosis. Instead, the DSM-V refers to a range of ‘autism spectrum disorders’. I don’t technically have an ASD diagnosis. (My GP and therapist and a qualified friend have all mentioned testing, but I have yet to go down that road. I wrote about all of that here.) But while I’m being candid, what I do have is a long list of professionally-assessed labels that spin tight circles around ASD. Which is to say that I identify to a positively astounding degree with the earlier chapters of Raising Cubby in which Robison reflects on his thoughts, feelings, and fears during his wife’s pregnancy.
“My thirtieth birthday came and went, another milestone. The older I got, the more I was torn by a combination of fear and anticipation. My focus was still on attaining financial security, but I knew the clock was ticking, and I didn’t want to end up with a toddler at the age of fifty. And it seemed like all my coworkers had kids. Not only that, their children were five, six, even ten years old. I realized I had missed the boat in terms of timing. Everyone else must have faced the same threats and worries as me, but somehow they had found the time or courage. And then there was [author’s wife]. Throughout the ups and downs of married life, she expressed a steady and increasing desire to become a mother. So I felt pressure everywhere I turned, from within and without. The closer I got to taking the plunge, the more scared I became. Would I get a good kid? Could I be a good dad? Could I afford to raise a child? I tried to break down the situation and evaluate it logically, as I am wont to do. When you look at kid acquisition from the outside, the hidden joys of parenthood may escape you…”
The author goes on to consider the financial responsibility of a child (including “esoteric expenses like toddler yoga”), the risk of disabilities, and the memory of his own tumultuous childhood.
“Could I be a good dad despite the example of my own father? I tried to break that down logically too, and when I did, it always came down to the influence of liquor. My dad drank, and when he got drunk, he turned mean. I didn’t drink. Still, I could not be sure that I would not be mean too. Perhaps meanness was inherited.”
I’ve had that exact conversation with my therapist a dozen times.
About his wife’s pregnancy, the author writes: “I tried to tell myself everything would be okay, but she didn’t get better. That meant I stayed anxious. Gradually, my fears evolved. Instead of worrying that she would die, I became afraid her sick, lethargic state would become her permanent way of being. That would be even worse, in a way. I was doing my best to be a good husband and a good pre-dad, but I didn’t know what to do. I’d never been involved with a pregnancy or a new baby before and couldn’t tell if her situation was exceptional. Nothing I read mentioned any association between pregnancy and ulcers, and the doctors were no help. ‘Sometimes these things happen,’ they said, as if those words would reassure me. ‘Sometimes moms die in childbirth,’ was all I could think to reply.”
I really wish that I could retype the entire book for you to read. It’s worth picking up, whether or not you have ASD (or ASD-like-tendencies), because the take-home message (in stark contrast to the handful of other books out there that acknowledge the existence of parents on the spectrum) is universally valuable: What counts most are intention and effort, small children accept their normal as the normal, and there’s no ‘right’ way to be a parent. (The first thing that the author did when he was handed his just-born son in the delivery room at the hospital was draw a black triangle with a Sharpee on the bottom of the newborn’s foot. “He was now the only baby anywhere with a little black triangle on his foot: a delta, the Greek symbol that signifies uncertainty and change.”)
The author of Raising Cubby recounts some truly bizarre experiences with his son, but you know what? His son made it to adulthood, they maintain a strong relationship, and most importantly? They’re both just fine.
I looked up from the book and squinted into the late afternoon sunlight wondering if I could be just fine too. If PartnerA and Bingo and I could all be just fine somehow. I couldn’t fathom how, but momentarily, I felt uncharacteristically optimistic as PartnerA arrived at the midwives’ clinic and we proceeded inside together beneath the jingling wind chimes. We took our seats in the waiting area.
PartnerA’s primary midwife DietCoke (aka “D.C.”) is away on vacation, so we were greeted in the lobby by HerbalTea (aka “H.T.”), a soft-spoken graying woman in her mid-fifties, wearing a long skirt and flowing top in shades of beige, with gentle creases around her mouth and at the corners of her eyes carrying the memory of a lifetime of joy. Later, she would tell us that the most beautiful miracle in all of existence is the instant that a moments-old baby first opens its eyes and stares in shock and wonder at the world.
Indeed, H.T. smiled warmly as she extended her hand to each of us in turn. PartnerA and I followed her into an examination room. PartnerA sat on the twin-bed table made up with a burgundy throw and a powder-blue pillow and I took a seat in the armchair at the foot.
“Aha! I was trying to figure out which one of you was pregnant!” H.T. announced brightly. PartnerA, envious of other women’s perfect basketball-baby-bumps, frowned. I crossed my arms over my not-so-flat fetus-less belly. This interaction has become a trend as of late of which neither of us are particularly fond! Confusion averted, H.T. immediately turned to PartnerA and instructed her to head to the bathroom to pee on a stick (to test protein levels or something important). PartnerA complied, leaving H.T. and me sitting awkwardly across from one another.
I find making small talk comparable in difficulty to, oh, mastering a foreign language. Indeed, I lack even basic proficiency in the art of casual conversation. (See ‘ASD-like-tendencies’ above.) Coupled with a healthy dose of social anxiety disorder (that one’s diagnosed), I’d prefer to be scrubbing a toilet with my toothbrush than sitting face-to-face with an expectant stranger. Naturally, the topic of conversation was babies. Bonus. /sarcasm
– I was born via C-section. The midwife didn’t like that.
– I’m not necessarily averse to hospital births or epidurals or other medical interventions. The midwife didn’t like that either.
– When H.T. asked who we hoped to be present at Bingo’s arrival, I mentioned TheDoctor, a longtime friend from our college days who’s currently a first year resident in a downtown hospital. I mentioned the fact that TheDoctor is a doctor purely because I’m proud of her achievements. It wasn’t until I noticed H.T.’s body language stiffen that I realized that I had said, “Our friend is AWESOME!” but what she had heard was, “I know midwives are sort of qualified, but we’ve invited a doctor JUST IN CASE!” Oops. That’s not what I meant. Truly, that’s not what I meant at all.
– When I admitted that at 21 weeks, PartnerA didn’t have a smidgen of a birth plan established, the midwife was horrified. I pointed out that you can’t actually plan births. Babies do what they’re going to do and it may be six hours or it may be thirty-six hours and it may be a quiet drug-assisted hospital arrival or a screaming agony of a home birth or a little of both or neither. Maybe the kid will be born on a subway platform. Who knows. “Anyway,” I shrugged, “it’s only 21 weeks. We still have time.” “21 weeks is more than halfway,” H.T. stated curtly.
The conversation had devolved into near-silence by the time PartnerA returned from what was undoubtedly the longest trip to the bathroom in history.
H.T. turned to review the results of the 20-week ultrasound. She read over it quietly, placed the papers on her desk, and looked up. “Has anyone spoken to you about these results?” she asked. PartnerA and I looked at each other, suddenly panicked.
“No,” PartnerA squeaked. “Why?”
It turned out that there was no reason. Apparently H.T. just prefers a dramatic lead-up to good news. “Everything looks great!” she announced cheerily. In unison, PartnerA and I exhaled.
The remainder of the appointment went the way these appointments tend to go, from my vast (by which I mean extremely limited) prior experience. PartnerA’s uterus was felt (in the right place). PartnerA’s belly was measured (exactly 21″ at 21 weeks). Bingo’s heart rate was measured (whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh). All was well in FetusLand.
The next appointment was supposed to have been at 25 weeks, but PartnerA has conveniently decided to leave the continent from 24.5 to 26.5 weeks. If the midwife was aggravated with us before, hearing that PartnerA and Bingo have world travels planned in the second trimester thoroughly pissed her off! PartnerA has all three risk factors for gestational diabetes (age, weight, and family history). Do you know when they do the official gestational diabetes test? Yup, that’s at 25 weeks! So much to H.T.’s chagrin, PartnerA booked an early 25-week midwife appointment with the primary midwife D.C. (at 24 weeks) and a late 25-week gestational diabetes test (at 27 weeks). And to think, since the beginning of time women all over the world have been conceiving, gestating, and birthing babies without medical intervention! Who would’ve thunk it possible?
In other Bingo news, we’ve bought a crib, set a date for the baby shower, created a tentative guest list, and are working on a registry. We’ve also more or less chosen a #1 boy’s name and a #1 girl’s name. Much drama surrounding all, but drama is what keeps life interesting, right? That’s another post for another day.
Today — This is post 100 on this blog! Post 100 and 115 days to go until Bingo is a real little person (so say the pregnancy widgets). Whoa on both counts.