No, we don’t have a baby yet.
My lack of update following our impromptu appointment with the OB/GYN on Tuesday is purely a result of my computer having experienced an utter collapse a week ago. Though the computer has not yet been repaired, I’ve come to the decision that blogging from work is an excellent use of my lunch hour. (Food is optional at 37ish weeks pregnant, right?)
Sea and I had been referred to the very busy, reputable baby-flipping expert by our midwives after the midwife appointment in which I cried. To recap: Bingo was breech. Awkwardly breech, with one leg down and one leg up. Breech in such a strange position that Diet Coke had referred to it as “being wedged in a doorway”. Breech in such a way that low-impact flipping techniques and/or birth without medical intervention were not considered possibilities. After eight months of pregnancy with little engagement with the medical establishment, during which our cats’ vet and our friend were the only people with the title of “Doctor”, we were being sent back into the world of sterile hospitals and medical procedures and rampant heterosexism.
The appointment with the OB/GYN was scheduled in the middle of the day. Busy, reputable baby-flipping experts don’t accommodate their patients’ schedules: their patients accommodate theirs. Sea and I both took the afternoon off work. The waiting room was pale blue, decorated with framed watercolors of cherubic children. A bored receptionist handed us a series of forms, which we stumbled through under the watchful gaze of these portraits and said bored receptionist, who had no shame about staring at the pregnant ‘boy’ in her waiting room. The intake forms, all bearing a header that announced the doctor’s specialist as “minimally invasive surgery”, were a stark reminder of the difference between the midwives’ clinic and this one, and a throwback to the uncomfortable early days of meeting with fertility clinics.
None of the above? Other? Partnered? None of these were listed as available options. Sea, ever-ready for acts of quiet resistance, neatly wrote in our actual relationship status, circling it for emphasis. Two questions below, we encountered another hurdle: “NEXT-OF-KIN OR CLOSE FRIEND (NOT YOUR HUSBAND)”. Sighing, we wrote in a friend’s name ignoring the fact that despite all of the medical forms’ insistence, Sea was still not, in fact, my husband.
For three pages we continued, attempting to answer barely relevant questions as Sea continued to firmly strike out irrelevant terms and write in more accurate ones. Finally finished, we waited until we were directed to a small office. The doctor’s office was decorated more strangely than the waiting room. On one wall, peeling posters informed uneducated patients about fetal development and birth control (you know, in case next time you want to do things differently). On the opposing wall, there was a sun-faded framed poster of Tom Selleck as honorary captain of the 1983 USA Volleyball Team. Really.
As Sea took photos, I sat staring at the pile of fashion magazines stacked neatly on the desk. I wondered about the other types of patients this doctor must see, women who weren’t there for talk of C-sections or other “minimally invasive surgery”. Women who might want to flip through a copy of Elle from 2011 rather than agonize over the potential for flipping their babies. I felt unreasonably jealous of these imagined, carefree patients, patients who wanted their pregnancies to be monitored by an OB/GYN.
The doctor, let’s call him Dr. Selleck, appeared for a moment only to excuse himself to the bathroom, sadly separated from his office by only the thinnest of walls. Sea and I listened to him pee, flush, then turn the doorknob. He didn’t wash his hands, I noticed.
Soon after, Dr. Selleck returned, now followed by a nervous medical student with a stethoscope hung awkwardly around his neck. The two sat down and Dr. Selleck launched immediately into a prepared speech that he had clearly recited hundreds of times before:
“People often leave my office crying, and it’s not because I’m a bad guy. It’s because this can feel overwhelming. Risks of vaginal breech birth, blah blah blah. Moving on. I perform the external cephalic version in the operating room, with a spinal block administered. The baby is monitored for risks. The risks are a drop in heart rate, broken bones, cord damage. These risks are very, very low.“
“I used to tell people that the risks were lower than being hit by lightning, but being hit by lightning is surprisingly common.”
Well, thank you for that cheery bit of news, doctor. Continuing.
“If the ECV works, I induce immediately. Why? You’re already in the hospital with an anesthesiologist there. Besides, if we didn’t induce immediately and anything bad happened after the ECV, you wouldn’t forgive yourselves. Even if it wasn’t related to the ECV. If the ECV doesn’t work, you’re still already in the hospital with an anesthesiologist, so I do a C-section immediately. Either way you aren’t going home without a baby. I’m still trying to schedule you in, but it will be sometime next week.”
Though his language was a lot blunter than the midwives’, not cushioned by gentle metaphors about doorways or meandering journeys, and the thought of having a baby next week made my heart pound, I didn’t cry. I didn’t even feel like crying. My hopes of a sudden turn of events (ha) had been crushed, and I was suddenly every bit as set in the cold, hard realism of the situation as Sea had always been.
“Alright,” Dr. Selleck announced cheerfully. “Let’s do a quick exam,” I lay down on the table, sandwiched between the birth control options and Tom Selleck’s 1983 short-shorts, as the OB/GYN and the medical student felt my stomach. Dr. Selleck cupped his hands just under my rib cage, talking to the student instead of me or Sea: “Yes, here’s the head.”
“Still breech?” Sea asked.
“Yes, still breech.”
Dr. Selleck took out the ultrasound wand, squeezing the familiar blue gel across my stomach. He pressed the wand into my stomach where his hands had been cupped a moment before, under my rib cage. He was barely looking at the screen as he talked to the medical student. His tone was arrogant and certain: “So here’s the head.” He glanced at the screen, then paused, and then properly looked at the screen. “Hm. But it isn’t the head.” He moved the ultrasound wand to the bottom of my stomach, by my pelvis. “This is the head!”
That’s right. Bingo, the baby that even the midwives had said wouldn’t be able to turn from the position that s/he was in without major medical intervention, had turned. Keep in mind, I had done almost nothing. My only concrete attempt at baby turning had been to lie inverted on an ironing board leaned against the sofa, bag of frozen peas held against the top of my stomach. Once. For 20 minutes. Diet Coke had suggested this strategy, cautioning that it probably wouldn’t work but it also wouldn’t hurt. She had told me that, if I were going to try this maneuver, I should be spending as much time in the pose as possible. Half an hour at a time, multiple times a day. She had suggested I watch an entire TV series from this position. I had tried it as my bemused cats looked on, feet in the air, head on the floor. After twenty minutes with nothing to show for the experiment but a sore neck, I had decided that this probably ineffective strategy wasn’t worth the time. Since that time, my head has remained firmly located above my uterus.
In the OB/GYN’s office, there was a long moment of shocked silence. The medical student blinked. The doctor turned off the ultrasound machine. Sea’s eyes widened. By this point, even I had taken off my rose-colored glasses and was totally and completely stunned. We had been told that independent re-positioning was impossible at this point in the pregnancy. We had been told that Bingo was firmly breech.
Having suddenly seen decidedly otherwise on the ultrasound screen, I could do nothing but lie on the exam table, staring at Sea staring at me as 1983 Tom Selleck played volleyball in the background. Finally, I sat up on the table: “Now I think I am going to cry!” I didn’t cry, though the mixture of shock, relief, confusion, doubt and happiness was completely overwhelming.
Dr. Selleck just looked disappointed. He had come into the room expecting to book an ECV, impressing the medical student in the process, and had instead found nothing but a boring head-down baby. “Well, forget everything I just told you,” he announced, turning to leave the room, “I’ll text Diet Coke now.” Dr. Selleck was done with us. He didn’t shake our hands or wish us well. He didn’t even say goodbye.
The next day I went to see Diet Coke, the midwife. She came to meet me almost as soon as I walked through the clinic door, gently asking how I was. Remember, during the last midwife appointment, I had been in tears. “Great!” I replied, and her eyes widened with confusion.
“You heard that the baby flipped, right?”
In fact, Diet Coke hadn’t heard. Dr. Selleck, clearly done with us after his plans for an exciting ECV had failed, hadn’t texted our midwife with the news after all. Diet Coke’s surprise was even more pronounced than ours had been. She is a midwife — familiar with countless different situations and outcomes — but this had not been on her list of expected outcomes. Still standing in the hallway of the clinic, she questioned me: “What?! Are you sure?! Did he do an ultrasound to confirm?! Please tell me he did an ultrasound to confirm!!” The OB/GYN had, I explained, done an ultrasound and Bingo was definitely, inexplicably, no longer breech. With this piece of information, Diet Coke left me in the warm hands of the student midwife so that she could go and share this story with the other midwives—currently all gathered around the clinic’s small lunch table.
When Diet Coke returned from sharing our saga with her colleagues, her cheeks were pink and her eyes were sparkling. Clearly, we were a story. A good story. The kind of story that will likely be repeated to other midwives and teary-eyed ECV candidates for a long time. As she looked over my paperwork, Diet Coke muttered—half to herself, half to me—“I would have bet my house that this baby wasn’t going to flip”. (Note to self: Next time bet midwife a house. We could use more space.) For the rest of the appointment, Diet Coke alternately referred to Bingo as “magic baby” and “gymnast baby”. Personally, I think “baby determined to send both parents gray” is a more apt title, but I wasn’t going to argue. We have a contortionist on our hands. There are worse things.
On the way out of the clinic another midwife smiled at me: “I heard about your flipping baby!” Oh yes, we had already become the stuff that midwifery legends are made of. Though, Bingo, if you’re listening, one good story is enough for any fetus. Let’s keep things nice and boring from now until mid-November. Okay? Okay.