“The last time I felt that was on a DOLL!”

The process of bringing babies into the world has carried me many places over the past four years, but perhaps none so many as last week.

Tuesday

It all began on Tuesday, with a visit to our midwives clinic.  Though the appointment was with Herbal Tea, her placement student was the one to begin. I lay down on the exam table and the student, a friendly young queer woman with asymmetrical hair, began to feel for Powerball’s position.  “Hmm,” she said, grasping at my right side just above my bellybutton, “this feels like a head.”  Then, moving to my left side, still just above my bellybutton, “and this feels like a bum.”  She took out a stethoscope to listen to Powerball’s heart:  “I think… I think the baby might be sideways.”  Herbal Tea took over and confirmed: Powerball was sideways, stretched across my abdomen, transverse breech.

“WOW,” the placement student exclaimed, “the last time I felt that was on a DOLL!”

It seemed that Powerball’s placement was neither conventional (odds are 1 in 2500!) or conducive to being born.  At 37 weeks it was also not especially likely to change.  Herbal Tea looked at me with concern and explained that it isn’t great news that Powerball keeps switching positions, seems to have no clue where the exit sign is, and was sideways.  Then the woman who once told me about birthing her own children at home under a full moon, gently explained that a scheduled c-section was becoming increasingly likely and that it was time for another visit to the OB.  She also suggested things that I could try to get Powerball to flip: chiropractic, moxibustion, acupuncture.

Wednesday

Armed with my work health insurance and an unexpectedly strong desire to get Powerball to listen, I booked the first chiropractic appointment of my life.  The appointment took place in a small ground floor office downtown, full of natural light, exposed brick, unvarnished wood, and the smell of essential oils.  The only seating in the waiting area was what seemed to be an uncomfortable wooden church pew, so I stood instead, reading the posters tacked to a bulletin board in a corner.  “Learn about orgasmic birth!” one extolled, while another urged children to consider the chiropractic alignment of their backpacks.  The chiropractor, a stylish woman who looked like she would be quite comfortable in the financial district or the pages of a fashion magazine, welcomed me into the treatment room: an open space with no door, and four or five exam tables.  We were the only ones there.  She felt my spine, checked my balance, and explained that she would be using the Webster Technique to try to get Powerball to flip.    I climbed onto a table, cushioned with hollowed out pillows for my belly, and the chiropractor marveled at my mobility: “You may be the most agile 37 week pregnant person I’ve ever met!”  Given my face down position on the table, I can only speculate about the treatment from that point– she felt my spine a bunch, pulled at my neck, head, and back a bit, and used a metal clicker that reminded me of a hole punch to apply pressure to various points on my back and hips.  In less than 20 minutes we were done.  It was… fine.  The earth didn’t move.  Neither, as far as I could tell, did Powerball.  But it was easy and painless, and who couldn’t benefit from being slightly better adjusted?

Thursday

I considered booking some community acupuncture on Thursday, but decided to focus on the out-of-utero child instead, and took Bingo to a nearby farmers market.  While I was there, I stopped by a booth being run by a natural health centre.  I explained my transverse baby predicament and the naturopath on duty immediately took out her appointment book, insisting that we needed to treat this “aggressively”.  So, while the people around me bought apples and local cheese, I booked an appointment for the next morning.

Friday

The appointment with the naturopath was in a slightly worn high-rise downtown: its long hallways carpeted in brown.  It seemed like an unlikely place for a naturopath to work– hidden behind a maroon door wedged between a men’s dermatology clinic and a law firm.  The clinic was dimly lit and smelled strongly of incense. The receptionist blinked up as I opened the door, seemingly surprised that anybody had come in. She was still staring up at at me when the naturopath came over with a stack of intake forms, asking everything from my digestive health history to the three most traumatic events from my life, and welcomed into a small treatment room.  After reviewing my digestive health and life traumas, the naturopath asked me to lie down on the treatment table.  She explained that she would be using several techniques to get Powerball to turn: moxibustion, acupuncture, guided visualization, and craniosacral therapy.

She began with the craniosacral therapy, which I would later learn has been described as both a “pseudoscience” and “quackery”.  Though I imagined a practice referencing my cranium would focus on my head, this particular version involved the naturopath/craniosacral therapist feeling/holding several parts of my body, including my ankles, hips, and butt.  Honestly, it mostly felt like a gentle version of an airport patdown, with some additional tugging on my ears.  As she felt/held, she asked me about everything from my plans for placental encapsulation (none), to my use of visualization (also none), and experience with acupuncture (still none).  Then, holding my butt/hip, she turned her attention to Powerball.  While I stared at the ugly drop ceiling and tried not to twitch, the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker spoke to the fetus in soothing tones and told Powerball that s/he should move comfortably into a head down position and work with me as a team.  It occurred to me then that, while her low tone was probably too quiet for a fetus to hear, the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker was still establishing more of a rapport with Powerball than I was with her.

A full 45 minutes of airport patdown and motivational talk later, the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker was ready to move on to acupuncture and moxibustion.  I was keener on this part of the treatment, having come across plenty of anecdotal- and some empirical- evidence on the benefits of acupuncture in particular.  As a lifelong needle-phobe, I wasn’t particularly excited to be stabbed with dozens of them, but you do what you have to do when your fetus is lying transverse across your abdomen. The needles were impossibly thin, almost too thin to feel.  I could only really guess at where the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker/acupuncturist was placing them, based on where she was hovering around my body: some in my scalp, some near my elbows, some in my toes.  Leaving the needles, she went to light a thick stick of incense.  As a sweetish smoke filled the room, she added some bonus psychotherapy into the mix.  “How do you feel about the pregnancy?” she asked.  Fine, I responded.  Ambivalent.  She seemed thrown by this answer, but continued: “And how do you feel about the baby being born?” Though I think I was supposed to have been soothed by both the treatment and the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker/acupuncturist/moxibuster/psychotherapist’s dulcet tones, I hadn’t been.  So I brushed the question off, answering that I felt fine but had a lot to do before Powerball arrives.  “Tell me more about that,” she insisted gently.  I explained that the room wasn’t ready and that there was still a lot to get organized: “We still need to make space.”  As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that I had just given her the perfect psychotherapy bait– and she caught it.  As she held the incense dangerously close to my little toes, burning one slightly, she mused, “I see a parallel here.  Space in your home, space in your uterus.  You need to find the fit.”

Maybe so, but as my eyes began to water from the smoke, I realized that I wasn’t going to find that space in the strange offices of strangers.  That the hour and a half I had now spent lying in the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker/acupuncturist/moxibuster/psychotherapist’s* office was an hour and a half that I could have spent doing pretty much anything else.  That I was wasting both my time and my (rapidly diminishing) insurance money.  That Powerball wasn’t the only one in the wrong place.

True believers in any/all of these things, please don’t take offense.  It isn’t so much that I don’t believe in chiropractic treatment, naturopathy, visualization, acupuncture, moxibustion, psychotherapy, or any of the other treatments that you might hold dear.  It’s just that I think that any treatment (including western medicine) requires a belief in it to be effective.  And with somewhere around two weeks of pregnancy left to go, I just don’t have time to cultivate that belief.  I would rather spend those two weeks making out-of-utero space for Powerball, wrapping up loose ends, playing with Bingo, enjoying life as a family of three.  My visit to the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker/acupuncturist/moxibuster/psychotherapist had actually done me quite a lot of good, in helping me to come to that realization and in preparing me for…

Monday

Our return visit to the OB’s office, as recommended by Herbal Tea.  The visit was designed to both check Powerball’s “uncertain lie” and schedule a c-section based on the results.  We had met the OB a few weeks prior, at the visit required for all midwifery patients considering a VBAC.  She was friendly and funny, features I’ve rarely encountered in OBs, or in doctors more generally.  If anybody was going to cut Powerball out, I thought, it might as well be her.  As I lay down on the exam table, I prepared to pick a birthday.  It wasn’t resignation, just acceptance: an understanding that however Powerball comes out will be okay.

The OB felt my stomach: “It feels to me,” she said, “like this baby is head down.”

Yes, somewhere between seeing the midwife, the chiropractor, the naturopath/craniosacral therapist/motivational speaker/acupuncturist/moxibuster/psychotherapist, and the OB, Powerball turned head down.  I can’t tell you when it happened or why.  I also can’t honestly tell you that Powerball’s change in position has changed my mind about any of the treatments I tried.  Sure, maybe it was one of the treatments.  Or maybe it was luck.  Or maybe it’s just a temporary turn.  If Powerball’s change in position has made me a believer in anything, it’s that Powerball is the only one who knows what s/he’s doing in there and the best thing I can do is trust that s/he’s got it figured out.

 *I forgot, she was also a dietician!  Not really, but she told me not to “overnourish” the fetus because s/he would turn more easily if s/he was small.

 

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Naturally.

Two weeks ago, I walked through the rain to yet another unfamiliar medical building and knocked on the door of yet another office.

The waiting room was completely different from that of Clinic One: or Clinic Two, or Clinic Three, for that matter.  The entire space could probably have fit into a single ultrasound room at Clinic One, in fact, and I couldn’t imagine the cheap white IKEA chairs in this waiting room finding a home among the faux-leather and plush seatbacks of the other offices I had visited recently.

The doctor, who I suspect can’t legally use the title of doctor, was the only person in the tiny IKEA showroom of an office on this particular rainy Thursday.  Smiling, she ushered me down a narrow hallway into an even smaller room, with a treatment table, a small desk and two chairs.  Several diplomas were framed on one of the beige walls, none of them bearing her name.  I sat down and, somewhat ashamed, handed Dr. Nature, the naturopath, my incomplete medical history forms.  I had left them almost entirely blank: a combination of the bustle of the last day of work before vacation, and my own reticence regarding this appointment.

You see, it’s actually fairly implausible that I would be sitting in a naturopath’s dimly lit office on the late afternoon/early evening before leaving for vacation.  I wouldn’t have believed it six months ago, frankly.  Many people, both online and offline, who I respect greatly place a lot of faith in a broad range of “alternative therapies”.  I use that term only because I can’t think of a more descriptive one at the moment, though logically I recognize that these therapies– acupuncture, reiki, massage, aromatherapy, naturopathy, hypnotherapy, whatever else– are actually much less radical than their medicalized alternative.  That said, I have also somehow developed a deeply ingrained belief that something isn’t likely to help you unless it is available in a pharmacy, prescribed in a clinic, by somebody who was issued the title of doctor by a recognized medical school.  I know: I’m so cynical that I make myself wince.

My visit to Dr. Nature wasn’t the result of a Christmas miracle in which my Grinch-like heart grew three sizes, but rather the quirks of my work-funded health insurance.  I’m very, very, very grateful to have the health insurance that I do: it’s the reason that my teeth are checked for cavities occasionally, and my impossibly tilted and scratched glasses were replaced last year.  However, my health insurance seems to fund things in a haphazard sort of way, with no rhyme or reason to what is covered and what isn’t.  Fertility treatments?  Not covered, at all.  Therapy, which would also be fairly useful?  Nope. Prescriptions?  Sometimes.  At some doses.  Maybe.  Massage?  Sure!  Go for it!  Naturopathy?  Absolutely!

A coworker of mine, pregnant belly pushed up to our office lunch table, reminded me of this fact in early December.  She had been trying to get pregnant for a year in a series of IUI cycles, unmedicated and medicated, using frozen donor sperm.  After a year of failed cycles, she had seen Dr. Nature.  She was pregnant the next month.  Sitting at that lunch table, my cynical brain screamed “Coincidence!”, but hope and my insurance coverage countered, “Why not try?”  Which is how I found myself sitting in a small clinic room with Dr. Nature, the same naturopath seen by my pregnant coworker.

Though my scepticism about naturopathy didn’t dissipate when I walked into Dr. Nature’s office, I decided pretty quickly that I liked Dr. Nature herself.  She was nice.  If she saw my scepticism, she didn’t point it out.  She responded to my nervous joking with her own humour, and accepted my incomplete medical forms– offered sheepishly– without criticism.  She began by asking why I had come to see her– to which I responded by mumbling something about how I had heard she got people pregnant.  She then turned to my incomplete intake forms and began to ask me questions.

We talked about the two IUIs using frozen donor sperm that have already happened, and chatted a little about  the pros and cons of the area’s fertility clinics.  I told Dr. Nature about Clinic Three and the extensive male medical history form that Sea had been required to complete, and laughed.  She asked about follicle size, hormone levels, and my uterine lining.  My scepticism began to waver: she clearly knew a lot.  She asked about exercise, stress, medications, my family health history and my diet.  As I responded to this last inquiry, her smile began to falter a little.  She noted that Sea seems to be a good influence, which is true: if it weren’t for Sea, my instant noodle intake would be much higher, and I probably wouldn’t know what kale is.  She also noted that my consumption of approximately a candy store’s worth of sugar a day is probably not supporting fertility.  She doled out dietary advice in the manner of a ninth grade home ec teacher: eat leafy greens, dark berries, orange foods.  I asked her if barbecue chips counted as an orange food.  She put her head in her hands, slumping towards her desk.  I took that as a no.

Having finished prescribing a much less candy-centred diet, she asked me how I felt about pills.  Having determined that they were neutral territory, she wrote out a list of pills, oils and drops that were to join the thyroid pills, B12 supplements and prenatal vitamins already filling my cupboard.  Looking back at her notes about my diet, she threw in an additional Omega 3 supplement.

Finally finished, she walked back down the narrow hallway to issue me a receipt.  We were the only people in the tiny office, as far as I could tell, and she was receptionist as well as doctor for the evening.  As I stood to follow her, I looked out the window behind her desk: it was now completely dark, and the rain had turned to sleet.  We had been there for an hour and a half.  She was still sitting at the reception desk as I left, probably writing notes about her most difficult patient ever.  As I walked out into the rain, I realized that I had forgotten to ask her about whether Doritos were an acceptable orange food.

Next time.