Pregnancy and the Fallible Body


February 8, 2012 by Leah

Pregnancy is a weird time. Your body is quite literally not your own because of the baby growing in it. Processes you never imagined just automatically kick in to keep both of you healthy. It’s really amazing. That said, it’s also a weird time because pretty much everyone knows better than you. Both the medical professionals you hire to shepherd you through the process and everyone who has ever been pregnant before. Or thought about becoming pregnant. Or known a pregnant person. It’s frustrating and feels like a step backwards in the adulthood/autonomy track, to suddenly have everyone know more than you do. (But why shouldn’t they? I freely admit this is a new experience about which I know nothing, which mindset apparently encourages some people.)

Something I really dislike about the whole process is all the medical… stuff. I shopped around and chose a certified nurse midwife (CNM) with a practice (and hospital) five minutes from our house, and while I am fully confident in her as a labor and birth supporter, she’s turned out to be more “establishment” than I had hoped. She was very supportive of my getting a flu shot and she seems to love screening tests (which, to be fair, I probably shouldn’t hold against her as medical people do tend to like being in control and having information). She was fine with my decision to just get one ultrasound (I’ve had two so far, but hey, one has to be flexible) and we are definitely on the same page when it comes to labor, delivery, and newborn care. She also reserves the right to ban doulas pending an interview. Which bothers me, although at this point I don’t know that I’d do any better during labor with yet another stranger around. I’m guessing I’ll be one of those private, inward-facing people. I just don’t like outright bans.

So, back to screening. I hate getting screening tests. I feel like they’re an opportunity for judgment to fall on me. We did the quad screen test for genetic defects because Aaron thought it sounded like a good idea and it posed no risk to the baby. All clear, but I had to call to get those results. (At the time I felt like I was being a pest. Now I call all the time because feel like I hired the medical team, and therefore I should be getting what I want. I’m such an American.) My CNM told me I should change my attitude about screening tests and be happy when they give us good (er, no) news. Fine.

It was somewhere around then (16 or 20 weeks?) that my uterus started measuring tall, I started gaining more weight than I “should be” (I firmly believe it’s because I went home for Christmas), and I had a blood pressure reading of 123/67 – which apparently is high? I have a very rocky history with weight and blood pressure and am really sensitive to perceived criticism on both issues, so of course I went home and cried. The 20-week ultrasound showed the baby’s growth to be right on target (my provider had been worried about a giant baby because of the tall uterus and extra five pounds thing), so I relaxed. Then we had the nasty fall on ice debacle, which led to a lot more misery and crying (and probably weight gain) during my weekend of eating takeout on bed rest. Last week, I got on the scale and was pleased to see I seem to have managed to slow my rate of weight gain considerably. So I was happy for like two days. Then we did a hospital tour (which helped dispel my nightmares about being strapped to a bed and unable to see the baby), during which I decided it might be a good idea to get the mandatory glucose screening for gestational diabetes out of the way early. (I’m not sure what my thought process was there. Probably I was becoming resigned to screening tests and wanted the next one, well, out of the way.)

My CNM had tossed out gestational diabetes (GD) as a possible reason for my excessive weight gain and I felt sure that as I eat really well and get at least 30 minutes of exercise 4-5 times a week – barring at Christmas – I wouldn’t have any problems with this test. I even argued with the CNM about how it seems ludicrous for me to subject my baby to these horrible glucose rushes when I try to eat a balanced diet and avoid sugar in my daily life. She prevailed. I went for the one-hour glucose test (you eat breakfast then go in for a blood draw two hours later) on Friday, at 24 weeks. The glucose drink made me sicker than I had been for the entire pregnancy, but throwing up was not an option as that would mean I’d have to retake the test. I felt so disgusting and hungover after the procedure I went home and made cookies and proceeded to eat far too many of them over the course of the weekend. (I’m reasonably sure excessive sugar is an addictive substance.) And then discovered I’d failed the test. For some reason, I was enraged, and cried tears of frustration.

Yesterday, I went in for the three-hour fasting glucose test. You fast for 8-14 hours (my lab said 10-12) and then get your glucose tested at fasting, drink even more of the glucose drink than you had to the first time, and get blood drawn again at 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, and 3 hours. If you’re me, you get extra needle sticks (which I don’t actually mind) when they can’t find your veins and get even sicker than you did the first time. Almost certainly, this will happen after one of the area retirement homes has dropped off a busload of people for their weekly labs, so you can sit in the waiting room looking like death warmed over and trying not to vomit while nice people who smell bad look at you like you’re plague-ridden. (Luckily the lab techs are fantastic and I was discovered and tucked into a bed in a quiet, dark room to get through the worst of it.) Once I left and had lunch, I felt better, but again, my body still doesn’t feel fully recovered from the ordeal. And the results? I’m “borderline.” So, further testing is required. And, my CNM informed me that if I turn out to have GD she’ll put me on metformin. I was like, “Wait, I thought GD was controlled with diet and exercise?” and she was like, “Oh, I meant if that doesn’t work.” (Metformin is a discussion for another day. Suffice to say I’d rather have a c-section for “macrosomia” than take a pharmaceutical that crosses the placenta and about which no long-term studies have been done. Awesome choices, no?)

The further testing (a week of at-home testing of fasting and postprandial blood sugars, which actually seems much more sensible than all these hours spent in the lab drinking poison and giving up vials and vials of blood) isn’t so much of a problem as the “borderline” thing. I’m going to pick up a copy of my lab results today so I can do some research into what that actually means. That said, I’m sick of being diagnosed – or not – with vague “conditions.” The past 15 years of my life can be read as a series of vague diagnoses and dubious pharmaceutical treatments. In the past decade alone I’ve been depressed, bipolar, a cutter, suicidal, a drug user, had high blood pressure, been obese, had an underactive thyroid, had an autoimmune disease (sarcoidosis), had an unexplained slow-growing bone tumor in my skull, and discovered that my hands occasionally turn blue (Raynaud’s Syndrome). The only condition on that list that I still deal with is the thyroid thing. Everything else has gone away, as have the five million medications I’ve been on to deal with all of that (and thanks to the surgeons for the plate in my head). I’m proud of being able to say that I’m healthy now, but I’ve also been left with some serious mistrust of hospitals, pharmaceuticals, the medical establishment, and, sadly, my own body. Because every time a random thing went wrong and I said “Why?” I heard “We don’t know. Here’s a drug.” And then the drug wouldn’t work or there would be more side effects and harm from the treatment than the condition it was supposed to be treating. (Except in the case of the skull tumor. My mom asked, “Why?” The neurosurgeon said, “Humans are imperfect beings,” replaced part of my skull with a plate, and that was the end of that.)

When I decided the time was right to get pregnant, I hoped things would go really well. I expected there would be some bumps along the way. I did not realize that I’d be opening myself up to what feels like constant scrutiny and criticism of my body, just when I most need to rely on said body. I’ve been feeling miserable lately. I don’t know whether to blame the excessive sugar highs and lows of the past five days, my established predisposition towards depression, or the fact that the Walla Walla Valley has been enveloped in a disgusting ice fog for the past week (or since late November, depending on how you look at it). And of course, I should be happy, happy, happy! because I really am doing fine and am lucky to only have to work part time and to have a supportive husband and to be healthy and to be having a baby. So what gives?


7 thoughts on “Pregnancy and the Fallible Body

  1. lahancock says:

    This whole post just makes me want to cry for you. This isn’t the way it is supposed to be. I really don’t know what to say, I don’t think I have any words of wisdom or really anything. I just wanted you to know that I read your post, I really think it sucks the stuff that you are having to go through and I hope that it gets better.

  2. lahancock says:

    And to say she will ban a doula is a red flag in my book. It is similar to comments I’ve seen on about care givers saying that those with a birth plan are en route to a c-section, those that take XYZ childbirth class are birth Nazi’s and they don’t like their patients taking the class.

    Unfortunately to me, based on your comments, she sounds like she is prepping you for failure to birth your baby.
    1) Gaining a bit too much weight.
    2) Uterus is measuring kind of high (implied-big baby)
    3) Borderline diabetic (implied-big baby)
    4) That you need to change your attitude on screening tests (implied more tests are to come- so expect it and deal with it)

    I admit, I do not know everything about childbirth, but I’ve read a lot of stories.

    If she starts commenting on pelvis size, wants extra ultrasounds to check baby’s size, starts talking induction about maybe inducing to make sure baby doesn’t get too big, wants to check if your fluid levels, she may just be extra precautious, but these are also things that they use frequently to put failure of your body into your head. That way it is easier to justify the medical interventions that they intended to use from the begninning. I really, really hope I’m reading too much into what you are writing though.

  3. […] was inspired by my friend Leah’s post today to write about my own prenatal testing through my pregnancies. I want to say that these were […]

  4. Marla says:

    feel the hug i’m sending please. medicine is an art as well as science, and that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. it’s difficult to know what to do in life and when you are pregnant especially. your provider wants above all for you to have a healthy baby. that said there is a LOT of testing in ob because everyone expects a perfect outcome (and hence her malpractice insurance is through the roof). i say do as little as possible unless you and Aaron are both convinced it is necessary. none of this is a failure on your part; as your surgeon said, humans are imperfect. xoxoxoxo

  5. Maria Benner says:

    This too will pass… You’re very informed and capable of making the right decisions. Don’t let any bitches push you around.

  6. Rachel Mills says:

    I second Maria’s comment, spot on! Let that be your motto. Hang in there, even if it doesn’t feel like it, I believe you’ve got this!

  7. Nancy King says:

    I am sooo thankful I had my child before anyone knew anything and women just had babies! You in your 40s and 50s turned out ok.

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