I used to be a Project Runway devotee, and I crushed hard on Tim Gunn, you know, in the kind of purely platonic way a twenty-something girl loves a gay, silver-haired fashion-god. In one episode, Gunn approaches a contestant proudly constructing a frock trimmed all over with long, stringy locks of human hair. He counsels the young designer,
I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter into the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god, this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for 20 minutes you think, ‘It’s not so bad,’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ You’ve been living in the monkey house.”
As a byproduct of the remarkable adaptability of human beings, I have too many times emerged from intolerable circumstances in my own life baffled, wondering in awe, How did I put up with that for as long as I did without going stark raving mad? And, maybe more importantly, Why?? This sentiment provided the backdrop for my first OB visit with my new doctor, whose kindness and professionalism was magnified by what I now see as the insane conduct of the OB I used for my previous pregnancy. For example, I cannot count the number of times when he would counter my concerns about episodes of profuse bleeding or constant vomiting that was leaving me with dehydration headaches or jitters over the ongoing threat of miscarriage with the remark:
Well, this is the farthest you’ve ever gotten, so just be happy.
Being that he was mostly naive about the IVF process and even more under-informed about PGD, all my consultations with him would be largely dominated by prolonged question-and-answer sessions about my treatments and the inner workings of genetic embryonic screening until I started to feel like I ought to bring a white board and some visual aides to my check-ups. Once, I felt especially exposed because he was engaging me on these technicalities, once again, with his door wide-open and regular pregnant ladies lining up at the nurse’s desk ten feet away to check out. I interrupted him to ask if I could shut the door, and he said no. So much for HIPAA in that office! When the shit hit the fan with Dakota’s first anatomy scan, he called me to tell me that I needed a repeat scan because “they couldn’t rule out” a structural abnormality.
“Does the report say that they imaged something abnormal or were they just unable to get a clear picture,” I asked.
He said, “Well I think if they had seen something, they would have put it in the report.”
Relieved, I confirmed, “Okay, so they didn’t actually see anything abnormal,” only for him to repeat,
“If they had it would be in the report.”
When I got to the MFM three days later, he turned the computer screen around so I could read what was sent to my OB, wherein I learned that they had indeed written plainly in the report that his stomach was way up in his chest cavity, shifting his heart to the wrong side of his body, and that the real purpose of my follow-up visit with them was to begin assessing the extent of the problem and connect me to a fetal clinic in the city with the equipment and expertise to fully evaluate him. This dishonesty, this cowardice, this betrayal was the last straw, and I requested copies of my records from his office that week, but I’m left wondering in retrospect why I put up with his bullshit for so long. This is the practice that sent me home with a shoulder shrug and no follow-up plan in 2009 when I was pregnant, bleeding, and suffering stabbing pains so intense they rendered me immobile on the couch for four days (i.e. my first ectopic pregnancy). This is the man who responded to my tears over my second (chemical) pregnancy loss in 2010 with the exasperated question,
Do you really think you’re not going to get pregnant?
Ha ha ha, joke’s on you, Dr. K. Or maybe joke’s on me since I’m the idiot who went back there. I guess I’m more like my mother than I think, and I’m just stubborn about change. Or maybe I was stuck in the monkey house too long, acclimated to the stink of doctors who mingle arrogance and incompetence dangerously into a blasé dismissal of valid concerns. For sure I dealt with my fair share of that on my tour of IVF clinics in the New York area.
My appointment with the new doctor on Tuesday was akin to finding the perfect bed, the perfect bowl of porridge after sampling a few others that never felt right. When I talked to him about the extent of my nausea and my difficulty keeping fluids down, we discussed a category A medication that helps. He set my fears at ease by taking the time to discuss how extensively it has been studied. When I asked him for guidance in making the choice between the risk of an amniocentesis and versus the likelihood that Dakota’s microdeletion would recur, he told me I was “way off in the stratosphere” of statistics but mentioned a prenatal screen that would help me make that decision and gave me a referral for an MFM and pediatric geneticist he trusts implicitly. When I shared my anxiety about gaining weight from the constant snacking needed to keep the vomiting at bay, he reminded me that I am making two people and that the first trimester doesn’t last forever; he encouraged me to try to make myself comfortable until the nausea ebbs; he joked that I wouldn’t be heavy for long with two kids running around. He was gentle. He validated my concerns, offering empathy and solutions in response. And, for the love of God, he closed his office door!
Why didn’t it occur to me that this existed or that I deserved better when I have advocated for myself so fiercely in the treatment process? Part of me wonders if I felt like such a freak of nature when I arrived pregnant at the regular doctor that it seemed normal when he treated me like one.