I sat with Chris in the small waiting room at the Maternal Fetal Medicine office. We were eagerly awaiting our first trimester screening. It would be Chris’s first time seeing the baby on ultrasound. I was especially excited for him because at thirteen weeks, I didn’t look pregnant yet, so I thought the ultrasound would make the pregnancy seem more real to him. We didn’t know yet, that the ultrasound we were about to get was about to change our lives forever. Sitting kitty corner to me was a familiar face. I figured she was a patient, though it is sometimes hard for me to recall out of context. When she spotted me she said hello and confirmed who she was- a gyn patient of mine, now pregnant. I hadn’t seen her since the beginning of her pregnancy so I hadn’t known yet. She looked at me, realizing I was there with a patient wristband, in an office really known only for doing ultrasounds in pregnancy. “Are you pregnant?” she asked excitedly. I nodded, because there was no real denying it. “But I’m very early and my office doesn’t know yet.” She smiled, assuring me my secret was safe with her.
I saw her a couple of times later in pregnancy and we could talk frankly to each other about some of the pregnancy pitfalls- aches and pains, the necessity for exercise. When I was visibly pregnant it felt great to be making a suggestion to a patient- like exercising at least three times a week- and being able to back up the advice with my own experience. When they say, “Oh, I know I should, but I’m just so exhausted when I get home.” I could reply, “I know! Me too! That’s why I exercise in the morning. I went for a run before I came here to work [my 10 hour day].” Helped put a little perspective on things.
I saw her again. Today. I was out to lunch with a friend and I could see her a few tables away. She sat with a group and had her baby with her. She was only a few weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy so her baby is not much older than what Mabel would have been. When I first saw her and her baby, my heart ached. I could feel my pulse rise a bit and so I tried to slow my breathing down. She saw me- I could tell by how she would every now and then glance towards me, in the same way I looked in her direction. I was terrified she’d approach me and ask about the baby. I don’t know how she’d react- whether she’d be dumbstruck, say something well intentioned but hurtful or find comforting words. I was on edge the whole meal, wondering if the interaction would happen.
My therapist had advised me that when I start feeling the physical symptoms of grief and anxiety in an interaction- like heart pumping, blood rushing to my face, chest aching- to not run away. Sit with those feelings, become used to them. It was exposure therapy. Learning how to deal with those feelings would help me in life and especially at work.
I didn’t tell my friend the discomfort I was having simply sitting there with that women and her baby in my line of vision. I could have asked her to switch seats, so my back would be to her. But since she had seen me, I didn’t want to offend her. And at that moment I didn’t want to let my friend in on how everything can be a struggle sometimes. I feel like now that I’m a working woman, it’s time to buck up and just deal.
The woman got up at one point to find the bathroom. My physical reaction peaked as I wondered if she’d walk by us. She found her way there without coming near us, something I wondered if she had done on purpose. Maybe she knew. Maybe she felt weird seeing her midwife in casual clothes. Maybe she didn’t want to interrupt my personal life. Maybe my body language sent a signal. It’s not just the interactions that are uncomfortable, it’s the mere thought of them. The possibility they could happen. It’s almost worst when they don’t- there’re no release.
This is it. I’ve said it before and it’s my new motto- this is my life now. A simple lunch out is not so simple.