“I estimate you’re about 11 weeks. If that’s the case, you should have come to see me long before now. But it’s difficult to tell, until you have the sonogram.” She glares at me accusingly, and chucks a latex glove in the bin. “It makes my job very difficult when women don’t keep track of their monthly dates.”
I shrug and fidget, mumbling an apology for my incompetence. The last time I’d been intimidated like this was when I was fifteen, and Mrs-Kerry-the-history-teacher-from-hell caught me and Nicola Flynn smoking in the girls’ toilets. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was the first time I’d even tried a cigarette and I wasn’t so much smoking it as throwing it up in a cubicle. Mrs Kerry gave Nicola and me three detentions each, and made us write to our parents to explain why we would be spending more time than usual at school. Even now, my mother will sometimes refer to the subject, with much sighing and shaking of the head at my youthful flirtation with delinquency.
But maybe I’d been lucky with the people who have since crossed my path, because until today, Mrs Kerry still occupied my personal slot for Public Enemy Number One. That’s right. Not even Melissa Harvey Connor reached such heights.
Today, though – ta-da! – Dr. Elspeth Wojcik has pushed Mrs Kerry off the pedestal.
The reason? Because when Mrs Kerry was bawling me out for puffing on my first and last Benson and Hedges, I was fully clothed, albeit in an unglamorous navy blue school uniform. There was, at least, an element of garmented dignity.
When you are sitting on a doctor’s couch, though, clad only in what is best described as an oversized paper napkin, being scolded by someone twice your height and half your width and who would be more at home supervising a high-security correctional facility, it’s difficult to be assertive.
Much as I would like to tell Dr. Wojcik that I’ve had other things on my mind recently – emigrating, for example – that made diary entries for normal bodily functions seem somewhat unimportant, I don’t dare.
Instead, I stare down at my feet, as I always do when under stress, and wish I’d remembered to repaint my toenails that morning.
“You’re from England. I see a lot of women from there. You won’t have had proper care with your last pregnancy, of course.”
Now, just a minute. What did she say? I stop gazing at my toes, and stick my chin out at her.
“I had very good care, actually. The midwife who delivered Jack was wonderful.”
Dr. Wojcik spreads out her hands, palms up, a gesture of resigned triumph. “A midwife! Say no more. Well, my dear—” I can’t stand it when people call me “my dear” when it’s obvious what they really want to call me, in the American vernacular, is ‘asshole’ “—we don’t have any midwives in this office. Only fully qualified obstetricians, who will make sure nothing goes wrong.”
“Is it likely to?”
“There is always a risk of complication.”
“But I’m only pregnant. Not ill.”
“But there is always the chance that something will go wrong! So I would like to see you as soon as possible for a sonogram. Here is a request for blood work – you go to the diagnostic lab in town to have that taken – and I strongly recommend that you have an amniocentesis.”
“The thing where you stick a needle in my stomach? Why?”
She looks at my notes on the clipboard she’s holding, and flicks at the paper with her finger.
“When there is a family history of spina bifida, it’s our standard procedure. I recommend you have the test.”
“I already told you, testing won’t make any difference to the outcome.”
“Well, you say that, but…” She leaves the rest of the sentence unsaid. What she means is, she thinks I should have the choice.
You see, I’ve been through this before.
My mother’s first baby, my older sister, was born with spina bifida and died when she was only four hours old. Oliver and I discussed this when I got pregnant with Jack, and we decided that, even though we stood a higher chance of having a baby with this disability, we would take our chances. Sending a baby back as if it were a faulty TV from Argos…I don’t know, I’m not religious, but that doesn’t seem to be playing the game. It was only our decision, of course, and I understand other people have different ideas, and that’s fine, but in this instance we are talking about me and Oliver: our ideas, our choices.
Yet here is this ghastly woman, questioning our reasoning as if we are thoughtless schoolchildren who haven’t thought things through.
“Make an appointment for a sonogram next week, and I will see you the week after to discuss the results. You might as well make the appointment for the amniocentesis for three weeks’ time while you’re at the desk.” She stalks out of the room without shutting the door properly, leaving me clutching my immodest paper napkin around me.
I hop across the room to close the door, then stand uncertainly, looking at my pile of clothes on the blue vinyl chair in the corner.
Above the chair on the wall is a colour poster of a foetus in the womb. It has a very large head and eyes, and its stomach is transparent. Its arms and legs look more like insect limbs than human ones, and yet it is definitely a human baby.
“12 weeks,” the poster says.
Just one week older than the little being inside me.
I get dressed, then peep out into the corridor. Dr. Wojcik’s rasping tones come from a room farther down, near a door marked “Exit.”
“Exit” seems like a good choice. I tiptoe down the hall, check to make sure the receptionist is too busy talking on the phone to notice me, and sidle through the doorway into the car park.
* * *
“I’m not going back,” I say to Oliver for about the fifth time that evening, as we watch Jeopardy! “I’ll deliver this baby myself rather than go back to that old witch.”
“There must be other doctors, surely?”
Jack’s paediatrician recommended this one. Every pregnant woman in Woodhaven goes to Dr. Wojcik, it seems.
It explains a lot about the residents of Woodhaven, in my view.
“Who is to say they’ll be any different?” This is my real fear.
Oliver reaches toward me across the the sofa and takes my hand.
“Howard Hughes,” he says.
He points at Alex Trebek on TV. “The answer to that one is Howard Hughes.”
“You have to ask a question,” I say. “ ‘Who is Howard Hughes?’”
“And so do you. You have to ask a whole load of questions. Like, is it going to be that bad having a baby over here, and if so, maybe you should go to live with your mum until the baby’s born. See your old doctor and midwife at home.”
I turn to him, shocked. “You can’t mean that!”
“Who is Buddy Holly?” he mutters. “If you won’t see another doctor here, Libs, then what’s the alternative? I can’t deliver a baby. I pass out at the sight of blood, you know I do.”
I watch a few more Jeopardy! questions. The contestants finish all the Famous Texans with no trouble, but get stuck on Humorous Quotes.
“Because all the people who said these things were either British or Irish,” Oliver scoffs. “’Who is Winston Churchill?’ you ignoramus.”
“But what am I going to do?” I ask again, very quietly.
“’Who is George Bernard Shaw?’”
I snatch the remote control from the coffee table and switch the TV off. “I said, What am I going to do?”
“I don’t know. Ask Anita. Ask Charlie.”
“I did. They both went to Doctor Death like I did today.”
Oliver takes the remote from me and clicks the On button.
“Ask your new friend across the street, then. She seems to know everyone.”
“Maggie? But she’s well past the age of having babies.”
“Well, let me know if you want to go home for a bit. If you don’t want to stay with your mum, I’m sure mine would love to have you and Jack for a while.”
I shudder. Live with Sandra for six months in our old house back home? That, or regular visits to Dr Wojcik?
It’s a close call.
“I’ll speak to Maggie.”
© 2011 Kate Allison