For part one of this two-part post, click here. All respectful comments welcome; I hope this post will encourage an intelligent conversation about health care.
So, the next morning found me arriving at the Early Pregnancy Unit at 8:15 AM. The clinic opens at 8:30 on weekdays to care for things like bleeding in pregnancy and other such scares, and they do scans until 1:00. Women experiencing bleeding at other times of the day, as I had learned the previous evening, are instructed to return at a more civilized hour.
Apparently, I was not the only pregnant woman in SW London a little nervous that morning, because there were already four other people ahead of me. I sat down to wait. Too anxious to open the book I had packed for good measure, I fell back on the world’s oldest pastime. I people-watched.
The woman who came in right after me was probably a few years older than I am. She wore a wedding ring, but unlike some of the other women in the waiting area, she was sans father, just like me. I came to the conclusion that she must have other children, and the baby’s father was probably administering oatmeal and toothbrushes while she sat and waited to see how her pregnancy was doing. I sort of wanted to strike up a conversation with her, this woman I had determined was in a situation much like my own, but this is England, and such things aren’t usually done.
Next to me was another woman, this one without a wedding ring. I look, you must understand, not to judge whether someone has conceived a child out of wedlock, but because she was there with a child, perhaps just under two years old, and I sort of wondered whether there was a man who might have provided a bit of childcare so that she could come for her scan without a stroller and a diaper bag. Chances are that there was a man, of course, but he was already at work, worrying the whole time about his partner, their child, and their unborn baby.
The woman, however, seemed completely unconcerned. She was wholly focused on the little boy, playing little games and offering him peanuts as he sat in his stroller. As I watched them ever-so-subtly out of the corner of my eye, I pondered a few things. From their clothes and accessories, it was clear they did not have much money, and I wondered whether, exhausted from caring for her child all day and the first trimester of a pregnancy, she might go to a night shift when someone else took over care of her child. I thought about the snack puffs her son dropped on the floor that she left lying there, and wondered why she did not pick them up. Mostly, I contemplated what I always think about when I see something like this: how in the hell do other people get their kids to sit contentedly in a stroller that is stationary? Is it something kids are just born with, or is there some trick of parenting that convinces a child to remain happily seated even after the ride as come to a full and complete stop? Is there a class I can take to learn this skill?
When she got up to go in for her scan, rolling her completely placid child in ahead of her, I started watching a woman who clearly did not have other children. There were two reasons I suspected this woman was terrified of losing her first pregnancy, and neither had to do with the business attire that had no breakfast spills on it. One reason was the anxiety in their eyes. It was not stronger than mine, but it was more confused because her entire status as a mother was hanging in the balance. This was not a woman who had been through the ropes; she was a woman afraid of being hit in the head with one. The other reason I suspected she did not have other kids? She had a man with her, while J was at home overseeing the troops before school and other forms of childcare kicked in.
And, there were a few other women waiting, although it seems inaccurate to call them women. They themselves were children, girls with small, round firm bellies and teenaged boys by their sides. Because, of course, teenagers can get pregnant, too, and their pregnancies can have scares, too. Not that these girls looked frightened. The stereotype of the pregnant teenager is a little girl, cowering in the corner, terrified about her future. These girls looked strong, in control, as though they had no idea that the sky could fall tomorrow. Teenagers –pregnant or otherwise — never seem to know that the sky could fall.
And we were called in, one at a time, according to our numbers. The woman pushing her toddler in an umbrella stroller, leaving a trail of snack puffs behind. The career woman with a briefcase and a husband in expensive shoes. The teenaged girl with the big hoop earrings. Me. It did not matter how we got pregnant, whether we were married, how many degrees we had, what age we were, or if we could afford to buy a drink at the vending machine. They saw us in the order in which we had arrived.
An hour later, I left, sonogram in hand and smile on face. There was a heartbeat, and there was a brain, a good start as far as babies are concerned. It was 17 hours later than I would have liked an answer to my questions. It was less attentive prenatal care than I am used to. But was it, perhaps, the level of care that I needed?
Tune in next week for a very different experience we have had with the NHS…