Note: This post is in two parts and contains choice language I don’t normally use in my writing. While I believe it is safe for work, you may not want to read if you’re sensitive to strong language or very, very frustrating medical experiences.
When we first met our new doctor for our second pregnancy, it was fine. He was older with a boyish charm, cracking corny jokes. I was uneasy with the swirling of emotions that come up in pregnancy after pregnancy loss, but I tried to relax into his humor.
It was almost 10 months since the final appointment with my previous doctor. She wasn’t delivering babies anymore, and while I probably could’ve seen her for the first few visits and moved on to a recommended colleague, I didn’t want to be in that atmosphere again: the office where I received the news that our first pregnancy wouldn’t be continuing, where the second opinion yielded us nothing and where no positive memories were made.
I didn’t think I wanted a male doctor. My experience with a male gyno in my early 20s proved to be an awful, self-doubting pit of an experience, but as H researched options that compared online reviews with insurance coverage, Dr. W of Beverly Hills seemed the best fit for us.
Turns out, Dr. W’s office was in the same women’s medical complex as my original doctor. Great. I sat in the same area from 10 months before, though I chose a chair on the other side of the room, hoping it would improve my luck.
That first visit was a lot of smiling and joking on the doctor’s part and nervous stomach-churning on mine. I just wanted to get to the ultrasound, where we could see a little swimming dot, a heartbeat, a viable pregnancy. Instead, Dr. W yammered on to H and I about the government and health care costs. He asked H what he does for work, and when H answered “math teacher” the one-sided talking turned to government and education costs. This all went on as I waited half-naked on the exam table for the ultrasound to start, for the good or bad news to be revealed.
It was like I wasn’t even in the room, and when I think back, I wasn’t. My grief and panic swirled in a way where I didn’t know how to feel about being pregnant again. I checked out, and if Dr. W noticed, well, he just made up for it by chatting up my husband.
Baby on the screen, viable pregnancy. No ultrasound photo and no in-depth discussion about my first loss. Come back in 4 weeks.
But that 12 week appointment never came. I miscarried the day before, at home in my sister’s apartment, deciding to go through the natural process imprinted in my DNA instead of seeking medical attention. It was awful and sad, but also natural and manageable. By the time I hit a 10 on the pain scale, it was over.
Since it was Sunday, Dr. W’s office wasn’t open and I didn’t have another way to get in touch with him. The doctor “on call” didn’t return my message for 5 hours. By then, I figured I was fine. In truth, it got worse before it got better, but I was glad to be in a bathtub of hot water in privacy, with my sister and our dogs near by, instead of laying in a hospital bed, writhing in pain.
I left a message at the doctor’s office about miscarrying and that the 12 week appointment was not necessary, but could I still come in to be seen…?
No one called me back, so the next morning, I called again to make sure they knew what I was coming in for.
I don’t think the doctor on call or reception acknowledged the loss.
“She’s much stronger than both of us,” Dr. W said. He didn’t say this to me, he said it to H, again, like I wasn’t in the room.
“Were you sick at all?” Dr. W asked.
“No,” I paused. “Would that have mattered?” I asked.
“If I collected some of the tissue, would that…be helpful?” I asked. Dr. W didn’t seem to understand. “For testing or something?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head in disappointment.
After a miscarriage, it’s important to make sure all of the tissue passed, that there’s nothing left to cause an infection. So there I was again, grief-stricken and numb, having a vaginal ultrasound to confirm that indeed another pregnancy was over.
“Yup. Looks like you passed everything except this spot here,” he said, pointing to something on the screen. “That’s what we call ‘a little shit’, but I don’t see why it won’t pass soon. Everything else looks good.”
A little shit? My brain started whirring.
And as Dr. W moved the ultrasound machine back into a corner the electric cord blocked the roll of a wheel. He asked something again about feeling ill and I said again that I’d felt fine. As he fiddled with the cord and the machine, he said, as if to himself, “Then I guess we’ll never know.” I felt H’s body tense beside me.
I guess we’ll never know?
What kind of bullshit statement was that coming from a medical doctor of 30+ years of practice to a patient who’d just experienced her 2nd miscarriage?
I guess we’ll never know? Fuck you.
Dr. W left us alone so I could get dressed and he could move on to paperwork or another patient or his lunch. Whatever. I remember there were artist signed animation stills all over the walls of the exam room. So typical of a doctor in LA to showcase not new baby announcements, but the fame of their clients, the gifts they’ve received. H leaned against the exam table and took me into his arms. I stared at a scene of the Flintstones, and sobbed.
Out in the hallway, Dr. W asked if I was going to be all right. I nodded, not only because I just wanted to get the hell out of there, but because I knew I would be OK, no thanks to him.
“Take her home and make her a big plate of spaghetti,” he said to H. Neither of us knew how to respond, so we said nothing.
And that was the extent of Dr. W’s medical advice for a couple who’d just experienced their second pregnancy loss, for a woman who 24hrs prior was sitting in a tub full of hot water and blood, for her husband who came home from a camping trip to find his future child was not to be.
(Part 2 will be posted tomorrow)
PS: My two miscarriages were polar opposite experiences and they’ve changed me. The following resources helped me after the second loss in November 2015 (unfortunately, I didn’t find them during the first loss in late December 2014 / early January 2015).
Whatever you’re feeling it’s yours to feel. And if you’d like to reach out with your own story, I am here to listen – justine.taormino(at)gmail.