Sunday, May 27, 2007

Is this your first pregnancy?

A few days after I peed on a stick and got that second line (known in baby dust circles as a BFP) I called my school's medical centre to get a prenatal appointment. They made me one for a few weeks later. In a few days, I was woken up by a phone call (people! mornings are not for the use of the telephone!) from a nurse.

She wanted to confirm my address so she could mail me some forms and information, see if I needed a prescription for prenatal vitamins, and ask a small number of questions. Fine. And then she asked, "is this your first pregnancy?"

I paused. For a long time, as conversational pauses go. Maybe a second or two. Then I answered "no."

I expected the next question to be "and how many children do you have?" but the question never came, so I didn't get a chance to explain my answer. Apparently she interpreted the pause as full of meaning. Maybe tragedy. Really, it could have been anything: an ectopic, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a live baby since passed on. Apparently she took my pause to mean I wasn't up for discussing it. And considering the harrowing experiences so many women have had, and how much it upsets many of them when they have to explain yet again what happened in their previous pregnancy or pregnancies, her choice not to continue down that line of questioning was probably one of compassion. But in my particular case, that was misplaced.

The pause was simply because for a second I wasn't sure about the answer. No, it wasn't my first pregnancy. Yes, it was my first "real" pregnancy; the first pregnancy I was allowed to speak to others about. My early-morning-brain took a moment to figure out which answer was the correct one in this situation.

Had I been given the opportunity, I would have continued: "I had an elective abortion at ten weeks." That's what I put on the history form I brought to my first appointment with the midwife. I chose the word "elective" with some care. With no adjective, abortion can be a synonym for miscarriage (but one a woman would rarely use to describe her own history). "Induced abortion" is more clear, but could be due to threats to my health, genetic testing of the embryo giving a poor prognosis, or other "good, compelling, patriarchy-approved" reasons. My own medical records call it a "therapeutic abortion," which I presume stems from the time when an abortion was allowed only "when the health of the woman was in danger as determined by a three-doctor hospital committee." My abortion was not "therapeutic;" neither my physical nor my mental health were in imminent danger. It was elective. It was my exercise of autonomy over my own body, and the rational decision that at that point in my life I preferred not to carry a pregnancy to term.

Perhaps in a future post I'll tell the story of my abortion, including the reasons at the time, and my own continued belief that it was the right decision for me. That's not what this post is about, though.

What I'd like to discuss is how an aborted pregnancy is not a "real" pregnancy. It is not socially acceptable for me to mention it. It's supposed to be a shameful thing, something I would never mention in public. But to me, it's not a shameful thing. And after the beginning of my second pregnancy, I started feeling it was relevant, and wanted to mention it. But every time, I chose not to do so.

I'll admit that due to some misplaced search for community, I spent a little time on forums populated by the above-mentioned "baby dust" people. There's a lot of women just looking for tidbits of information. Typical post title: when does morning sickness usually start? The answer I wanted to give: In my first pregnancy, morning sickness started very suddenly at six weeks. It was accompanied and triggered by an insanely perceptive sense of smell. There was a lot of vomiting. However, in this pregnancy, I'm finding it very different. It came on a little later, around 8 weeks. I feel nauseated all day, but rarely throw up. Answer I did give: none. With no comparison to make between pregnancies, I really had no point. And if I mentioned the first pregnancy, I'd have to answer the questions: how old is your kid? No, no kid. Oh! That must be horrible for you, what happened? I chose to end the pregnancy at 10 weeks. And then silence. Or castigation. Social exclusion. A forum full of pregnant women tends to be a good place to find virulent, uninformed anti-choice opinion. And it comes up again and again. How's your libido? Ravenous when I was 19 and pregnant. Existing now, but tempered by nausea.

The doctor who performed my abortion told me my cervix was very difficult to dilate. They used the 8-week tube instead of the correct 10-week one. She mentioned that this could "cause some problems later when [I] have children." I didn't ask for more details. At the time, I didn't picture myself ever having children. However, now I think this is something I think my health-care practitioners should know. But again, they don't want to discuss my abortion. The couple of times I've mentioned it, the doctors have moved away from the subject as quickly as possible. I haven't mentioned it to any midwives yet; I will if I get a chance. And I expect, again, that they won't want to try to interpret this piece of information. They won't want to talk about it.

My desire to discuss my first pregnancy is waning now that I'm further along in my second pregnancy than I was in that one. This part is new to me, and I don't make comparisons as often, or marvel at how different the two pregnancies are. But that pregnancy existed, it was legitimate, and I learned from it. It's too bad others can't.


Neko-Onna said...

When I was pregnant 8 years ago, I actually remember a place on the medical history form that asked if I had ever had an abortion. I was tempted to answer with something like, "Yes- five of them!" just to see what kind of response I would get from the male, white, balding, middle-aged ob/gyn who was a really condecending bastard, but the only ob in town.

Dr. Confused said...


Ha! That would have been funny. On the other hand, he must have heard it before.

My husband read this post and thinks I'm not giving enough credit to my healthcare providers. I *did* mention my abortion on the history form, in the "previous pregnancies" section. The midwife asked if there were any complications and moved on. I never felt judged or condescended to.

Ciarin said...

Go midwives!!! Seriously, your post about this is great. Well written, which it ought to be considering that whole PhD thing *shuddering at the thought of a dissertation*. It's very sad that as a whole we tend to disregard losses that occurred as either a spontaneous abortion or an elective one. A loss is a loss is a loss. As healthcare providers we should acknowledge this loss by asking about it.