First — the belly pics!
Compare with week 10:
Next: I talk technology and the (yes, I recognize the amusing juxtaposition here) invisible pregnant person.
Last weekend, we had our first prenatal visit. Our midwives come to our house, and we basically sit around and chat for an hour1 and it is pretty much The Best Way To Spend My Health Insurance Company’s Money Ever.
Also, we heard the heartbeat.
As a rule, unless indicated, I don’t do imaging ultrasound in pregnancy2, and besides the blood tests I get to monitor my thyroid (and the basic prenatal panel3 because hey, if I’m gonna get poked anyway…), the first Doppler search for the heartbeat is about as high tech as I hope to ever get in pregnancy.
And I gotta say — it was amazing. And awesome, in both colloquial and original meanings. When we tried at 12 weeks with the Boychick, the placenta was anterior and blocked us from getting at him, so we didn’t bother trying again, and didn’t hear his heartbeat until it was late enough we used the good old fashioned fetoscope. But this time, though it took a couple minutes as Child Number 2 kept giving us the slip and Child Number 1 kept trying to “help”, we heard the machine’s reproduction of the oh-so-fast thupathupthupathupthupathup of the little protoperson’s heartbeat.
As is typical for many people in I-would-bet-most pregnancies, I’ve been in something like denial about the reality of this. Or, more accurately, I go through phases where I’m convinced it’s all in my head, or really I have a tumor not a fetus, or the pregnancy died two months ago and my body just hasn’t flushed it yet, or, or, or… So hearing that heartbeat was Really Big, and made those crazy voices that much easier to ignore.
I question a society that, rather than giving me space to voice my fears and let them go as I am able, expects me to use technology to “prove” myself wrong (or right). I question a society that says pregnancy isn’t really-real until the urine stick or the blood test or the ultrasound or the Doppler says it is. I question a society that demands direct access to information about the being I carry, through ultrasound and amniocentesis and even the fetoscope, rather than viewing me as whole and solid, as a person in my own right, and this pregnancy as a function of my body. I question the deification of the “objective” and the derision and dismissal of the “subjective”4.
I’m not questioning prenatal technology per se, nor anyone’s use of it: it, itself, is a tool, and as all tools is neutral, and capable of great benefit. There are times when a near-direct look at an embryo or fetus is exactly what is called for, and I am so grateful we have the technology available for those who need or desire it. Further, I am happy to celebrate with someone who is thrilled about the first ultrasound pictures, or benign amniocentesis results, or, yes, hearing the first Doppler-reproduced heartbeat. No curmudgeon, I, out to tell anyone Yer Doin It Rong.
But there’s an important, if subtle, difference between celebrating with a person, and exalting or idolizing the information. I experienced both, when I told others about hearing the heartbeat, and one felt great, as sharing good news with friends should, and the other felt… jarring. And erasing. What is the difference? Those celebrating with me were happy that I was happy; what my news was barely mattered, only that I found it something worth a grin or ten. The other comments focused on the information and what it “meant”: that — finally! — there was evidence that the pregnancy was healthy, that the fetus was fine, that my body, surprise!, hadn’t fallen down on its job. Because those things can’t be assumed, can’t be trusted based on my experience of nausea and exhaustion and food aversions and tightening waistlines.
Part of it, I know, is that some people have experienced losses, or difficulties conceiving, or risky and traumatic pregnancies, or undesired outcomes. Some people have learned not to trust the pregnant body, to rely on the outside look that technology offers. And I understand and sympathize with and am happy to hear and hold the space for that perspective, because it’s no less valid or worthy than any other experience of pregnancy.
But so many of us have, instead, been taught not to trust pregnant bodies, not to trust our own bodies, not to believe anything unless an MD or a machine says it is so. So many of us have learned not just to embrace the “objective” view, but to reject the “subjective” — and that’s what I have a problem with. That is the function-and-formation of kyriarchy, of a system that devalues women and women’s bodies and the typically-female role in pregnancy, that says my opinion and my experience is meaningless because it hasn’t been and can’t be confirmed or controlled by authority, by expertise, by privilege, by power.
I don’t want to reject technology wholesale. I really don’t wish to go back to a world without the options we have now. But I would give so much to exist in a world where a pregnant person was recognized universally as a person, capable of making the best choices for them given full information and uncoerced options; where the subjective was as valid and accepted as the objective; where technology was a tool available when called for; where we didn’t slice up the pregnant body into Vessel and Object, Uterus and Fetus but honored the breathtaking complexity, intricacy, and interdependence of the pregnant system.
I hide away in that world with my midwives for an hour once a month, but then I step out into the rest of humanity, barely-pregnant belly just beginning to jut before me, and I am reminded that what should be a fundamental right for all, regardless of desired place or mode of birth, is, in my society, the rarest of privileges.
- And then they take my blood pressure, whilst I’m sitting comfy in my favorite recliner. Anyone surprised it’s ten points lower than when perched on the exam table five minutes after defending my right to decline having my weight taken to my fatphobic primary care provider? Anyone? No? ↩
- Just because this is me and I have to, I’m going to take this moment to bust the myth that Doppler technology is somehow “less” intense than imaging sonography, for those concerned about ultrasonic radiation. Rather, Doppler uses continuous waves, compared to imaging ultrasound’s split-second waves. Although I couldn’t tell you which creates a more irritating uterine environment, the pulse or the constant, in purely number-of-waves terms, there’s probably about as much exposure in a minute of Doppler use as in a 20-30 minute imaging ultrasound. There are other reasons to avoid imaging sonography, not least because the American College of Radiology discourages its routine use in pregnancy without specific medical indication, but I gotta say I have to try not to roll my eyes when people avoid it over concerns about the long-term effects but happily use Doppler to hear the heartbeat at every appointment. ↩
- Not the tripple/quad screen or aught, just the “Do you have HIV?” stuff. ↩
- Both in scare-quotes here as every experience — including the act of observing — is inherently subjective to some extent. Though the subject/object duality is a sometimes useful shorthand, I reject the notion that there is any such state as “purely objective”. ↩