Monday, February 7, 2011

One clinic day, three responses to my pregnancy

I dislike that pregnancy forces me to bring my personal life into the office. I don't have pictures of my kids on my desk, I am vague when curious patients ask where I live and on Monday mornings I never volunteer my weekend activities to the staff.

But this pregnant belly, no matter how discreetly swathed in muted professional clothes, begs comment from everybody.

* * *

A patient comes to see me for follow-up after a miscarriage. I am acutely aware of how difficult it might be for her to see her doctor pregnant.

As I call her from the waiting room I feel that I am flaunting my fertility. I will my belly to shrink down a little, to look less jaunty, but her gaze is fixed on it as she approaches. She grabs my arm, looks at me earnestly, and says, "I'm happy for you. I really am." And I can tell - she really is - and I am moved by her graciousness.

* * *

I'm signing off results, standing in the reception area with my Sharpie fineliner in hand and a stack of cream-coloured files in front of me. One of the secretaries swivels around in her chair. "Hi, Mama!" she exclaims. I look up briefly, say hello, and slide the next chart towards me.

She looks me up and down and beams. "When I was pregnant with my first . . . " she begins, and I only half-listen as I methodically sign off hemoglobin levels and ultrasound reports.

I snap to attention, though, when I hear, "You've even got a bit of a booty now, eh?" I turn to look at her, and my expression must have some level of fierceness to it because she quickly amends, "Only a very small one, though," and turns hastily back to her keyboard.

* * *

I have lunch with a colleague in town for a conference, a forty-something man with no children, and he asks what benefits I receive as a member of our provincial medical association. I list them: CME funds, malpractice insurance, an RRSP program, maternity leave benefits --

He interrupts me. "Why should others pay for your lifestyle choice?" he asks bitterly. He gives a short diatribe on the injustices borne by childless men. I try to interject but give up when he complains about having to pay taxes for neighbourhood schools which don't benefit him directly.

"If you get a leave to have a baby, I should get paid leave to take a water-colour painting course," he concludes.

A few days later he swings by my office. He sets a steaming coffee on my desk and offers, "You can have as many children as you want, Martina."


  1. you know the first two responses I wouldn't mind...
    The third one I felt like sticking something up his nose. Did he just pop out of thin air? I'm sure he had a mother who had some similar situation (though the number of working women were pretty less then). Seriously, I would have just walked away from that idiot. But I get it why you would like to keep your personal life private. It irks.

  2. Thanks for sharing,I'm sure he had a mother who had some similar situation (though the number of working women were pretty less then). Seriously, I would have just walked away from that idiot. But I get it why you would like to keep your personal life private. It irks.

  3. I dont 9 why people always keep on interfering in anyones personal life....Anyways thanks for sharing your story....

  4. For that last guy, you should have told him that since it bothers him so much, he should be grateful he doesn't live in a country where they pay women to have more children.

  5. @ Old MD Girl

    We do pay moms in Canada to have children. It's called the Universal Childcare Benefit - $100 per month per child under the age of 6.

  6. Maddening, that last guy! How does he expect the human race to continue on if working women aren't allowed the time to ever have kids! I'm glad he came to his senses...

    And yes, your first patient was so gracious - the perfect descriptor.

  7. There is something disturbing about a society that doesn't cherish and invest in the next generation. I know, the childless man you encountered was only one person, but these attitudes are fairly common.

    One could argue that it is attitudes like this that form part of the reason children are increasingly diagnosed with mental illness. When their very existence is reduced to dollars and cents, it can send a powerful negative message...


  8. Your first story was quite a lovely twist in a potentially very awkward situation.

    Thank you for posting.

  9. But the schools DO benefit him. It educates the generation that will be in charge when he is elderly. It educates the neighborhood children that may very well become criminal element without a proper education.
    It educates those who will provide the next level of technology that will benifit us all.

    Paying taxes on public schools is not for the parents of the child next door .. it is an investment in societies future.

  10. Hey Martina,
    I know your colleague "apologized", but he could be reminded that he should be thanking you for providing the next generation of those who will be paying his old age pension. Just a thought...
    p.s. hope you're doing well

  11. I totally agree. When pregnant, people think they can sum you up in a glance. I hate that part.

    I particularly hate meeting people for the first time when pregnant. They think they HAVE to talk to you about it, and it's an obvious choice as small talk. But I want to talk about something--anything else. There's lots going on outside my uterus!

    I always thought I was just hard because I didn't "enjoy" the extra attention. Thanks for making me feel sane. :)

  12. @Pete -- I know, that's why I said it. In France (for instance) the benefit is actually much larger than $100/month.

  13. Although not yet a doctor, I hated the fact that when I was pregnant total strangers felt like they could comment on me, give me child rearing advice or worse...touch my stomach!

  14. As much as I disliked (maybe hated is not really too strong a word here) having my belly touched without permission, on an intellectual level I accepted it as a positive thing (and tried to be gracious, or at least not give anyone too big of a hairy eyeball). Fundamentally, I realized that it meant the person was recognizing pregnancy and childbearing as something special and important, and wanted to be connected to it, even if for just a moment. In a society where mothers, babies and pregnant women are rarely truly celebrated and are often devalued, any positive reaction is a good thing in my book.

  15. Thanks for the comments.

    @Pete & Old MD Girl - At $100/month, I don't consider the Child Care Benefit an incentive to have children, and it wasn't intended to be. It's meant to offset childcare expenses as Cdn parents see fit.

    @Laura - I'm not sure he did come to his senses. He said I could have as many children as I want as if it were an act of generosity on his part, to be received by me with gratitude.

    @Beach Bum - Interesting thoughts.

    @Erin - Yes, the extra attention is tiresome. Especially since there seems to be a very small pool of possible comments from which everyone draws: Do you know what you're having? When are you due? How long are you taking off work? Someone did tell me that I'm carrying this one like a 22-year-old primip, and that comment I didn't mind.

    @ForeverRhonda - Unsolicited stomach touching is disturbing.

    @White Coat Dreamer - Yes, I do appreciate that stomach touching and comments in general are well-intended. I especially notice that older women seem to relive their pregnancies when they see younger pregnant women, and I'm happy to be a part of that.

  16. I feel you I am 38 weeks pregnant now and everyone has taken liberties with my privacy ( i even got asked how much i was dilated and/or effaced by a nurse!) however almost everyone has been super nice. Another nurse gave me some insight when she said: I live vicariously through you....most medical settings are full of male colleagues anyway, seeing a pregnant doctor is a novelty for both patients and other doctors.....some are surprised I can still take call and stand through a four hour cardiac catheterization while some are shocked that I would even expose my unborn child to radiation ( i keep telling them I am double leaded!!!) . In any case your unmarried colleague was way out of line. Would he say that to a medicaid and welfare patient on her 6th pregnancy? i bet you not..but God forbid you make a snarky comment back, I would have said something back to him later on. Anyway right now I am so looking forward to my csection (and yes I want a csection, thank you which i dont have to justify to the whole hospital....)

  17. I love your first story. What a wonderful woman.
    The second is so annoying and reminds me of when I was preg last year w my son. I could handle the strangers' hands- it was the comments of how fat I was, how I souldvt be eating whatever I happened to be eating that day, or that I would never lose the baby weight from my coworkers.
    As far as the last guy, he reminds me of some surgeons I used to work with. And kind of reminds me of my own dad. I get the impression that people like that really don't realize that there are other people who are differed from them and who make their own decisions. It's increibly annoying to deal with their stereotypes and arrogance, but I'll also say that at least in my experience, it's rather satisfying when you can disprove their assumptions. And once they've developed respect for you, they're often your greatest supporters.
    Btw- I've always been fascinated by your job!

  18. what a variety of emotions... parallels pregnancy (and life). One can't help but share/show a pregnancy, but this post was your choice to craft and share, and I thank you for doing so.

  19. Another great post, Martina - thanks, as always, for sharing a little of your life with us. You are exceptionally gifted at writing!

  20. Holy. Crap.

    "If you get a leave to have a baby, I should get paid leave to take a water-colour painting course," he concludes."

    Water painting? Bloody hell he's a bastard. Where do you find these Neanderthals? (And yes, I'm a guy if that is deemed important.)

  21. @CardioMom - I've also had patients express concern that I'm endangering the baby by working at the clinic while pregnant, whether it be by exposing it to disease or sitting in front of a computer (radiation!) all day.

    @barefootmoses - The job you've been fascinated by has been very hard to leave, even temporarily (started mat leave this week). I am jealous of my own locum.

    @T and amymom24 - You're welcome! Thanks for the encouragement.

    @Anonymous 9:44 - I found your comment very satisfying.

  22. Congratulations on your pregnancy. That last guy is clearly massively burnt out and needs to take a break. Sad when you can't be happy for other people...

  23. @Pete - The Universal Child Care Benefit payment to parents is SQUAT compared to actual expenses; and you get taxed on it too.

    Paying mothers to have children would mean things like: actual costs reimbursed, better terms for maternity/parental leaves, extended health care benefits, etc.

  24. Hello FreshMD, just read a beautiful piece you've published elsewhere. I'm not sure if it describes a recent or more distant heart goes out to you for what you went through and hoping all is well now with you and your family.

  25. @J - Thank you! It happened last February. The piece was published almost exactly one year later - and the same week I delivered a baby girl. (CMAJ gave me permission to print the article at MiM and I plan to soon.)

    I really appreciate your comment.


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.