2nd Check-Up

On Sunday, we went to the hospital for check-up #2.

Once again, we got there in the morning and I was impressed by the greeting that ushered us to the correct counter, explained that we would only need to flash our “Mary’s card” each time we came and it would be this easy from here on in. They swiped the cards and explained which floor to visit.

The moment we stepped out of the elevator on the second floor, an attending nurse (or perhaps she was a receptionist) confirmed we were there for pre-natal and then walked us to the right room. We felt very ‘swept in’ and comfortable.

I didn’t wait long. Again, I was weighed and my blood pressure was taken. This all happens in the waiting room and the results of these tests are not personal. It reminded me a bit of being in a locker room after swimming practice with my gym class–everyone else was naked and so why should I feel strange about being naked? Likewise, in that waiting room with the plush purple chairs, all the other pregnant women and their partners knew my weight and blood pressure and I knew theirs, so why should I care? This was how I rationalized the sudden embarrassment, that is. It’s funny the cultural hang-ups I carry with me without realizing it, like the notion that blood pressure and especially weight should be private information. Who really cares?

When we were taken into the doctor’s office, I noticed that it wasn’t the doctor who had met with us the first time. I pointed it out to Guo Jian as the doctor was discussing the previous patient with the nurse. He scrunched up his eyes as he was trying to remember their different faces and then tentatively asked the doctor if “余大夫” (Doctor Yu) was coming today or not. The doctor said that she was a replacement–(another woman in her mid-fifties that looked a bit similar)–and assured us she was qualified and then dryly asked, “Is that okay then?” “Sure,” we responded quickly, and then she nodded at me and briskly said, “Well come on then, let us listen to the heartbeat!” while pointing to the bed with her chin.

I scrambled up, laid myself down and she put a glob of goo on my belly like it was an ultrasound, turned on a small hand-held instrument, and then suddenly I could hear the slush, slush of my insides, followed promptly by the sound of a churning freight train. She stopped then, left the microphone there, and said, “There it is!”

“Guo Jian, listen! That’s the baby’s heart!” I called out, and his eyes widened and said, “Really? It’s so fast. It sounds like a drum loop!” The doctor explained that it’s twice the speed of our adult heartbeats and he laughed in wonder. So did I. The doctor finally cracked a grin at our excitement.

When I sat back down, she told us to ask her anything. I began with the series of questions that I had prepared and was impressed by her straightforward manner and intelligence. She handled every question beautifully and efficiently. Guo Jian inserted his worres about the flights I was planning to take during the pregnancy, about me riding my bike, and about me driving the car with my “pregnancy brain” and she swept them aside like mosquitoes. “没事!” (That’s nothing to worry about!) I gave him a little shove and said, “See, I told you!” and she inserted that at about 7 months pregnant, I may feel the steering wheel to be uncomfortable at my belly, but that there was no reason I couldn’t drive or ride my bike or fly on an airplane.

The other things I learned is that I will be able to negotiate people in the birthing room and their loose policy of “one at a time” is just a guideline. It’s all negotiable and won’t be a problem. I’ll also be able to control the environment with lighting and music and insisting that no one wear masks as though I’m a sick person. She reminded me that it was early yet to ask these questions but assured me that this was no problem. I even got to ask about the placenta and my access to it. She also felt that whether I produce dried placenta pills through a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor or not, it would make no difference to my general health, but she said I could have access to it, no problem.

She went on to explain that we should attend the music classes at the hospital, asking whether or not we listen to music or sing at home. After learning that we are professional musicians, she said that she still thought we should attend but that perhaps we could give the instructor some tips and pointers while we were there! At this, she winked. I liked her.

It was at this point that I was able to tell her about the incident at the music venue and she smiled and explained that 15 weeks is early but that it’s quite likely that I did feel the baby move, noting that I must be very sensitive to my body’s rhythms, and that having a physical reaction to music while pregnant is definitely the baby’s way of telling us what he or she likes or dislikes.

After leaving the office, Guo Jian had to give blood (which he was dreading and then subsequently didn’t even realize had happened and was over, much to his delight!) and then we had an appointment with the dietician. While we were waiting, I realized that I’d forgotten to ask the doctor something and rushed back to see if she was free. She was.

I asked her about amniocentesis and whether or not I would require further testing, mostly due to my age. She said that if my blood work had shown nothing unusual, that I wouldn’t require further testing and not to worry. She explained that further testing only gets us so much information, as well, and that there are several health issues that simply don’t show up in fetal testing, like deafness or blindness and a few other diseases whose names I didn’t understand in Chinese. She finished with “别担心” (don’t worry) and I returned to the waiting area feeling better.

The dietician was thorough and spoke as fast as is humanly possible. We both had to slow her down three times! We sat in a room with others who listened into our meeting with her and, again, I had the locker room feeling of being exposed. It was fine, really, because who really cares if they know that I’m vegetarian and that I don’t eat fish or seafood. She advised lots of eggs and nuts and soy products–nothing I hadn’t heard before. It would be great if people weren’t especially interested in what Westerners eat and I didn’t feel everyone’s attention to my answers, but in the end, I just dismissed it as cultural curiosity and tried to focus on the task at hand: our appointment!

The only thing that rather poked at my ribcage was when the dietician asked my original weight and then my current weight. Altogether, I have already gained 4-5kg (about 10 pounds). She said, in Chinese, “Oh, you’ve gained a lot of weight!” However, in Chinese, the only way to say this is the literal: “Oh, you’ve gotten really fat!” (你胖了很多!)I have to admit that hearing the word “fat” in any language when the adjective is being directed at you is an immediate buzz kill. She then went on to add that my original weight was quite thin so perhaps my body was preparing itself for pregnancy and therefore packing on the weight quickly at first. It felt like little consolation while the word “fat” still rang in my ears, but I nodded. She still advised no more than 15kg of weight gain overall. I left with a renewed prescription for prenatal vitamins and a resolution to eat less ice cream.

Once again, I didn’t notice a single foreigner in the hospital despite all its promotional material featuring beautiful foreign women and their beautiful babies (see banner above). I did feel comfortable, though, and I know we made the right choice to go here. Everyone who spoke with us was kind and respectful and attentive.

As we were leaving, one of the nurses ushering us out (yes, they even send you off!) explained that the replacement doctor was in fact that head doctor at the hospital–the hospital president, the 院长!  I suppose I chose the right person to whom I should ask my questions regarding the birthing environment! Now I know that if anyone gives me trouble, I can assure them that their boss told them it would be fine!!  I commented that I liked her 干脆 (straightforward or direct) personality and the nurse laughed. “She’s definitely 干脆!,” she said.

I love this word because it is a compound of the adjective for “dry” (干 gan, first tone) and the adjective for “brittle” or “crispy” (脆 cui, fourth tone). To me, this is a super clear way of expressing that “straightforward” or “direct” personality trait. The words a “干脆” person uses are dry and sometimes brittle, but they’re not swimming in subtext or soggy with emotion. Perfect. Especially perfect for a doctor.

When we got home, I set to work on other things and Guo Jian started his daily routine of Tai Chi study. About an hour later, I received a phone call from the hospital explaining that they had forgotten to advise me to take additional tests as a result of my age. I was confused. The nurse explained that it wasn’t amniocentesis but was further blood tests that would then have to happen at a different location and would not be covered by our pre-purchased, prenatal health plan card. When I inquired as to cost, I learned it would be “两千多” or “more than 2000RMB,” which could mean anything from 2001RMB to 2999RMB, or about 350-500 Canadian dollars.

I was shocked. “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this when we were there?” “Sorry,” she said, “but we forgot your age and we’re sorry for the inconvenience.” “But, the doctor–the hospital president–said that my blood work wasn’t unusual, so why would I have to come back to give more blood?” “This isn’t at the same lab,” she explained calmly, “and so you’d have to give blood again because it’s elsewhere. We will give you directions to get there.” I sighed. I realized that if I were still 34 years old, I wouldn’t be getting this phone call. “Can I choose not to do this?” I asked, with a distinct 干脆 (straightforward) tone. At this, she paused and said, “Well, yes, you have the right not to do this, but we have to legally advise you to take these tests and so this is the purpose of this call.”

At this, Guo Jian, annoyed to have his Tai Chi interrupted by this phone call beside him and also aware that I had been struggling with the topic and the language of the call, impatiently snatched the phone from my hands and asked her to explain it again to him. I was irritated by his frustration, but also relieved to be assisted. After he had asked the same questions that I had (argh) and a few extras (thankfully), he politely declined the service and explained that I was from Canada and if I really wanted the testing that I could walk into a hospital in Canada and get it for free there in the next few weeks. And then he said good-bye and hung up. Especially 干脆 of him!

Can I?

I suppose I can. The problem is that I don’t really know what it is I’d be asking for and I’d be coming through the Canadian hospital or clinic doors without a referral or a GP in Canada. And what is it that they’re going to test for anyway? Do I really want to know if there’s something wrong with Little Spark? Would it change whether or not I carry this child to term and become his/her Mother? These are huge questions and not ones I really want to answer. The truth is that I’d rather trust that he or she is perfect in there, no matter what his/her physical situation is. Little Spark is perfect because Little Spark is ours.

I’m not sure I will go and get this additional testing in Canada. The jury’s still out on that one. Besides, I don’t even really understand what kind of testing it is. Maybe it’s not free in Canada after all!?

I set about preparing for my departure to Canada with these questions hanging around my head like buzzing insects. I wished the hospital 院长 (president), with her 干脆 (straightforward) personality were nearby to sweep away these questions with her impatient hand and a quick “没事” (It’s nothing!). The thing is, I had run back to her office to ask her this very question and she had already put my mind at ease about it. Why the sudden scary phone call?

The buzzing insects remain.

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