Am I Paranoid: Diary of a Pre-Pregnant Woman


Earlier this year, the CDC caused a frenzy (Dan Savage's May 25th Straight Rights Update sums it up) when it released a spooky series of guidelines recommending, among other things, that "All women who are able to become pregnant should treat themselves and be treated by healthcare professionals as being pre-pregnant". Understandably, many of us in the pre-pregnant community freaked out–I'm as concerned about my present and future reproductive health as the next lady, but treating me like a breakable baby incubator on legs is probably not the best way to assuage my fears. As if there isn't enough attitude about young women's potential motherhood out there–it seems like every time I pick up a magazine, I'm looking at another hysterical article about my ticking biological clock.

I sincerely hoped that the CDC's pre-pregnancy guidelines weren't evidence of a new trend, but apparently, my hopes were in vain. According to United Press International, the Maternal and Child Health Journal just published a series of articles on "pre-conception care" in the online supplement to its current issue. Maternal and Child Health Journal or not, I still have issues with the whole notion of "pre-conception care"–why not just call it "women's health care"? Isn't it enough to have healthier women, who will in turn have healthier babies, should they choose to become mothers? But then again, if a legit medical journal has solicited a small body of scholarship on the issue, maybe I'm making a fuss over nothing.

Then I read the third sentence of the lead article:

In the Old Testament, the following passage appears: "And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, ‘Behold now thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive and bear a son. Now, therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine and strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing.' "

Call me paranoid, but in the current political environment, I'm not sure I'm 100 percent comfortable with this biblical reference as a universal touchstone for reproductive health. And I appreciate that the medical community is looking out for my future, but in my personal experience, the pre-pregnant attitude often feels more like a negation of my existence than a genuine expression of concern for my well being.

An example: earlier this year, I was experiencing nausea and random stomachaches that I later realized were most likely stress-related. I went to my doctor's office, expecting a battery of questions and tests about my digestive system. Instead, I got one question: Is it possible that you're pregnant? Well, it's highly unlikely, but technically, yes, I guess it's possible. The nurse practitioner gave me a pregnancy test and sent me packing, after a stern line of questioning about what I thought I would do if I discovered I was pregnant.

The pregnancy test came back negative two days later, but my nausea and stomachaches persisted. I went back to my doctor's office and asked to see a gastroenterologist, who (after asking me if I might be pregnant) recommended that I get an endoscopy, which requires mild anesthesia. I agreed, slightly nervous about the prospect of anesthesia, since I'd never had it before.

When I returned two days later for the endoscopy, I was kept waiting for 45 minutes, at which point a nurse took me into a room and asked me to undress. I had some questions about the procedure, which she couldn't answer without the doctor. But she had one question of her own: Is there absolutely any chance you might be pregnant? Luckily, I had the pregnancy test to prove that I wasn't, at which point I was left in an exam room for the next hour, growing increasingly nervous about the anesthesia and the procedure, which still hadn't been explained to me. The doctor finally popped his head in to drop off a consent form (he was too busy to answer my questions about the procedure), then the nurse returned and hurried me into the exam room, where the anesthesiologist was waiting. No sign of my doctor.

Finally, when I refused to sign the consent form without an explanation of the procedure from my doctor, I got some answers to my questions. The procedure itself was uneventful, but the ordeal left me feeling like the entire medical team cared more about the non-existent baby in my uterus than the actual human being sitting in front of them, who was experiencing a legitimate non-reproductive health problem.

So I guess, in the end, what I'm trying to say about pre-pregnancy is this: I wouldn't mind the concern for my uterus if it didn't come at the expense of all my other organs, especially the one in the middle of my chest.

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  • blgibbons

    The first office you visited clearly screwed up but this is simple malpractice, not politics.

    At the other visits, what, exactly, was offensive about being asked whether you could be pregnant? By someone about to put something in your body that could have ramifications for such? You’re going to have to connect the dots better on this.

    Look at this as an equation. On one side: the supposed insult of being (in the worse case scenario) reduced to a walking uterus. Or, more likely, being asked about pregnancy by medical professionals validly seeking to avoid potential medical concerns. On the other side: the medical professionals walk on eggshells to avoid offending you, and the accutane, lack of folic acid, etc. causes a horrible birth defect in the fetus you’re carrying. But hey, at least everyone has upheld feminist principles!

    Seriously, what is the alternative? Is it your preference that healthcare workers just don’t ask if you could be pregnant unless you tell them you’re trying to conceive? Should they assume that no woman is exercising her body’s reproductive function unless they say so?

    Think about the percentage of pregnancies that are accidental before answering.

  • andrea-lynch

    Why does it have to be a zero sum game? As a woman, don't I deserve to be informed of any potential reproductive risks and ALSO have my other health needs and concerns addressed? As I explain in my post, I didn't get offended at being asked if I was pregnant, what offended me was not being asked anything else. According to my feminist principles, doctors have a responsibility to treat me as a whole person–including, but not limited to, my reproductive identity.

  • mernlar

    Why isn’t it more appropriate (and less heteronormative) to ask whether someone is a) sexually active, and b) menstruating regularly? That way, you get actual concrete medical data as opposed to speculation. If someone doesn’t know they’re pregnant, then they aren’t going to tell a doctor they are! and if they are, they will probably speak up, especially if they are having pain! And asking someone whether they “might” be pregnant is equally silly, unless you plan on testing them right then and there if they say yes!

    I’m not trying to argue that asking for pregnancy information is not medically appropriate by any means. Sometimes it’s essential. I’m just saying that there may be better ways to do it that give doctors more information that they can then use to diagnose and treat an illness.

  • blgibbons

    You should have been asked other things, which suggests to me you need new healthcare providers. But the tone of your article was not written the way. It was very knee-jerk. But that doesn’t make the pregnancy question inappropriate in the least. When I’ve gotten surgery it’s always been “is there any possibility you could be pregnant?” then appropriate follow-up questions. I noticed the woman in the next waiting area being given a pregnancy test prior to her procedure. BTW on one occasion I was (horrifyingly) asked this by a nurse who obviously did not know I was there for a D&C following a miscarriage, so that shows that it’s boilerplate stuff. In my opinion (which you will, undoubtedly, attribute to bias due to my reproductive experience) the possibility to causing a birth defect trumps the patient’s feelings.