I found out I was pregnant early during my third year of medical school. This news wasn’t unexpected, but I knew enough to recognize you can never assume getting pregnant will be easy. Those first weeks were filled with checking my baby development app (“now the size of
a red lentil!”) and my old embryology text (“the heart tube has folded once!”). Being a
medical student and being pregnant at the same time influenced each other. The clinical
rotations during third year were experienced through the prism of pregnancy in how I related
to both patients and preceptors and how they related to me. There were frantic moments in
the first trimester of rushing past the food in the doctor’s lounge to the nearest bathroom as I
dealt with morning sickness while trying to keep the pregnancy under wraps. Or when the
parents of my pediatric patients would place a knowing hand on my expanding belly and ask if
it was a boy or girl. However, OB-GYN was one of the most difficult rotations to be pregnant.
I started OB-GYN smack-dab at the mid-point of my pregnancy. I had just found out I was carrying a boy, my figure was looking like I was carrying a little baby instead of a big burrito; in hindsight, I was glowing. I was able to participate in the births of many women and it was so exciting and emotional every time. I nearly missed my first delivery because my eyes were tearing up at the thought of a new little human soon joining us in that very room.
A pregnancy can be measured in milestones, like the moment even your ‘fat’ jeans no longer fit. One milestone I eagerly awaited was feeling my little guy move. It was fun to try to decipher the movements, but mostly it was an indication to me that he was alive and happy in my uterus. At this point of my pregnancy, I would feel him most mornings around 10am when I sat down after eating my second breakfast (fifth most important meal of my pregnant day). There would be a few little flutters and then stillness. I would place my hand on the spot and push back, playing some weird game of patty-cake. He would never kick back. I would sometimes be very, very quiet and place my hands on my abdomen, willing him to kick, but he wouldn’t do it on cue.
One morning, I arrived for my rounds and checked the list of patients on the floor. A new patient had arrived last night. Her last cervical check had occurred hours ago. She had been at “8”, which meant she had probably since given birth. I glanced at the other information and caught my breath. The gestational age was in the low 20s. She was only a week further along than me. Our neonatal intestive care units (NICUs) have done great things over the decades to improve outcomes for premature babies, but there remains a limit around 24 weeks gestation that the baby is just too little, too underdeveloped to survive outside the mother’s womb. My ears started ringing and I looked around the nurse’s station. I realized there was less joking and socializing than is normal for a shift change. The loss of such a little baby, one that never actually got the chance to live, cast a pall over the ward.
Selfishly, I could think only of myself and my little one. I wanted to run out of the hospital, go home and dive under the covers to avoid whatever twists of fate led this woman to deliver too early. The baby’s folder was left out on the nurse’s station, two little footprints were captured on paper, each the size of my littlest finger. As I looked at those little footprints, I thought of the two little feet inside of me. No wonder I could barely feel the kicks, they were still impossibly tiny. Yet I still stood very, very quietly, with my hands on my abdomen, willing him to kick, but of course, he never did it on cue.