The Pregnant Woman I Remember Most

2012
Yuan-Innes, Melissa

When I moved to Quebec for my family medicine residency, I knew I would learn obstetrics. And I did. But even more than the technicalities of prenatal care and delivering babies, I remember the people.

One couple met in Japan. The man was a Caucasian Canadian; the woman had been transplanted from Japan into a strange, snowy city where she spoke little English and even less French. They applied for months to get a health card in time for her delivery, but in the end, the husband plunked down his credit card in the delivery suite and settled down to his job of counting to ten, in Japanese, while she pushed for every contraction.

She pushed for hours. She pushed so long and hard, her dark hair plastered to her sweaty forehead and her husband forgot to count. I prompted him, "Ichi. Ni..." and he remembered, pushed her leg up, and took over the counting. Which was good, since I had only learned to count to two in Japanese.

When the obstetrician offered her a C-section or the option to push for another half hour, she pushed.

In the end, she did have to have a Caesarian, but she delivered a healthy baby boy.

I remember other pregnant patients, too. The 38-year-old, pregnant for the first time, who quit her job in the first trimester so that she could "concentrate on being pregnant." The young, bouncy patient whom I only saw a few times before she moved to Northern Ontario.

But the one pregnant woman I remember the most from my residency was a physician who had graduated two years ahead of me and had stayed at the hospital to set up her own family practice, including obstetrics and pediatrics. Dr. Gardner was intelligent and poised and lovely, sweeping through the crumbling corridors of our family medicine centre. I only spoke to her a few times, like when I had a question about a pregnant woman who was bleeding and switchboard paged her, even though she wasn't on call. Most attending physicians would say, "I am not on call. Dr. X is. Call him," but Dr. Gardner just said, "There's no point in bothering someone else. What is the problem?"

So of course, everyone loved her and was excited about her pregnancy. Her patients brought her baby name books. She worked up to 36 weeks, but on her last day, as she finished up the paperwork, she realized, I haven't felt the baby move.

And then they couldn't find the heartbeat.

She knew what to do, after having delivered so many of other people's babies. She and her husband headed into the labour and delivery suite to deliver a stillborn baby girl.

They held a service in the hospital chapel. We all attended, mute with sympathy and grief.

Five years later, I reconnected with Dr. Gardner after losing my own first pregnancy. Two of my family medicine former classmates put me in touch with her. I hesitated to bother her, but they said, "You should call her. Actually, you should call her today because she's about to be induced for a delivery."

I did call her. She was trying to finish up her taxes before her induction the very next day, but she made time for me and my own grief, as wise and kind as ever. She also gave me hope, since she had one healthy child at home and was about to deliver her next one. She proceeded to have a third baby while coaching me through two healthy pregnancies of my own.

Telling this story makes me think of the edict "Physician, heal thyself." It's good advice. But I am even more grateful when, sometimes, we can help heal each other.

Theme: Birth | Naissance
Theme: Physicians | Médecins
Theme: Relationships | Relations

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.

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