A Thousand Words: What’s a Girl to Think When Her Gynecologist Starts Asking About Dogs Instead of Children?By Jennifer Duffield White
April 17, 2007
I have been staring at a mobile above my head for the last 10 minutes—birch bark cranes twisted up like origami, strung from the brittle twigs of a dead tree branch.
At first, it seems simple enough—graceful, even.
But I am lying on the exam table, naked from the waist down, with a blue square of fabric draped over me.
I imagine the women who stare at this mobile—babies to be born, babies that won’t reach full term, deformities, disappointments, twins, triplets, and stillborns.
The cranes wobble in someone else’s despair.
I am cold, goose bumps stippling my skin.
The door opens.
A wedge of fluorescent light spreads across the floor of the dimly lit room, and the doctor walks in.
I have never met this particular Gyno Doctor.
My annual visits to the office usually entail a brief encounter with the nurse practitioner/midwife.
But today, Gyno Doctor must do an ultrasound to measure a benign cyst that’s growing on an ovary.
I sit up, because I feel too much like a patient strapped down for surgery in the prone position.
Gyno Doctor introduces himself.
His foreign accent, which I can’t quite place, causes me to lean forward in an effort to catch each word.
Friends have warned me he’s impersonal—professional, unemotional to a fault.
“Are you planning on having children?”
This is the second sentence he utters.
The second sentence I have ever heard this man speak.
I’m all for being straight to the point, but this feels rude, even if this man intends to have his fingers probing my vagina in the next five minutes.
Maybe this cyst is worse than I thought.
Maybe he needs this information so he can make accurate treatment decisions or so he can prepare me for the announcement of a potentially barren body.
“It’s fairly unlikely,” I answer.
My tongue sputters on this, flecking spit.
“At least I say that now,” I add, aware of the fact that it’s probably a sin to utter such disinterest in the walls of a ward filled with pregnant women, or women with fertile hopes.
I am laughing.
He nods his head, looks me in the eye;
“You have dogs, then?”
Again, because of the accent, there’s a slight one-second delay as my brain processes this question.
I blink several times.
I am reserved enough to hold back on the exam table, to swallow the long, wailing “WHAAAAAT?” that’s rising in my esophagus.
“Yes. Yes, I have a dog.”
He nods his head vigorously now, as he pulls on the rubber gloves.
I wonder if he’s conducting a secret study on the ratio of women who answer the first question with a No and own a dog.
Maybe, because I own a dog, it means I have some sort of maternal instinct.
I do, in fact, feel slightly redeemed by being able to tell him that I have a canine companion.
Gyno Doctor rapidly moves on.
“And you’re having pain? … Where? …. When?”
But I am still hung up on the first two questions.
By how easily this short, curt, to-the-point man with a knotted accent slips from child in the womb, to dog on the bed, to pain in the pelvis.
In the last two years, this question of parenthood has become increasingly frequent.
And it continues to catch me off guard.
Perhaps, if I was married or even living with someone, I might expect it.
But given my lifestyle, it induces indignation.
Last year, the nurse practitioner asked me, “So Jennifer, you’re getting to be that age. Are you thinking it’s time to have babies?”
She knew, at that time, I was in that fresh territory of being newly single.
And yet she asked this question as though perhaps I’d take it upon myself to skip the dates and go to the donor bank.
Or perhaps, I might search more seriously—with purpose—for a life partner to give seed to this biological clock someone says should be ticking inside my skin.
My mother tells me she’s boxed up children’s books “for the future grandchildren.”
Everyone wants an answer, as though I should know now, exactly what I plan to do.
As though it’s all about the planning.
As though I should know right now, the absolute future status of my partner(s), my ovaries, and my household.
The doctor is pointing out my empty uterus on the monitor, the sac of fluid from a leaking cyst, the black golf ball of the cyst on my left ovary, the slim contours of my right ovary.
My eyes are glued to the screen, darting across the black and white anatomy of my womb.
No surgery is necessary at this point, they say. We will wait for this obstruction to hopefully reduce itself or dissolve.
At home, I look at an old collage of pictures my mother has made.
In this photo of me, my younger sister, and my mother, we are having a spring breakfast in the backyard, cooking pancakes over the campfire.
In the picture, my mother is the exact age I am now, minus one month.
Everyone says I am the spitting image of her.
Except, in the breakfast picture, she already has pepper gray hair.
And two children.
It will be another 9 years before she finally finishes her college degree, the marriage splits, and the fireplace in the backyard becomes overgrown with weeds.
The cement blocks will crumble; someone will toss them into the woods to disintegrate.
And somehow, it seems symbolic that I have made it to 30 years, 4 months old and I do not have the children or the marriage my mother had at this age.
I am released.
I lie on the couch, dog’s chin on my ankles, and I can feel pinpricks of pressure where the mass rests on my ovary.
This growth will not get in the way of biological possibility.
It will not prevent the unplanned.
And it will not spur planning.