By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I love my gynecologist. She’s smart, she’s about my age, and like me, she’s childfree. So, yes, I believe she “gets” me.
That’s why it continues to gall me that her office still doesn’t “get” how devastating each of my visits are. I make a point of not making eye contact with anyone else in the waiting room. I don’t want to know—I don’t want the possibility of sensing—that the woman sitting across the room from me is in the full bloom of pregnancy. I also don’t want to know if the woman four seats over is falling apart because she’s about to get confirmation that another round of fertility treatments has failed to produce a longed-for baby. Honestly, I have enough on my plate just keeping my own emotions in check as I telepathically beg the nurse to call my name next.
And I’m pretty successful until I walk past the gatekeeper and enter the hallway where I’m once again faced with The Wall.
Technically, it’s one long wall with three bulletin boards overloaded with healthy baby and family photos. Hello, knife to the heart! There’s no avoiding it. It’s literally IN MY FACE as I make my way to the scale, then to the ladies’ room, then back into the hallway and to the exam room. I get one last look as I head out, and I typically manage to hold myself together as I ride down the elevator (sunglasses on, just in case), exit the building into the glaring sunlight, and all but crawl into my car where I let it all go.
Failure. Loser. Incomplete Woman. Freak of Nature. These are all the labels I give myself as I process my annual confrontation with The Wall.
With this being National Infertility Awareness Week, I wish my doctor and her staff could be more, well, aware. For the sign on their office does not read “Health Care for Mommies Only” or “Doctor of Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women”. It’s supposed to be an office that provides health care for all women. Although my reproductive system may have exceeded its best if used by date, I am still going in for my routine physical checkups, I continue to be a paying customer, and (dangit) I’d like to be represented on The Wall.
So, here are my suggestions:
- In the waiting room, post images of a variety of women, such as prints of famous works of art from different eras. Maybe one is a classic Mary Cassatt mother and child painting (By the way, did you know Cassatt was childfree?), then choose from the abundance of works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Berthe Morisot, or Annie Leibovitz.
- Or go abstract and hang a bunch of prints by Georgia O’Keeffe, you know, those floral images that subtly represent healthy female reproductive organs.
- On The Wall, post photos of healthy women, all women. You don’t need to take out the babies and families—they have their place here too—but add to the mix your other patients, the single women, the lesbian women, the families of two, and the post-menopausal women who are still kicking, who tell their whole life stories in the lines on their faces.
I hope that I’ll see some changes on The Wall when I go in for my next checkup. But honestly, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to look.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.
Great suggestions! we all have those triggers .. last night I was watching a trailer for a new TV show “the handmaiden’s tale” or whatever you call it .. and it struck a bad cord and totally offended me .. because it’s about women who have relations with men who’s wives cannot concieve/or are barren. Just horrible .. i became so sensitive that I immediately shut the TV off and cried inside feeling horrible for myself.
Anyway .. i agree the Doc office is so intimidating and makes me feel like the odd one out for sure .. not to mention where I work .. the break room is FILLED with family photos .. i just can’t take it. We should all petition .. one day we will have our right and be treated equally!
Almira, can you enact small change where you work? Put up some of your OWN pictures? pets? places and things that you like? paintings? (I’d put up a picture of my motorcycle – that’s MY “baby”!)
Handmade’s Tale is an interesting book. read it in high school; don’t remember much from it except it’s prediction that infertility was on the rise… But i wonder now… Were all the infertile women “bad guys”? hm. i don’t have whatever channel you need to watch it, but maybe i’ll read the book again with a more critical eye.
Actually The Handmaid’s Tale is an excellent critique of a world where women are ONLY valued for their fertility. The general idea is that due to environmental problems, women are becoming less likely to conceive. An extreme fundamentalist religious group takes over a large portion of the United States, renames it “Gilead,” and forces all fertile women to become “handmaidens” to become impregnated by higher ups in the military government because their wives are infertile. If the handmaidens fail to become pregnant within a certain time they’re shipped off to prison labour camps along with all the other infertile or postmenopausal women.
It’s an excellent book and a really good look at how scary it is when women are only viewed as baby vessels. The entire country of Gilead is obsessed with babies and baby making, and even though the Commanders’ wives are not kind to the handmaids, it’s easy to empathize with the wives–they are viewed as pitiable damaged goods because they can’t get pregnant, and their husbands are assigned a handmaid to have sex with–and the wives have to be present during each attempt at impregnation!
It’s a book that is hard to read and full of triggers, but an excellent social critique. If you can stomach [re]reading it, I would really recommend it.
Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been thinking maybe I was out of line for thinking this way.
I was not able to hold it together at my last annual as the nurses and office staff cooed over the newborn in the waiting room and though they all saw me in tears they didn’t move to get me in any quicker. In fact, they were having some trouble finding my chart and I think they thought that’s why I was crying because she said, “oh, don’t worry, I found it now”. Once in the room (after doing the walk of shame past “the wall”) she asked, “Are you okay?” as she held my chart that says “bilateral salpingectomy”, “multiple rounds of IVF”, “miscarriage”, and whatever else. CLUELESS!! And my doctor with the, “It always baffles me why people who don’t deserve to have kids keep just popping them out and people like you can’t have them.”
In any event, I came home destroyed (ok, in truth, I was already destroyed but you know what I mean).
It was truly disheartening and got me thinking, if the people who treat IF (and in fairness, this is just my GYN, not my RE) don’t demonstrate awareness and recognize the pain, there really doesn’t seem to be much hope that the rest of the world will make a place for me.
I could go for some Georgia O’Keefe in this situation.
I’m totally in on, what shall we call it, “The Wall Inclusion Project”? I don’t think my gynecologist’s office has one, but I may have been so entrenched in survival mode the last time I was there I might have missed it. If that’s even possible.
If there is one there when I go in the fall, I will definitely point out the lack of diversity to my doctor.
There is a ‘commercial’ on TV over here with a heavily pregnant actress exposing her belly, I think it’s for some kind of skin cream. I literally have a physical reaction whenever it comes on and have to turn it off. Then there’s the home page of a medical website with another heavily pregnant woman caressing her belly. Again, I find it really upsetting to see this image and don’t understand how the decision can have been made to use it – the site is for all people, not specifically for women and/or reproduction, so why this image would be the one they have chosen is beyond me. If it doesn’t occur to those working in the medical field that there are people in the world for whom these images would be upsetting, I despair!