Saturday, 19 February 2011

Silence of the Sisterhood - part 13 - Blood


As a woman, a large part of your life revolves around blood.

Each month there’s the 3 day shuffle as you anticipate the arrival of the flood, the paranoia and impatient wiping.  When you think you’re pregnant but don’t want to be, the wiping becomes more anguished, more fervent, as you soak yourself in a bath hotter than Beelzebub’s belly in order to make the red river run.

There was the time when your periods stopped for a year, a time you would have thought would have filled you with delirious awe, but which instead led to you only ever wearing your “nasty” knickers, just in case, for the whole 12 months.

Then there’s the blood you don’t want.  When you desperately want to be pregnant, the 3 day shuffle takes on an altogether different paranoia.  Each time you go to the toilet, you hold your breath before you inspect the toilet paper (by now, the bog roll will only ever be white, because its harder to tell what’s going on if you use pink, peach or blue).  Each time the paper remains stainless you exhale with relief; you feel you have gotten away with something, when really all you have at this stage is hope.

I never thought blood on some loo roll would make me cry, but one month it did.  Huge racking desperate sobs that signalled the end of the quest, the death of a hope and the betrayal of the body (it would take a couple of days before I would appreciate the body’s need that month for a dress rehearsal).  Rather like the child who stares in disbelief at the cheap pumps you’ve bought it instead of the latest big name trainers, your eyes, your mind and your heart refuse to believe the bloom of red which is still clasped desperately in your hand.  You stare and stare, unable to flush the evidence away, as if you had suddenly developed the Uri Geller power of altering things.  You will remain immobile and silent, frozen to the porcelain, for approximately 60 more seconds – exactly the length of time it takes for the first thud of pain to hit your stomach.   Slowly you stand.  You know when you’re beat.

So by the time your period is a couple of days late because the little stick tells you you are pregnant, the toilet is a very unnerving place to be.  You are mindful that your body changed its mind last time, so each time you pee and wipe you hold your breath, almost – only almost – braced for a red bloom to bring your world crashing down.

It doesn’t happen.  One of your best friends however, recently suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks, and you can’t quite get this out of your mind.  So as the weeks progress you find yourself still staring at toilet paper, paranoid the coach might turn back into a pumpkin.

At this point you don’t realise you will do this every single day of your pregnancy.

Despite this daily ritual, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive, freaky slow dance in the toilet, you are still shocked when, in the 28th week, you do find blood.  You have been searching for it for so long, that you almost feel you have brought it home to you.

Your first impulse is to vomit.

Next, you gingerly reseat yourself on the toilet and give the paper your full concentration.

Okay, so it’s red, but how red is it exactly?  Okay, okay, it’s more browny, which the books tell you is good.  Red = panic; brown = one of those things.
Okay, there’s not too much.  Another good sign.  You practice your deep breathing and decide to wait till you next need to pee before you fling yourself into full-scale panic.

Okay, it’s still browny, and there isn’t any more than there was before.  Instinctively, the tiny 5% rational part of you knows this is good.  The other part of you – the woman – knows you have to go to the doctor, else you will never forgive yourself if anything bad happens.

By now you realise you have stomach pain, that low throbbing period ache, but you don’t know whether the pain is the chicken or the egg – did you wake up with it, or is it a conditioned response to seeing blood on bog roll ?  Is my pain no more than the gynaecological equivalent of Pavlov’s dogs ?
You ring the sympathetic boyfriend, aware that you are about to scare the shit out of him.  You can hear the wobble in your voice even though you are forcing yourself to be brave.  I’ll be alright, don’t come home yet.

The lovely woman doctor doesn’t think there is anything to worry about, but decides to send you to hospital, just to be on the safe side.  But I must go now.  But it will take 45 minutes for Shaun to get home from work, can’t I wait ?

Only if I promise to panic and call an ambulance if I suddenly start seeping bright red.

I ring Shaun.  It must be so much harder for him.  Instinct tells me I shouldn’t worry, but then it’s my body and I know what I’m going through.  For the man, who is always a great outsider to the pregnancy, it’s not quite the same.  He can’t possibly know about different types of blood and pain and instinct; the only thing he is aware of is a threat to the baby he will protect at any cost. 

He makes it home in 23 minutes.

We don’t so much drive to the hospital as turbo-fly.  Shaun has been waiting for this moment for ages – a chance to speed with the most perfect excuse in the world, Officer.

Once in the hospital, I get strapped up to various contraptions, one to monitor whether I am having contractions, the other to monitor what our daughter is up to.  This gadget measures her heart beat, while I get to press a button (always guaranteed to keep me happy) every time she moves.
The tests will take half an hour, and our job is to stay riveted to Beth’s heart beat.  It seems inconceivable that anything’s heart can beat 152 times a minute, but she does.

She also wriggles for England.  She doesn’t like the belly strap keeping tabs on her heart, and shows remarkable adeptness at swerving away from its sensors so that the whole thing has to be started again.  By the time the consultant views the test results, he will shake his head and declare them useless due to her constant wriggling and squirming.

So thanks to Beth we get to repeat the tests, and although the results are still somewhat less than textbook, they’ll do, largely because we all know my daughter seems unlikely to behave herself any better for a third round of tests.

Now the best bit.  The doctor needs to look at what blood I have lurking, and gets his amazing cold steel contraption out.  It is at this moment that the sympathetic boyfriend absents himself on the grounds that it is too hot in the room.  I beg your pardon ???!!  I am also hot, uncomfortable, bored and about to be skewered wide open with what looks like a crocodile jaw, and you’re uncomfortable ??!!!

So I practice my deep breathing but unfortunately am not able to test whether my newly sharpened talons can yet puncture Shaun’s palm; I fret not, his time will come.

The doctor and the spatula make their observations, and it feels exactly like a cervical smear.  (Incidentally, why do smears only hurt when men do them; why are they so much more comfortable when a woman doctor does them?)  The concern has been over whether my placenta may have come away from the womb and started spilling life blood; if so, Beth and I are in danger.  He scoops out some blood and reassures me that it is “old” and therefore not a worry.

What does worry me however is when the nurse comes back 10 minutes later and informs me they have lost the sample.  I am adamant I am not being skewered again, and with the same magical talent that means I always know where Shaun’s keys, phone, cheque book, wallet or credit cards are, I suggest she look in the bin.

Lo and behold.   I know they weren’t worried about my blood, but did they have to be so casually condescending that they binned it?

Once again I am at home in the duvet cocoon on the sofa, with instructions not to move and to monitor my blood.   They suggest Paracetomol for the pain, but once again I refuse, not from some macho Rambo-ism, but because my protective mechanism demands full knowledge as to whether the pain is getting worse.  I am worried painkillers might numb me to the extent that I don’t notice things have got grim for me and Beth.

I don’t yet know it, but this, my 28th week, will represent the start of my final trimester imprisonment. 

Without realising, I have already completed my last day at work.
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