When I was pregnant with my first child, I was living on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. For my prenatal care, I went to the French side of the island—as opposed to the Dutch side—because I’m just chic like that.
At first, I was advised to simply go to the hospital for my checkups. However, the signs in the waiting area made me all too certain that baby Toto and I weren’t in Kansas anymore:
Despite its abundance of indecipherable signs, the waiting room nonetheless lacked a system. There was no sign-in form, or receptionist with whom to check in. Everyone just arrived, sat down, and got to see the midwife based on who’d gotten there first. I didn’t trust it, and I found myself literally sitting on the edge of my seat. For hours. I couldn’t even complain about the wait, because it was the norm.
Once, after waiting for an entire morning, it was finally my turn to see the midwife. I was sixteen weeks pregnant, and was told they couldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler. They thought that maybe the equipment wasn’t working properly. They sent me to a private doctor for the scans, and there I stayed. Dr. Boss-Lady was her name.
She was the definition of a boss-lady. She had her desk right in the patient room. If she was in the middle of an ultrasound, she would excuse herself to answer the phone. Her calendar wasn’t found on a computer, but on a giant printout. The lights in the bathroom didn’t work, but because the doorknob didn’t either, a little bit of light always shone through. Her waiting room was constantly full, but I quickly learned to schedule myself as the very first patient of the day.
Dr. Boss-Lady chewed me out badly on one occasion. Apparently, I was supposed to carry my own files around with me. I had been given a folder, but I’d thought that home was the best place for it. After all, as an American, I expected my files to be stored in the doctor’s computer. I sat down at her desk, and she put her hand out to receive the all-important folder. When I showed her I was empty-handed, she yelled at me worse than my own mother ever had. She shouted at me that if I went into labor on the street, no one would know anything about my pregnancy.
Despite her harsh side, Dr. Boss-Lady had my respect. She was indeed very French, and I never understood much of what she said, except that everything was good with the baby, that I should be careful to not get too fat, and that I should take vitamin C with iron. I trusted her completely.
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I had to pay Dr. Boss-Lady cash, out of pocket, for every visit. The twenty-week anatomy visit cost more than I had on me, but she kindly told me I could go to the ATM and return with the money later. When I came back, the office was packed. The doctor was standing in the room with a clipboard, swarmed by patients. I slid into the mob, hoping to slyly hand over my wad of cash and allow her to carry on.
That was when she looked at me, then down at her board, then back at me, and said in a hushed but serious tone: “Your test results came back positive. Your partner should come in for testing, too.”
I froze with a big “WTF?” going through my head. Dr. Boss-Lady must have picked up on my look on bewilderment and panic, because she immediately said: “Oh, I’m sorry—not you.” Then she turned slightly to the woman beside me, and delivered the bad news to her.
When she turned back my way, I flashed her the money and said, “I’m just here to give you this.” She gave me a smile and a pat, and I was off on my way. I was happy with my boss-lady doctor, delighted that I wasn’t actually the one who needed to bring my partner for testing, and also more than a bit amused that this misgiving of information was seen as no big deal.