I used to see a woman gynecologist, and she was great- your basic feminine icon. Smart, pretty, capable: Everything I look for in the people who stare into my nethers. But after she delivered my first baby, I decided to look for a new doctor. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her, I just felt like we weren’t connecting. I got pregnant again fast, just 8 months after our daughter was born, so we had to decide on a new medical practice pretty quickly.
So there I am, pregnant with my second baby and looking for a new doctor, someone who will pull a squalling newborn out of my body, and despite some hesitation, I decide to try out a man doctor this time. My husband Sam and I started looking around for a new OBGYN practice and kept hearing near-cult like recommendations for this one guy in particular. So we attended the first appointment together to see if we liked him and to decide if we should stay for the whole pregnancy.
This new doctor comes into the exam room with a warm handshake and a gentle voice, a head full of blonde hair that is turning a pleasant shade of silver, and the physique of an early morning jogger. Sam and I spend the entire appointment falling in love with him and walk out enamored, melting over the charm of our new relationship; I mean, our new doctor. We tried to act casual but really we wanted to hold hands and squeal over how perfect he was, how smart we were to find him. We were so proud of ourselves for being grown ups who do things like “get recommendations,” and “meet doctors to see if we like them.” But even if he’d been a terrible doctor, we probably wouldn’t have known because the old adage is even more true when you’re pregnant and tired: love is blind, man. And we loved our new gynecologist.
This second baby, our son, gave me a complicated pregnancy. He measured small, way too small every time we checked, which mandated more appointments than a normal pregnancy would. Every week for a couple of months during that long winter, I got an ultrasound of our tiny baby and a few minutes with our doctor. He was always calm, always reassuring, and even though I worried about the baby, I trusted him implicitly,
You can only spend so much time trusting someone with the life of your child before you develop a certain attachment to that person. Like that friend in junior high whose cool status keeps you afloat the social pool, a good doctor feels like a fricking lifeline, like everything you need to survive is wrapped up in that one well-educated person, as long as you hold on tight and never let go, because you’re the best andiloveyousomuch and I’ll do anything you say, doctor, ok?
That’s what a good doctor feels like to me.
Our baby was falling further and further behind on his measurements, and at 37 weeks of pregnancy we decided to induce labor and make sure he was ok in there. So, on a Tuesday morning that January, the sky cold and dark and heavy with winter storm, we drove to the hospital and settled into our delivery room. It wasn’t daybreak yet when my doctor knocked on the door and came in to check on us, easing onto a chair and casually crossing his ankles in front of him. This demeanor was exactly what drew us to him in the first place, by the way: the laid back vibe of a surfer, the calm of a competent person, just a truly good man. He sat peacefully in that hard-backed hospital chair and talked quietly with us, answering questions and even asking to pray for us before we got started. His prayer felt like a quilt fresh out of the dryer, spreading warm and neat over the corners of the room.
Several painful hours later, I delivered my goldfish of a son, my Sammy, four and half pounds of boy squirming like a bundle of bones in my arms. I pressed his papery skin and dark hair against my lips in relief, crying and kissing his furrowed brow. He was fine. Small, but healthy. My doctor grinned at everyone in the room as the baby howled and gulped at the fresh air, announcing that he was absolutely perfect.
He was, of course, he was perfect, but he was also too small to function properly on his own. After spending the afternoon and early evening holding our little Sam and drinking him in, he kept getting taken to the nursery again and again for testing and checks. He couldn’t regulate his temperature, he couldn’t regulate his blood sugar, and he was becoming lethargic as the minutes ticked by. In a whirl of decisions, our baby was suddenly being taken by nurses and doctors and escorted down to the intensive care unit for newborns. We stood behind his rolling crib in the elevator, down six flights of the hospital and two long hallways into the double automatic doors of the NICU, where he was admitted and hooked to IV’s and taken out of our care.
It was just past midnight when the NICU nurses told me to go back up to my room and get some rest. I had given birth just 12 hours earlier but I was rife with adrenaline, swinging wildly between unexplained rage and episodes of incomprehensible outbursts. Sam stretched out on the dad-bed in my recovery room and fell hard asleep, but I sat wide awake in a puddle of sobs, the room empty of our newborn and my body aching to hold my baby.
So I stood up, pulled a pair of sweats over the expanse of mesh underwear and post-delivery mess that was my lower body, gathered my hospital gown around me and marched back down to the NICU by myself at two in the morning. I sat in a rocking chair beside the baby warmer where Sammy slept and stared at him, blurry eyed and a little bit insane.
Sam and I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before the induction, so at this point I had been awake for almost 48 hours. I was out of my mind with worry, in a state of delirium from lack of sleep, and had delivered a baby only hours earlier, hormones crashing through my body now like tiny train wrecks every five minutes.
If it sounds like I’m starting to build a case for myself right now: I am. I just feel like we need to have all the facts straight before the rest of this story is told.
So there I was, rocking back and forth like Rosemary in a hospital gown, waiting until it was time to feed Sammy again. Soon the nurse came in and helped me adjust all the monitors and tubing attached to the baby, and settled him in my arms to nurse. At some point during this breastfeeding I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up to the sound of my name.
“Jess? Are you back here?”
It was him! My hero-doctor! But why is he here? What time is it? Am I actually awake? Why I am wearing snow boots and a hospital gown? Why do I smell so bad?
He whispered again. “Jessie, how are you? I looked for you upstairs but you weren’t in your room, so I thought I would check down here.”
He started to pull another chair close to mine and that’s when I realized that both of my breasts were hanging out of my hospital gown. One dangled precariously over my newborn’s face and one was slung over the nursing pillow like an over-ripe pear. Although this man had seen me completely naked only hours earlier, because for unknown reasons I prefer to deliver my children completely in the nude, I was horrified that he might have seen my boobs just now. I attempted a nonchalant repositioning of the baby’s blankets and pretended like I was completely coherent.
“Hi! I’m here, yeah, hey. Just holding the baby. We’re fine. He’s fine, right? We’re good. Yeah. How are you? What’s up?”
He sat there in his pristine white coat, the smell of his soap and aftershave wafting over me and filling the little room. The fact that I still hadn’t showered since giving birth settled on me like a dirty robe, and I wondered if he could smell the blood and sweat and tears and desperation that seemed to be rolling off my body in sheets.
The worst part of all this is that he was also chewing peppermint gum. He almost always has peppermint gum, and this time the sharp scent of his clean breath drove me to tears. I had never loved anyone more. He sat with me in my filth and delirium for a few minutes and then got up to go finish his rounds. He stepped towards me and gently touched the baby’s head, and leaned down to give me a hug. I breathed in his kindness and hygiene, clinging to him much longer than necessary or really appropriate, silently begging him to never leave. As he tried to stand up, I hugged him a little bit harder and then,
I kissed his neck. Right there, right above his collar, right on his pulse. The most intimate spot you could imagine kissing a professional who is merely trying to do his job; I clung to him like a fan about to get hauled off by security and then in moment of desperate gratefulness and love, probably even with my eyes closed, I gently kissed his neck.
He didn’t even react, of course, generous and wonderful person that he is. He just hugged me back and said he would check on us again soon.
He walked away and into the world, the outside world that existed beyond my insanity and my greasy hair, and I stared down at the bundle of blankets and baby in my arms. I died a thousand sweaty, disgusting, post-partum deaths all over that NICU room as he left, the scent of freshly showered hair, laundered white coat and minty breath trailing through the air like a world I would NEVER inhabit again. I knew I would probably never go back to my old self. I would never be clean again, never not be a person who develops frightening attachments to kind people and then kisses their doctors at six in the morning with their hospital gown hanging wide open. I was that girl now. There was no going back.
Except I did have to go back, many times since then, because he is my doctor. I had to see him 6 weeks later and ask him to insert an IUD, if only to give myself enough time before we had another kid for him to forget what had happened.
That’s why you don’t kiss your gynecologist – because you will have to see them again very soon. Unless you want to break up with your doctor, and start the search all over again for yet another worthy candidate of delivering your babies and checking you annually for any suspicious lumps: don’t kiss them.
It actually sounds really simple when I say it like this, like “don’t kiss your mailman,” or “don’t kiss your accountant;” why would that be hard to remember? But sometimes, when you are very tired, and you’ve just given birth to a brand new human, and you haven’t showered in days, and you are delirious with emotions, it can be harder than it sounds not to kiss your doctor. Ok? So lay off. And learn from me. They probably hug everybody who just had a baby- so don’t linger, and don’t cling. It won’t end well. You’ll have to see them again in 6 weeks for a check up, your face burning as you wonder if they’ve asked a nurse to accompany them in the exam room just in case you try to get fresh again. Don’t be that guy.
Don’t kiss your gynecologist.