As with most things in life, people like to focus on the positives of pregnancy. The tiny fingers and toes, the baby shower, the nursery. No one wants to discuss the lab tests, the doctor’s appointments, the inevitable bloating, and the too-real chance you’ll pee a little when you laugh. No one wants to tell you that one of the most challenging aspects of pregnancy has nothing to do with birth and everything to do with relinquishing control. No one — certainly not me — wants to admit they’re afraid of seeing their pregnancy specialist.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was a mixture of thrilled and terrified. Everything about the life I’d built would change — my marriage, my career, my friendships, my routine and, hell, even my jean size. To cope, I did what every red-blooded Millennial would do: I Googled it. I wanted to learn everything about pregnancy, from what to expect in the first trimester to how to set up the perfect registry. But hours of sifting through articles and watching vlogs on YouTube only left me feeling more anxious and afraid. Unlike friends and family, strangers on the internet have no qualms about telling you everything that could go wrong. Hyperemesis gravidarum. Prenatal depression. Congenital disorders. By the end of my research, I had accepted the fact that I’d have to get multiple blood tests (despite my fear of needles) and that I’d most likely poop on the delivery table during vaginal birth. What I wasn’t prepared for was that I was pregnant with twins, and, as a result, I’d have to see a male pregnancy specialist for my high-risk pregnancy.
Throughout my adult life, I’d made it a point to choose women doctors across all medical fields. I’d had less-than-stellar experiences with men as a kid — my primary doctor’s comments about my weight ravaged my self-esteem, and I was convinced my first therapist invested more attention to his tie-dye sock collection than he gave to my anxiety-fueled eating disorder — and I felt that women might better understand my emotions and my body. So, I felt upset, almost defeated, when my trusted OB/GYN casually told me that in addition to seeing her, I’d be seeing a male specialist. She didn’t list his qualifications or what to expect at our appointments; she just handed me the referral slip and said to contact his office to schedule an appointment. No discussion, no alternatives, no debate — this is how things were going to go.
My situation wasn’t uncommon, nor were my fears. A survey conducted by associate professors Marifran Mattson and Maria Braun found that approximately two-thirds of women were anxious about their gynecologist’s gender, Verywell Health reports. This also rang true amongst my social circle.
Despite the decline of male gynecologists in the United States over the past 40 years, many women I know have seen one, either by choice or necessity. While some shared great experiences, others told me horror stories. One woman said her male doctor joked about her sexual history. Another said her doctor left her naked and exposed with not so much as a paper cloth to cover her genitals or breasts on the examination table throughout the entire appointment; he also invited a staffer to observe without her consent.
Unfortunately, not everyone has a choice when it comes to selecting their doctor. Debbie Martinez, who was diagnosed with endometriosis, said the only specialists she could find in her state were at least an hour from her home and were all men. “I have sexual trauma in my past, so it’s part of the reason it gives me a lot of anxiety when someone foreign sticks fingers in my vagina,” she told me. “I got really, really nervous that I was going to have to see a man. It was actually a pretty big debate.”
After intensive research, Martinez said she decided to “suck it up” and go through with the appointment with a male doctor because she realized there was “no other option.” Thankfully, she said her doctor genuinely listens to her concern and does whatever he can to make her feel comfortable, such as having women nurses perform the majority of the invasive testing.
I had no idea what to expect from my first visit. I hadn’t researched high-risk pregnancies. I hadn’t even thought twins were an option! Did this mean my health and my babies’ health were in jeopardy? What kinds of tests was he going to run? Would he perform a pap smear just like my OB/GYN had at our first appointment? Would he allow my husband into the room? Instead of calling and asking for answers, I spiraled. I convinced myself that everything that could go wrong would. This man wouldn’t understand me, he wouldn’t be as warm or as funny as my OB/GYN, his views would be too dated, and he was, undoubtedly, going to tell me that I was a lost cause.
But my worst fears were unfounded.
Of course, that doesn’t mean some of my fears weren’t true. My male pregnancy doctor does always introduce himself as if it’s the first time we’ve met, which is annoying and seems out of touch. He asked my husband and I whether we want “princesses” or “little boys” (yikes). And, unlike my OB/GYN, this doctor genuinely believes that pregnant women should stay off their feet as much as possible (no thank you). But other than that, the appointments haven’t been nearly as terrible as I anticipated: Women take my vitals and perform both the transvaginal and abdominal ultrasounds. In fact, the specialist only sees us for about five minutes at the end of each appointment to recap and answer any lingering questions.
Is he the doctor I would have selected given a choice? Probably not, but he came highly recommended, is close in proximity to my OB/GYN and the hospital where we plan to deliver, and he hasn’t done anything to make me feel too uncomfortable (yet). I trust his staff, and I feel well taken care of during my visits. (Of course, I 100% believe women should advocate for themselves and find a doctor who best suits their needs. I’m in no way saying you should settle.)
However, the real reason I overcame my anxiety has almost had nothing to do with him. As I sat in the waiting room for my first appointment, I realized that if I were going to make it through the next six months, I’d have to learn a vital lesson: In pregnancy, as with parenting, there are so many things that aren’t your fist choice. Things that aren’t the ideal, or that aren’t going to go according to plan. I have to learn to be OK with that.
My kids are going to get sick, no matter how many vaccines they get or how many fruits and vegetables I feed them. They’re going to fall and get hurt on the playground, have their hearts broken, probably get fired at some point. Some things will go smoothly, while others will, inevitably, go off the rails. And through it all, the most I can do for my children is to show them I love them in the best way I know how.
I’ll always be someone who wants to research as much as possible before making a decision, just as I’ll always have a desire for things to be “perfect.” Ultimately, though, I can’t let my holdups or my anxieties about the unknown prevent myself, or my kids, from living a fulfilling life.
And if seeing a male pregnancy specialist is what it takes to safely start the next chapter of my life — one filled with sleepless nights, spit-up on my favorite shirts, and baby giggles — then that’s precisely what I’m doing.