Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pregnant in hell: or, hello my baby

She wasn’t exactly sure when the pain started.

It can be that way, with pain. Doctors always ask, “So. When did it start?” You’re expected to say, at 9:47 a.m. on Monday, April 27.

At first it was just a tickling, a nagging as if she were about to sneeze. But the pain wasn’t there, it was deep down in her belly. Like a bad menstrual cramp, but she’d been done with those for years.

I knew. Even then I knew it wasn’t good.

It took an incredible amount of arm-twisting to get her doctor to even listen to her. When she bled all over the floor in the middle of the night, that changed things, but only briefly.

"When did you bleed?”

”In the middle of the night.”

“What do you mean?"

“I woke up and – I don’t remember, I was half-asleep.”

“How could you bleed in the middle of the night and not remember?

Blood gets some attention, so she was pushed on to the ugly-go-round, the medical machine that whirls a patient around and around until they are sick, then dumps them onto the ground again.

Things like an ultrasound were neat, really, because she never had all this stuff when she was pregnant. Just relax, Mrs. Parker. Cold jelly, sort of like lube, and this “thing” they pressed into her, and it didn’t hurt, not even when they stuck a sort of cold wand inside her, reminding her of being abducted by aliens. She wondered if she were being considered as a hybrid pod, though surely she was too old for that.

Then there was the nausea. When did the nausea start? A flicker, a wisp, and – nearly all the time now. So it had to be digestive. Just digestive, because you could not have more than one thing at the same time, it was medically impossible.

She had to have her gut reamed, well, they called it a colonoscopy and really it wasn’t too bad, though her doctor’s office didn’t call for two months with the referral and she wondered if she would die in the interim. 

“Mrs. Parker, this is just a reminder of your appointment tomorrow with Dr. Samadhi."

“Who’s Dr. Samadhi?”

“He's the gastroenterologist. Didn't your doctor's office call you with the appointment date?”


“But they made the appointment with us two months ago. Can you explain this to me?”

“No, but I called them twice to ask what was going on and they said, don’t call us any more, we will let you know.”

Did they let you know?”

Of course! I heard about the appointment months ago and just ignored it. Happens all the time!

So OK, the doctor says, the colonoscopy was clear, the ultrasound was clear, so - .

The doctor shrugged like the dog in the Grinch cartoon, a puzzled look on her face.

So she did what she wasn’t supposed to do and looked on the internet and found 147 potential causes for abdominal pain. Her doctor had checked off two and sent her home.

But the pain. It escalated, something awful, and she was reminded of Rosemary’s Baby and the demon pain dismissed by Rosemary’s doctor during her macabre pregnancy.

It was then that the pain, incessant now (the doctor told her to take a Tylenol) began to work on her, to work on her mind and her spirit.

She began to be blown off-course by this thing, and started to think there was “something” in there.

It couldn’t be a baby, hah! Couldn’t even be a tumor, since that possibility had been  “ruled out” conclusively by machinery. The doctor said she was sure it wasn’t cancer because she looked at her cervix and it looked normal. Not inside her uterus, which she was sure was “fine” because the ultrasound was “fine”.

She was beginning to hate that word “fine”.

She gave up and cadged Tylenol 3 from her husband, sat for hours in front of her computer with an ancient electric heating pad pressed to her belly (covered with a fuzzy Winnie-the-Pooh blankie to keep it in place).

Undressing one night, she was horrified. The skin on her lower abdomen was burned raw, almost branded. The 30-year-old heating pad was something like an old electric chair, she guessed, thinking of that awful scene in The Green Mile where the man is fried alive. But I'd do it all again to get some relief.

She was supposed to be seeing a gynaecologist, but the doctor’s office didn’t call, and didn’t call, and didn’t call. She felt sick and one night broke down and screamed and cried, certain she had cancer and no one cared or would ever bother to treat it.

She could dangle on forever until she died, probably horribly. Meantime the pain, exactly like a furious, deadly menstrual cramp, just escalated until it took over her every waking minute.

“I really don’t think I should give you any painkillers,” the doctor said. “The potential for abuse is just too great.”

“I’ve never abused painkillers.” This was a lie. She had abused painkillers nearly 25 years ago, then stopped and never again took a single unregulated pill.

“It says so on your chart.”

“I’m in pain all the time now. I can’t – “

“Just take a walk. Push on your – here, like – “ She pushed her fingers into her lower abdomen, and it reminded her of volleyball, the way your fingers were supposed to be.

“I’ve done that.”

“Well, can’t you try something else?”

Trudging out of the doctor’s office, the gynaecologist appointment felt like a sort of myth, not even set up yet, or, more likely, set up already, but they just weren’t going to phone her to tell her WHEN, so that she had some sort of date, something to hold on to. She might even miss it and have to start all over again.

It was then, in the evening, that she felt the flicker.

It was the weirdest thing. She was watching TV and knitting something and relaxing in a Tylenol 3 haze, or trying to, with the by-then-constant heating pad pressed to her lower abdomen. The skin had grown tougher now, almost like a thin layer of scar tissue to protect her against electric burns.

A flicker. Nothing, really, a digestive thing probably, except it was dead-centre and low down in her uterus, where they told her the pain wasn't because they still wanted it to be a gastrointestinal issue, something to be remedied with a Tums.

She ignored it, but it came and went, and after a while it was like a sort of tiny fetal wiggle. She hated to think what it might be: could a tumor squirm and move about? The first time she felt the baby move when she was pregnant was thrilling, but that was more of a – what? At least she knew that it was human.

Maybe she could kill it. By this time she was so unhinged by the pain, the pain that didn’t really exist because the doctor wouldn’t give her anything to help her tolerate it, that she began to come up with ideas, maybe thrusting one of her knitting needles up inside herself in that old-fashioned, tried-and-true method of self-induced abortion.

If she took a very hot bath, would it be cooked? It wiggled and jumped harder as the months went by. Still nothing from the gynecologist, no call, although by now her nerves were as raw as her abdomen, with that butcher-shop feeling, blood leaking out of brown paper.

Then it began to actually kick.

She couldn’t go back to the doctor. The doctor wouldn’t even listen to her heart, let alone look at her swollen abdomen or believe something was “in there”. Something alive.

Of course she couldn’t tell friends, tell family, tell anybody, so if anyone phoned her or met her on the street and asked her how she was doing, she carolled, “Oh, fine,” in that cheerful studied way she had. She’d been doing it for years.

Alone with her illness, her mind shrank back and retreated. She walked robotically through her days. As with any illness, not that this was a real illness, there were good days and bad days. Some days she felt better: not “ALL better”, as people usually interpret the word, but “relatively better”. Unlike Rosemary devouring nearly-raw steak, however, she wanted fish.

They sat in a restaurant one night.

“Hon, you don’t eat sushi.”

“I do now.” She attacked her plate like a scavenger.

He looked at her, amazed. “Didn’t you wear that dress when you were – “

Oh yes, twenty years ago! But wasn’t it back in style again? A sort of smock that tied in back and accommodated her burgeoning belly.

But of course he noticed, and they got in a fight about it, with him shouting at her, don’t you even care about your health?

“No. Because nobody else does either.”

“That’s bullshit. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. How can you accuse us of not caring? I can’t believe how selfish you are.”

He bullied her back to the doctor’s office. Four months had passed and there was no appointment for a gynecologist, she was still waiting. The doctor said, these things take time. They’re backlogged, they’re busy. You’re a low-priority case.

“But what if it’s already been booked and I just don’t know about it? What if you haven’t even bothered to tell me? Look, this happened before and I came damn near to missing the appointment altogether.”

Stony silence from the doctor.

"Please, listen to me, please, somebody has to, nobody gives a fuck about the fact that I am about to die!"

An incredulous look, like she had just called her a cunt. The doctor closed her file and just sat looking at her until she left.

In her file, she had written only three words: out of control.

So, no meds, no nothing. Seven months after her initial visit to the doctor, during which she stole codeine from her husband to make life bearable, and nearly undone from grief and stress, she looked in the mirror nude and saw it kicking, her belly rippling from the force of piston legs and tiny little feet.

BUT HOW CAN THIS BE? What is this thing, or did I somehow absorb my twin and it came back to life?

One day, suicidal, she decided to jump off the Lion’s Gate Bridge and was about to leave to do it when the phone rang.

“This is just to remind you about your appointment tomorrow with Dr. Gage.”

“Dr. Gage?”

“Dr. Gage. The gynaecologist.”

“But I didn’t hear anything about this appointment from my doctor.”

“You should have. They set this up six months ago. They should have told you then."

"I didn't hear anything."

"You should have asked them about it.”

"I tried to, but when I - "


So she went to this Dr. Gage, a man unfortunately, an older man, much older, a pee-smelling stale old man with a saggy hanging face like Peter O’Toole. His vein-bulging hands doddered and clumsed, and it was these hands that were soon going to touch her body, to pry her private parts open.

“You’re going to need an x-ray,” he said in a European accent. She wondered if he had changed his name.

An x-ray? Nobody took x-rays any more. They were like something out of an old comic book. Low-tech. If high-tech equipment was available, it had to be used, simply because it was there. And if it cost more, it had to be “better”.

But oh, hey, an x-ray, she’d had THOSE before, years ago when she thought she had TB. This office seemed like something from the 1950s, and when he came back with this transparency-thing in his hands he slapped it up on a light-screen to have a look.

Holy Hannah.

That’s what he said.

Holy Hannah.

She couldn’t say anything at all. For inside her, plain as day, plain as the nose on her face, was

It was a frog.

Stunned, the doctor murmured, “Frog. Frog.”

“Jesus, how did that – “

“Mrs. Parker, have you been inserting objects into your vagina?”


"Because the practice is not unknown. Especially among psychiatric patients." 

He practically threw her down on the examining table and felt her belly, an even lower-tech thing to do and nearly unheard-of by now.

“Mein Gott, it's alive," he whispered.

You don’t want to hear a doctor say that, but that’s what he said.

You mean there’s a live frog inside me?”

“Mrs. Parker, I’m sure this can be explained.”


“Don’t be hysterical. We can do a D and C.”

“But it’s huge! How are you going to get it out?” The frog was positioned head-up, breech. Would they have to pull it out by the legs?

She had an awful thought: frog legs, aren’t they good to eat? Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal.

The operation was like something out of Ben Casey, the ether mask, the clanking, the cries of “nurse!”. Now she knew she had gone mad. She just wanted this THING out of her once and for all. But when she came around, the doctor did not have a good look on his face.

"I'm sorry."


"You haemorrhaged. We had to stop.”


“Stop. Frog didn’t want to come out. And you were allergic to the anaesthetic. It would have killed you.”

She looked up into his face, abject.

“Kill me.”

“Nonsense. We’ll take a wait-and-see approach. This can be monitored, managed...”

“Oh, you mean LOTS of people have live frogs stuck in their uterus?”

“No, but its rate of growth seems to have slowed. We’ll learn a lot from this, Mrs. Parker. It’s a medical opportunity. Even something of a miracle.”

She wondered if he hankered to be on one of those awful reality shows on TLC, the ones that celebrated monstrous freaks as “miracles”.  “Maybe I should just donate my body to science. I mean, NOW.”

They sent her home, still huge and wriggling inside. It would be years until the lawsuit, when her husband discovered by accident that they never intended to do the D and C, that they wanted to study her, to see how far it would go.

She could feel something, as if the frog were trying to straighten its legs or even jump. It must be enormous, packed inside her with its legs folded up.

She had a demonish thought: when she was a little girl, or maybe once last year at the lake, she went swimming, and somehow a tadpole - . No. It wasn’t possible.

Though pain assaulted her all day, at night she could blessedly crash into oblivion. Then came a night.

She just thought she had to go to the bathroom. Something warm and wet between the legs: she was horrified she’d had an accident. Then she felt something slimy begin to violently jerk and wriggle.

Staggering to the washroom, she sat down on the toilet gripping the seat on both sides, listening as the blood fell in slimy plops, moaning and howling and praying as she waited for the horrific miracle to begin.