Katie Steedly Curling, PhD, writer & guest blogger for TSF, describes her first experience with a pelvic ultrasound and reflects on this “normal” part of womanhood.
A Big Deal
My first pelvic ultrasound occurred when I was 37 at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I was participating in a Turner Syndrome study, and it was a big deal for me. I knew the ultrasound had been prescribed to assess my health, not to evaluate the development of a baby (the typical reason for an ultrasound). Many friends had shared their ultrasound experiences with me over the years, and I had heard about how weird it was to have jelly rubbed all over your abdomen. I had seen pictures and had body parts pointed out. I had felt the absolute joy of soon-to-be parents seeing life develop. Ultrasounds are a normal part of pregnancy, and, even though I was not pregnant, this exam would be my chance to experience something “normal.” I felt like I was joining the club of women who do normal woman things, like have ultrasounds.
The nurse called me into the examining room and gave me a gown and general instructions. She was very direct and matter of fact, not really joining in my mild excitement. My questions seemed to annoy her, as if she did not understand why I did not completely understand what was about to happen. I imagined she was thinking, “Everyone else knows the drill; why don’t you?” After she left the room, I put on the gown and lay down. She returned, applied warm jelly to my abdomen, and then began to firmly press the warm ultrasound hammer in a steady, circular motion. After what could have been 15 minutes or 15 hours, the exam ended; it all runs together when I think back to the thoughts rushing through my head and the tidal wave of emotion in my stomach. I asked the nurse if everything was alright, and she replied, “The doctor will interpret all results for you” before leaving the room. I wiped the now cold jelly off my abdomen, got dressed, dabbed the tears from my eyes, and headed back to the room I had been staying in for testing that week.
After the Ultrasound
I was shaken. I was finally getting to participate in what I had shared with friends over the years, and it wound up being emotionally painful. The pelvic ultrasound confirmed a reality of infertility that I was not prepared to accept. I felt robbed, angry, sad, and different. Even though I knew there was no baby inside me, somehow the sadness still overwhelmed me. That was surprising. Something I thought would connect me to others wound up separating me.
A Rollercoaster of Emotions
Those recurring feelings of hope and despair, followed by acceptance and anger, felt by people experiencing infertility aren’t really talked about much. I often hear stories in which there is a perfect arc, in which everything is resolved. People who experience infertility either have healthy babies, or there is a linear path to acceptance and happiness.
A Journey of Acceptance
My journey toward acceptance has not been linear; it has been riddled with ups and downs and questions. Some days are better than others; actually, most days are better than others now. Lying on the exam table where I received the pelvic ultrasound, I was unsure acceptance whether would ever happen. I was not sure I would ever really be OK. Would I be swallowed up by “What if?” and “Why me?” Or would I get beyond the sadness and anger? Would I drown in a sea of motherhood platitudes like “You don’t know love until you give birth”? Would my personal definition of motherhood, normal, and love grow, expand, and include me? I am happy to say that today, motherhood, normalcy, and love include me.
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