First Antenatal Visit: Gender issues, limited office hours, and language problems

Prior to the first visit, Lisa called to make an appointment at a prenatal clinic close to our home. Since we wouldn’t meet them for two more weeks, she asked them about what types of food she can and can’t eat while pregnant.

They responded by saying to visit Livsmedelsverket to see the latest food recommendations.

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As a fatherhood researcher that focuses on child health, you might be surprised to learn that I never thought about my research when my girlfriend and I went to our first antenatal visit.

All I could think about was how nervous I was, how nervous she was, and what information we might glean from attending.

So, pure usual, I nervously coughed, hacking out a lung, before entering the building and climbing the stairs.

We had picked a prenatal clinic close to our home, figuring that would be the best option–convenience always has its rewards. It happened to be a public clinic, although I’m not so sure how important that is?

We walked in and patiently waiting in the lounge area for our names to be called. Within minutes, we heard the beckoning sounds of an older, albeit experienced, midwife: “Lisa,” she announced.

We sprung up. She exchanged some quick words with Lisa while shaking her hand. No eye contact was exchanged in my direction, so I hopped in and held out my hand. She shook it, while turning her head, preparing to walk back to her office.

She didn’t even ask my name, I thought. My research came flooding into my mind. It was certainly one thing to read about the misfortune of others, and quite another to experience gender discrimination. My first encounter with a medical profession about my changing role from man and partner to father, and I’m met with an abrupt non-introduction. Shit!

I can’t ever be too judgmental though. After all, I don’t speak much Swedish, so perhaps I need to be more engaged in the conversation in order to garner more attention. Fair enough.

We meandered back to her office, and took two seats opposite the midwife. We asked if it was ok to speak in English, but that Swedish was fine, especially for more complicated questions. The midwife happily agreed, and in shyness, excused her “bad” English. It wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I would call it quite good, and so we both reassured her.

She began typing on her computer before asking “Lisa, can you please tell me your email? I’d like to send you some parenting information and information about your upcoming visits.”

Lisa did so. After a couple of other short exchanges with Lisa, such as, what do you do for a living and other small talk, the midwife looked over at me and asked “And what is your name? And can you give me your contact information?”

“Do you want my email address too,” I asked.

“No, I just need your phone number in case we can’t reach Lisa,” she replied.

What the hell! I thought. Why can’t I also be emailed the same information? Oh well, Lisa will just forward the email to me. I gave her my phone number.

Then she proceeded to ask Lisa several questions about her drinking and smoking habits via completing some survey forms.

While Lisa completed the forms I asked, “what are these forms for?”

“Oh, to see if there are any drinking or smoking problems. If so, then we like to recommend places where people can see support, since it’s not healthy to smoke or drink when you’re pregnant,” the midwife politely replied.

So many thoughts went through my head. So my drinking and smoking habits don’t matter for the health of the baby? What if I was an alcoholic–would it benefit my child and the mother, as well as myself, if I also got some support for my habits? Isn’t second-hand smoke not ideal? Can’t I get support if I need it?

It was hard to raise these issues though, since I don’t smoke and only occasionally drink.

“How much is too much drinking during early pregnancy?,” I asked questioningly. I was actually interested in this answer, because I have heard some conflicting reports on if drinking during the first 6 weeks of pregnancy can hurt the baby (plus I had time to kill while Lisa completed the forms).

“Oh, Lisa’s amount is fine,” she said looking at Lisa’s drinking record (side note–the survey asks how much you drink, on average, over the past year–not specifically on how much you’ve been drinking while pregnant).

Her immediate and thoughtless answer really upset me. She clearly hadn’t listened to what my question was, and instead was just trying to calm me from being worried about drinking while pregnant by giving me a non-descript answer. Now I need to inquire more.

I lied (but she doesn’t know that). “Lisa has been doing a lot of drinking since she’s been pregnant. Way more than before being pregnant because of different end of the year parties. So I’m wondering if she has been having too much.”

“No, no, she’s fine,” the midwife answered back quickly.

What the fuck! You didn’t even ask me how much she’d been drinking while pregnant, and yet you can still give an answer basically saying there is no limit to how much she could have drank? I thought, while also simultaneously thinking Oh crap, now Lisa is mad because I just made her sound like she drinks a lot. Maybe I should only stick to issues that actually matter to us, because I’m clearly not getting medical answers.

The visit continued, discussing various issues, like how often we’d come, what week we were in, and other topics we had questions about–like parenting classes in English and their hours of operation.

Around 40 minutes into the meeting, and after me asking several questions to show that I’m engaged in the conversation, the midwife finally asks me “what do you do for a living?”

Now I’m a bit embarrassed. “I research father involvement in the child health field.”

“Oh that’s interesting,” she responded hesitantly. “I have two thoughts about fathers coming here, but maybe it’s because I’m old. Either they need to work and so they can’t come here, or they come here because they are controlling of their partner.”

Wait. What the hell? Did I just hear what I thought I heard? Was she accusing me of being controlling, or just men in general? I can’t be here because I’m interested in my pregnancy? I can’t be here because I want to learn and be involved?  I can’t be here to support my partner in pregnancy? I can’t be here because I want to experience my work first hand? I don’t believe it. Quick, look at Lisa and see if she heard the same thing…..She did, she heard the same thing. 

Well that shut me up. I am no longer engaged in the conversation. I’m not upset, outwardly, but I’ll just want her finish up the visit, so we can get out of there.

The rest of the conversation was pleasant, and we finished about 15-20 minutes later, after talking the ultrasound visit, the various types of tests you could get at that visit, and the prenatal parenting classes.

To their credit, she stated that I could get an interpreter for the parenting classes and that they were going to start up their first fathers’ group class ever, even if she said that reluctantly.

On the way home Lisa started the conversation, “did you hear what she said about fathers?”

“How could I not?,” I replied with disgust.

After a short conversation at home, we decided the closest antenatal clinic isn’t necessarily the best. Not only were there obvious gender issues (especially since both Lisa and me want both of us to be there as often as we can), but there were other problems too–for example, not having parenting classes in English and having limited office hours. Office hours definitely matter for commuting expectant parents, because we need early morning or evening hours. 3pm doesn’t work when you work in another city.

Luckily, this hasn’t deterred me from being involved with my partners and my pregnancy. But it certainly didn’t encourage me to be involved with the child health field. For the record, Lisa didn’t have any problems, and felt ok continuing to go there for her sake, but not for mine. Luckily I have a very supportive partner (plus she would also like a place with longer opening hours).

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