“Beep. Beep. Beep. Crrrshhh, eeeeet.”
Noise from a construction zone fills the sterile white room. I grip the stirrups attached to the exam table. I move them back and forth, one in each hand, pretending to maneuver the claw of digger in and out of a giant hole. Rob, seated in a chair on the opposite wall, reluctantly smirks and rolls his eyes. Nonetheless, he snaps a picture with his phone and sends it to my family. My belly is still flat, but I’m smiling: an indication that I have made it through first trimester.
I’ve been weighed by the nurse, my vitals have been taken, and now I sit on the exam table fully dressed. She never offered me a gown and as we take stock of the room, we realize there’s no ultrasound machine in sight. We’ve been looking forward to seeing Big Snack (our nickname for my unborn baby) on the big screen for four weeks and now we realize we might have to wait. This is our second appointment with the doctor; I am fourteen weeks pregnant.
My digger game is cut short by a soft tap on the thick wooden door of the exam room. I quickly release the stirrups, not wanting to give away my immaturity as I continue on this very serious life event. The doctor walks in and greets us warmly, asking what we’ve been reading lately before.
At his request, I lean back onto the exam table and I raise my shirt to expose my flat but pregnant belly. From his pocket, he removes a handheld fetal heart rate monitoring device. He applies the cold goo and turns on the monitor, moving the wand across my lower abdomen.
A stillness settles over the room and the three of us strain our ears in anticipation of the rapid “womp womp womp” of my baby’s heartbeat. While I’m overjoyed to hear anything that confirms a sign of life, the doctor concentrates with a stoic face, counting the heartbeat. A smile crosses his lips and lights up his eyes, which confirms normalcy. He asks us to meet him in his office.
The results of the first trimester screen are normal, which Rob and I are relieved to hear. Our next ultrasound will be at 20 weeks, during which we’ll find out the sex of the baby. He runs through a list of physical ailments to expect during the second trimester and asks us if we have any questions. I decide to ask the loaded question to which I already know the answer: “What’s your opinion about alcohol consumption during pregnancy?”
The week prior, when my nausea finally subsided and I felt the itch to try a sip or two of Rob’s beer, I embarked on a Google journey to determine how much alcohol, if any, is safe to consume during pregnancy. I knew about the dangers of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and excessive consumption, but wanted to know more about the anecdotal tales I had heard about women having a glass or two of wine a week starting in the second trimester. Where was the line between safe and unsafe consumption levels?
My search yielded clear opinions from the medical and government authorities, which hold strict “no” stances about any kind of consumption; however, the scientific evidence to back up this claim was not so clear. Instead of finding phrases like, “it’s not safe,” I found phrases like “it’s not been proven safe.” I also came across varying blogs and lifestyle websites that offered different interpretations of the rules. The results of my search were not as clear cut as I would have liked. I was not confident in my ability to make an informed decision.
To my question, the doctor replied: “Do you want the long answer? Do you have a minute?”
Of course we have time. Lay it on straight, Doc.
He gives me the rundown about thresholds, ethical medical studies, and the harmful effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He says that science hasn’t revealed enough concrete information about the effects of low amounts of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Since they don’t know where the line lies between levels of safe and unsafe consumption, they cannot recommend or endorse any amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. However, something in his tone and facial expressions, which I can’t quite pinpoint, made me feel at ease. He wasn’t pointing a stern finger at me, he wasn’t scaring me sober. Reading between the lines of scientific reason, I sensed the wiggle room.