Monday Jun 24

ClairePonders Claire Polders grew up in the Netherlands and currently roams the world. She’s the author of four novels in Dutch and co-author of one novel for younger readers (A Whale in Paris, Atheneum / Simon&Schuster, 2018). Her short prose is published wherever it is appreciated. Read more of her work online here.  


Double Life

I felt vulnerable, as anyone would when lying half undressed on a table with their legs spread in metal stirrups and the hands of a stranger touching them, their labia, their cervixmy body.

Try to relax,the doctor said.

The voice sounded low for a womans, yet the jaw line was definitely feminine. Fine hair was cropped short and exposed delicate earlobes. Shoulders seemed to be on the broad side. Did this person look trustworthy?

Try not to squeeze,the doctor said.

I closed my eyes and only opened them when sudden sun flooded the examination room. Upon my arrival at the healthcare center, it had rained.

The doctor, although frowning in concentration, had an indisputably kind face. The hands touching me felt steady and cool. Competent. And yet I lay there, frustrated and getting angry: I couldnt tell whether the owner of these hands was a man or a woman, and that ambiguity bothered me. It was my right as a vulnerable patient, I believed, to possess at least that certainty. I wanted to know who was touching me, what kind of person. 

Almost done,the doctor said. Breathe.

The tag on the unisex uniform showed no first name, as though to confuse me on purpose. I felt ashamed of having that thought, yet that shame didnt stop me from having the thought more than once. The room was heavy with the smell of antiseptic. I didnt know what to expect, how to judge. 

When the doctor said about seven weeksand changed my pee-stick-based suspicion into an undeniable fact, I felt as though I were falling. Off the green-papered gurney, out of my life.

The doctor looked at me as though to gauge my reaction. I tried to keep my expression neutral, unwilling to be readable, yet I had to quickly wipe some stupid tears from my eyes. Stupid because inexplicable, tears from neither joy nor fear.

Considering your medical history,the doctor said, I recommend a transvaginal ultrasound to check everything. It will also help me date your pregnancy more accurately.The doctor waited for my response, then added. Its completely safe.

From the cracked window came the shouts of children playing. Boys and girls who raised their voices to assert their existence.

Will an ultrasound reveal . . . the gender?

The doctor smiledin a mocking way? No. At this stage of gestation, we cannot see the gender, but the procedure will show us a heartbeat.

I nodded and agreed to go ahead. There was something beautiful about watching sound.

As the doctor inserted a probe into my uterus and observed my insides on the screen, I observed the doctor. Could be that he/she/they was a transgender in transition. Or an androgynous person who liked the status quo. Or someone who was largely unaware of the doubt their appearance caused in others. There were no family pictures on the wall.

I fought it as much as I could, but the doctors competent hands began to feel cool with indifference.

This is the gestational sac”—the doctor pointed at the screen—“and this is the yolk sac.

Really? To me it was all blurry vagueness. Clouds once again obscured the sun.

I considered asking the doctor how they identified, but I didnt want to embarrass myself and be on the wrong side of things. I didnt want to be rude. Identity, were told, is mostly a private matter. Bringing up a persons gender is like pointing out a flaw: Youre not clear enough, youre leading a double life. Then again, if the mixed signals were intentional, meant to destabilize a vulnerable patient like me, I had the right to object.

Thats all,the doctor said. You may get dressed.” 

I pulled up my slacks in rage. I wanted my life to be easier. I wanted to know how to correctly refer to my doctor. I wanted to understand my missing response to what was growing inside of me. Pregnant women ought to be happy or horrified, were told. Not indecisive. Not something in between.

Fully dressed again, I sat down in front of the desk. The doctor was talking to me, but I had trouble listening, and when the flow of words stopped, I asked only one question. Is everything okay?

Yes. You and the fetus are healthy.

I cried, immensely grateful for the doctors choice of words, for the neutrality I had previously mis-imagined as indifference. I wasnt ready for anyone to tell me that my babywas doing fine. 

It seemed almost logical now that so far I had no clear feelings about becoming a motherthere was no child yet, no boy or girl or they. There was only potential, the possibility for growth.

On the way out, the doctor handed me a brochure about additional screening tests and options for unplanned pregnancies. How I wished, then, that I could be as neutral and accepting as that doctor. Feeling vulnerable is no excuse.

The rain was falling again, and as I waited in the hall for it to cease, I smiled through my tears. The weather made me think of the Breton expression: Il fait beau plusieurs fois par jour. The weather is good multiple times a day.