At my 36-week doctor's appointment, I mentioned that my left hand was going numb and tingly. Although my blood pressure was still well within the normal range, I was terrified that this could be a sign of an impending stroke or another serious health problem.
"Oh don't worry about that," said the doctor. "It's only carpel tunnel syndrome."
As a knitter, not to mention someone whose livelihood depends on being able to use a computer keyboard for 5+ hours day, every day, the words "only" and "carpel tunnel syndrome" do not belong in the same sentence. It is the most dreaded condition that a modern-day office worker (and knitter) can get as it is debilitating, difficult and sometimes impossible to treat, and virtually invisible to the naked eye leading to many people questioning the veracity of such a claim.
Fortunately J is the king of internet research and once we got home he managed in a short period of time to access several legitimate sites that explained that not only was carpel tunnel a common condition in pregnant women (estimates range from 20 to 60 per cent of all pregnant women), in the overwhelming majority of cases it was a temporary condition which disappeared after delivery. I started putting out questions to other mothers found that this did seem to be the case. Even if they hadn't experienced it themselves they knew other women who had and yes, except for one case where there were other underlying medical issues, it did disappear shortly after giving birth.
I'm determined to compile a list of 'secret pregnant women's business' as even for someone who reads all the books, there are many surprises en route and something that is commonplace to doctors and midwives can be both disconcerting and terrifying for a first-time pregnant woman. And as it is something that most of us only go through a handful of times, it's hard to know what is 'normal' and what isn't, and when one needs to push for additional medical testing or not.
For instance we are all told that fatigue is a normal part of pregnancy. Especially if you are older or overweight. But how much fatigue is normal?
I now know from bitter experience that being terrified to drive because you are worried about falling asleep at the wheel in the middle of the day is not normal. In my and another woman's case it was a sign of iron deficiency which wasn't picked up early enough. After I found out about the iron deficiency I let all my fellow pregnant friends know. One woman who had identical symptoms to me but was much earlier into her pregnancy, asked her obstetrician at the 20-week appointment for a blood test. He refused, saying it was done at 28 weeks. She persisted and talked her GP into ordering the test. Sure enough, she already had a serious iron deficiency which would have got worse - and impeded on her health and well-being for an additional 2 months - if she hadn't been confident enough to advocate on her own behalf.
I have since found out that around half of all pregnant women experience an iron deficiency, generally because their body has to produce an additional 10% of red blood cells for the baby and placenta, and because many pregnant women find it impossible to eat even their usual portions of red meat during the first trimester due to morning sickness. And about 20 per cent of women already have an iron deficiency before they even get pregnant! So why it is not automatically checked until the 28th week of pregnancy is beyond me.
Another friend's fatigue turned out to be linked to an undiagnosed brain tumour but fortunately this is a far less common condition.
Then there is learning what is considered 'normal' waiting times to see medical specialists during pregnancy. I've learnt that I may as well write off at least half a day when I go for a hospital appointment as I have never had to wait less than an hour to see a doctor, whatever the official appointment time may be (but if I don't turn up on time I lose my appointment!) And lest anyone reading this thinks that things are better in the private system, well in Australia they aren't. The only thing about the private system is that you get to see the same doctor each time but if you go into labour at an inconvenient time - say on on a weekend or public holiday, for example - there is a good chance that another doctor will be delivering your baby in the end anyway.
I had one appointment with a private doctor and quickly decided that if I was going to have to wait for hours and be treated like a number I may as well not pay through the nose for the privileged. Public or private, most obstetricians have trouble keeping their scheduled appointments because their other patients keep on going into labour and they must attend them. It's the nature of their work. We understand this. But at least in the public system I have never suffered the ignominy of having my appointment interrupted so the doctor can take a phone call regarding a payment on his American Express credit card (I have no problems with appointments being interrupted so the doctor can discuss treatment options for a patient who has turned up in emergency with a dangerously high blood pressure level or who has to run off to attend a birth). And the parking fees at my top-rated suburban-based public hospital are less per day than the fees charged each hour in East Melbourne.
Actually the more I think about it, the more I wonder why anyone would pay for the privileged of giving birth in a small private hospital where if anything goes wrong they or the baby will end up being rushed to one of the big public hospitals that have all the facilities on tap for emergency care. I like the fact that if anything goes wrong, I'll be less than a minute from some of the best neonatal beds and emergency facilities in the country; at the end of the day this is far more important to me than swish decor. But maybe it's just me.