By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I love my gynecologist. She’s smart, she’s about my age, and like me, she’s childfree. So, yes, I believe she “gets” me.
That’s why it continues to gall me that her office still doesn’t “get” how devastating each of my visits are. I make a point of not making eye contact with anyone else in the waiting room. I don’t want to know—I don’t want the possibility of sensing—that the woman sitting across the room from me is in the full bloom of pregnancy. I also don’t want to know if the woman four seats over is falling apart because she’s about to get confirmation that another round of fertility treatments has failed to produce a longed-for baby. Honestly, I have enough on my plate just keeping my own emotions in check as I telepathically beg the nurse to call my name next.
And I’m pretty successful until I walk past the gatekeeper and enter the hallway where I’m once again faced with The Wall.
Technically, it’s one long wall with three bulletin boards overloaded with healthy baby and family photos. Hello, knife to the heart! There’s no avoiding it. It’s literally IN MY FACE as I make my way to the scale, then to the ladies’ room, then back into the hallway and to the exam room. I get one last look as I head out, and I typically manage to hold myself together as I ride down the elevator (sunglasses on, just in case), exit the building into the glaring sunlight, and all but crawl into my car where I let it all go.
Failure. Loser. Incomplete Woman. Freak of Nature. These are all the labels I give myself as I process my annual confrontation with The Wall.
With this being National Infertility Awareness Week, I wish my doctor and her staff could be more, well, aware. For the sign on their office does not read “Health Care for Mommies Only” or “Doctor of Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women”. It’s supposed to be an office that provides health care for all women. Although my reproductive system may have exceeded its best if used by date, I am still going in for my routine physical checkups, I continue to be a paying customer, and (dangit) I’d like to be represented on The Wall.
So, here are my suggestions:
- In the waiting room, post images of a variety of women, such as prints of famous works of art from different eras. Maybe one is a classic Mary Cassatt mother and child painting (By the way, did you know Cassatt was childfree?), then choose from the abundance of works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Berthe Morisot, or Annie Leibovitz.
- Or go abstract and hang a bunch of prints by Georgia O’Keeffe, you know, those floral images that subtly represent healthy female reproductive organs.
- On The Wall, post photos of healthy women, all women. You don’t need to take out the babies and families—they have their place here too—but add to the mix your other patients, the single women, the lesbian women, the families of two, and the post-menopausal women who are still kicking, who tell their whole life stories in the lines on their faces.
I hope that I’ll see some changes on The Wall when I go in for my next checkup. But honestly, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to look.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.