So, for the past few weeks, and until I actually spawn, I go to my doctor’s every Thursday for a “biophysical profile” (BPP). For the uninitiated, this is a series of procedures that check in on the fetus just to make sure it’s still doing A-OK in utero. Most women don’t have to do this, but because I have the double whammy of gestational diabetes and (mild) hypertension, I get the deluxe treatment. Now, I’m all about keeping tabs on this young one, and there are aspects of the process that are sort of fun, but I’m also experiencing a fair amount of performance anxiety, and frankly, I don’t need the stress!
The way it works is, there are two parts to the BPP, and each part gets a certain score. The first part of the BPP is an ultrasound. This section is worth 8 points. The technician lubes me up and we look at the baby until it moves and “breathes” enough times to get a passing score. At a minimum, you get monitored for about 10 minutes; maximum (if the kid’s not cooperating) you get monitored for 30 minutes. If the baby kicks around and makes breathing motions right away, you’re golden. If not, you wait around and hope. Hoss is pretty kicky, so the movement part is normally no problem (yesterday Hoss was holding one of its feet with its little hand, which was pretty cute to witness). The breathing motions usually take a little longer, but eventually we’ll see the accordion-like movements in Hoss’s ribcage, and I’ll get 8/8 points for the ultrasound. Seeing the little squirt on a weekly basis is kind of fun, I admit. And while it’s a little stressful when Hoss is being coy or sleepy or whatever, so far he or she has been fairly cooperative and the ultrasounds have been OK.
The second part of the BPP is what’s called a “non-stress test.” This is where they sit you down in a faux leather recliner, tilt you back, and strap a couple of monitors to your belly. One tracks you, one tracks the baby’s heartrate. What they’re looking for in this section is the baby’s “reactivity,” which means that instead of seeing a nice, steady heartrate, they want to see some fluctuations of at least 15 points from the baseline. So if Hoss’s regular rate is about 135, they want to see some spikes to at least 150 (usually the rate spikes when the baby moves, or “reacts” to something). This is the part that is stressing me OUT. Because it would seem that I have a particularly mellow child. It’s not that Hoss doesn’t move around while we’re being monitored – he/she turns and kicks pretty regularly. But that damn heartrate will not spike. It’ll fluctuate some, sure, but not enough to count. The stressful part about it is that I can see the monitors the whole time, so I feel like I’m engaged in some kind of fucked-up biofeedback system. Like, when I feel Hoss move and see the numbers not spiking, I get this irrational urge to will the numbers higher. I should be able to control it, right? It’s my body!! Only, of course, I’m sharing that body right now with my own personal yogi-baby-parasite, who can apparently perform great feats of contortion without significant exertion. So every time I go in, I get 8/8 for the ultrasound, and 0/2 for the non-stress test. (Non-stress, my ass.) I can’t lie – it feels like failure. I usually ace exams! I studied hard for this one! Heck, last time I even “cheated” and drank coffee right before the exam just for a little performance booster! Why can’t I get those last two points?!?!
What’s silly about this is that under normal circumstances I’d have nowhere near this level of scrutiny, and it would probably be just fine. As long as I could still feel the baby moving and things seemed healthy, no one would worry – and rightly so. And, in fact, my doctors aren’t really worried – as long as the ultrasounds look good, they seem OK with the results overall. I mean, maybe the baby IS just mellow – I should be so lucky! Nevertheless, it bothers me at some fundamental level that I can’t manage a perfect score. It’s irrational, but there it is. A high-risk pregnancy is already fraught with tensions and worries that normal pregnancies know not of (so to speak). For the most part, the heightened level of care associated with this pregnancy has been as helpful in alleviating my anxiety as it has been in tracking the progress of my soon-to-be baby. It’s interesting to me (at an intellectual level, anyway) that the exact opposite outcome is equally possible. They say ignorance is bliss, and in this case, I tell you what: I believe it.