When I was pregnant the second time, I went for a dental cleaning. I
worried if a pregnant woman should even go to a dentist, but Google
assured me it was okay. I had been just outside of the two-week-wait and
took an at-home pregnancy test. I was nervous the days leading up to the
appointment knowing that if I was pregnant, I’d have to say something.
But it was very early, so there was a good chance I would get a false
negative. The day I peed on the stick, it showed two pink lines.
“How do I tell them I’m pregnant?” I had asked Jason.
“Just let the hygienist know.”
“Yeah, but how?”
“I dunno, babe. When she takes you back, just tell her.”
“Yeah. I suppose.”
I wasn’t that excited, yet. I had a history. I was a woman who had
miscarried. Besides, pregnancy was an awkward thing to tell someone I
didn’t really know. I could barely tell the people I did know.
But, I had to. The x-rays. Women get the raw end of the deal when it
comes to radiology. The having to wear lead vests—the heavy, weighted
body covers—to protect what we were naturally born with. Nature gives
us a numbered amount of chances at producing life, and through a
man-made invention, we can (maybe?) destroy that. We are born with one
million eggs. By the time our bodies are ready to reproduce, we are down
to 300,000. And of course we don’t ovulate 300,000 times, but rather
three-hundred. That’s what is left of the one million. I considered the
ways those three-hundred eggs are not all perfect. Irregular
chromosomes, wrong genetic code, deletions, mutations. And with a
man-made invention, we can continue changing what should have been
into what never should have been. We can distort the DNA, the RNA, or
the whole chromosomes that make each ovum. The very substance that codes
our physical selves can be brutally corrupted. Or so we believe. There
are reportedly no studies that indicate low-doses of radiation have any
effect on eggs, or sperm, or miscarriage. One study reported that the
closer the egg was to ovulation, the more of an effect an x-ray done
over the torso might have. Even then, that was in animals (not humans)
and the scientists concluded that the risk of a spontaneous genetic
problem was still more likely than an x-ray corrupted egg.
Had I thought about the timing of this appointment earlier, though, I
could have searched the Internet for guidance. I could have made my best
attempt at calming the nerves that sparked every time I was pregnant.
What I would have found may have helped:
“The possibility of an X-ray during pregnancy causing harm to your
unborn child is very small….Most X-ray exams—including those of
the arms, legs, head, teeth or chest—won’t expose your reproductive
organs to radiation, and a leaded apron and collar can be worn to
block any scattered radiation.”
When I arrived, I did what I thought I had to do for the baby.
“Just so you know, I’m pregnant,” I said to the hygienist.
“Oh, congrats!” she said. “I’ll mark that in your chart.”
By the next visit, six months later, the baby had been gone a couple
months already. No more need to warn anyone.
I told the receptionist my name.
“Okay, Laura, you’re all checked in.”
The hygienist joined her now, looking over her shoulder to be sure I was
the patient she was expecting. Patient privacy laws and all. HIPAA, you
“I see that you were pregnant last time you were here.” She looked to my
belly. “So, you must have had the baby?” The hygienist smiled that
excited smile that people get when they see a fawn in their backyard.
“Uh, well. I actually lost the baby.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. Then she added, “Been there,
done that.” And she laughed.
Been there, done that. It’s a phrase that denotes whatever happened
was commonplace. Boring. Dull. Humdrum. Stale. Something that was not
interesting to hear and probably not worth saying. Was my story one she
had heard many times before, a story that every woman who walked into
the dental clinic says Guess what! I lost my baby! to which she
responds: Been there, done that! Haha!
According to Urban Dictionary, ‘been there, done that’ = that is
nothing new to me, tell me something different!
It could also be a phrase used to imply that a person has experienced
the same and understands. A sign of empathy. Had she, too, lost a baby?
Or two? Or three? Maybe more? Had she watched her premature baby die,
naked and cold, and covered in the only polka-dotted blanket she would
What about her laughter? Was she embarrassed to hear my news? I had once
taught my college students in an introductory psychology class that
laughter is often not associated with humor. We laugh at funerals. It
helps us cope, releasing feel-good chemicals in our brains called
endorphins. Perhaps she needed to feel better in the wake of my terrible
news. Reportedly, women laugh more than men: 126% more. So maybe she
just had a habit of laughing (a lot). Sometimes humor is mean-spirited,
a gesture in response to someone’s misfortune, or one’s own good fortune
over another. Laughter can be a defense mechanism. A way of trying to
keep oneself from feeling a difficult emotion. It can be a response to a
challenging or awkward situation.
I hoped she laughed because she wasn’t sure what else to do. I hoped she
didn’t think she was more fortunate than me because she may never have
experienced miscarriage. But even if she laughed out of awkwardness, I
was the one who put her in that position. My words were awkward. All I
wanted to do was be honest, tell a stranger (who had a lot to do with my
medical health) about a medical thing that happened to me. I just wanted
to be able to say difficult words that were now my truth and not make
I felt the hotness bleed over my face. I tensed my face to stifle the
tears that started forming in the very inner corners of my eyes.
What I wanted her to say was: I’m so sorry to hear this.
Or: Thanks for letting us know.
Or: You poor dear. I’ll mark your chart right now so we never ask you
about it and make you feel the horrendous grief and angst I’m sure you
must have felt the day you learned her heartbeat stopped and her tiny
fetus body slipped from your body.
I nodded to her.
“Thanks,” I said.
And I took a seat next to the fish tank.
Laura is currently an MFA candidate studying creative nonfiction at Miami University (in Ohio). She has been published in Thin Air Magazine, The Avalon Literary Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Scary Mommy, Tiny Buddha, and The Mighty. She has a forthcoming essay in The Kitchen Sink. She resides in Oxford, OH with her husband, daughter, and pug Rocky.