The first time I lay down for an exam with my midwife, he pulled a chunk of rotting flesh from my vagina while I took deep breaths to keep from totally losing it.
My husband, Kamal, and I had heard through the grapevine about “Mr. Midwife,” who was short with deep lines in his forehead, the father of two teenage daughters, divorced, and kind of goofy; we both really liked him. I phoned as a follow-up after a quick meet-and-greet to say we’d like to work with him — I was 11 weeks pregnant — and “Oh, yeah, I had some bleeding this afternoon.” An ultrasound showed nothing but an inanimate pile at the bottom of my uterus, and Mr. Midwife invited us back to his office even though there wasn’t anything, clinically, that could be done.
“Look,” he said as we sat together on his worn tweed couch, “some couples want to climb the walls after they lose a pregnancy.”
In my shock, I found myself thinking that, without a pregnancy, this was goodbye to Mr. Midwife. But just days after, when my body started to smell like putrefying tissue, I returned to his office and he used large tweezers to get rid of what had become stuck in my body. It seemed Mr. Midwife was the only one able to minister to my broken self.
A year later, he was in a new office and we had a new pregnancy underway. We heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Our midwife held the fetal doppler to my abdomen to let the sound fill the room; his goofy, wide, awe-filled smile told me, Your baby’s existence makes me so happy. Your body is a thing of wonder. I loved the feeling of pleasing him, and there was something else there, too. His calm brown eyes. His studious glasses perched partway down his creased forehead. He helped me pull my T-shirt back over my still-flat belly and I felt warm all over.
I returned the next month, my morning sickness mostly passed, my cheeks a little rounder. Mr. Midwife measured my soft tummy with a cloth tape. He had strong hands, weathered skin. Younger than my parents but older than any of our friends. We would talk for an hour, about his daughters, about my family, his adventures, my travels; he never rushed me, there was an intimacy to those appointments.
Pittsburgh’s not a big place, especially when you’re seeing Mr. Midwife. I met pregnant women at the food co-op, at the farmers’ market, on walks in Schenley Park. We’d gush about our shared midwife, but I always felt an undertone of competitiveness, like we each needed to prove we were his favorite patient. Maybe there was a feeling of superiority, of specialness. Was I somehow more special, more interesting, more open-minded than his other patients? And why would it even matter?
A couple we knew who was also seeing Mr. Midwife had purchased a low-tech fetal doppler so they could listen to their baby’s heartbeat at home. I tried to catch his eye when talking about it at one of my appointments. Wasn’t that a little much, I hinted. Aren’t I a more grounded patient? The rivalry, of course, was all in my head. Ah, the dizzy, flittery dance of puppy love.
For me, crushes aren’t sexual, at least not overtly. Yes, there was that extra skip in my stomach each time Mr. Midwife picked up the phone to answer one of my questions. Yes, I thought more carefully about what I wore to appointments, how I did my hair and makeup. I left his office glowy and full from his attention, his knowledge for my body and the baby I wanted so fiercely to protect. There was a physical aspect to what I was feeling for him, his nearness was part of the intimacy I craved, but really, what I was enjoying was more simply the sparkly joy that ran through my body each time I saw him. Is it reasonable to chalk it all up to pregnancy hormones?
I don’t remember worrying about what Kamal might have thought of my crush. Given how much we both talked about Mr. Midwife, how much we both loved sitting in that office — unhurried, listened to — it seems we were equally crushing.
A week before my due date, I had a terrible feeling that something bad was happening. We went to his office well after 10pm. He couldn’t find the heartbeat; not when I stood up or lay down. Finally, Mr. Midwife got on his knees with his stethoscope. Kamal was with me, of course, but in those tense moments, it was just me and our midwife. When, finally, the heartbeat came through, our midwife wiped his forehead, his wonderful, goofy smile releasing with the strain.
“You scared me,” he said to me.
I wanted to cry, with relief, with unbounded happiness. And then Mr. Midwife told us to go home and have rock-star sex to get labor underway, and I flushed from head to toe. Our baby was fine, and here was my crush, winking me into the bedroom.
After the birth, after those brutal first sleepless nights, delirious and uprooted, Kamal suggested we bring flowers to our midwife. Except for a visit to the pediatrician, it was our first outing with the baby. He let us in with his warm smile and cradled our son while we sat for a few minutes on his tweed couch.
I wanted to hold onto that flutter of my crush for the man who’d spent six months caring for me in ways no one else knew how. So much of the hours and days since birth moved around me weightless and flitty, difficult to secure. I thought, maybe, we could continue our visits, I could stop in regularly with the baby. How else would I move on from Mr. Midwife?
“You’re leaking,” he said, nodding at my chest. My milk had let down.
Kamal jumped to grab paper towels, but in doing so, knocked over the flower arrangement, and water spilled across the office desk, across patient files, folders, our midwife’s phone.
The baby started wailing, and I took him in my arms. Kamal opened the door and we hurried out, embarrassed, leaving our midwife to clean the mess we’d made. My husband put his arm around me and we fussed over our tiny son on our way to the car. It was back to the two of us, or the three of us, just a different threesome from before.
Sure, Mr. Midwife understood my body better than I did, and held my newborn with resourceful arms. But… maybe his jokes were kind of corny. Maybe he was actually closer in age to my parents than I’d thought.
And just like that my crush ended. What I’d needed while pregnant was something light, like sunshine, a heart-fluttery affection to soften what could have been an almost paralyzing fear of loss. We met Mr. Midwife during a miscarriage; his kindness, empathy and corny jokes carried me through the second pregnancy.
A year and a half later, I returned to his office, pregnant again. It was lovely to sit on that couch, to show off the baby he’d delivered and monitor the progress of the next one. The crush may have been over, but we could still celebrate the strength of my body, and his expert care, together.
Milena Nigam is a Pittsburgh-based writer who would love to teach everyone how to pronounce her first name. Hint, it sounds like sienna. She’s raised two kids who can find their names on magnets at any gift shop or rest stop. You can find her writing — which has been featured in Off Assignment, Litro, and Lunch Ticket — at milenanigam.com.