We All Cry The Same Way

I first met Gina during my family med rotation. After years of smoking and drug use, her voice was deep and raspy, despite being only 23. I could tell her skin was weathered, hiding under a thick layer of makeup and mascara. She had come in for a drug detox, and needed an initial physical exam.

“Are you pregnant?” Dr. Kassandra asked, after palpating her abdomen.

“No,” Gina replied. Dr. Kassandra shrugged and moved on to finish the examination.

After the examination, the doctor asked again, “Is there any chance that you may be pregnant?”

After this second inquiry, and after some hesitation, Gina admitted, “Yeah… I am, but I’m planning on getting an abortion, so I said no.”

Dr. Kassandra paused for a moment, then asked, “Are you aware that you are at least 7 months pregnant? I’m afraid at this stage, you are too late into the pregnancy to get an abortion.”

“Really? 7 months?” Gina responded with surprise. “I thought I was two months. Are you sure?”

The doctor went on to explain the tests they have to do first, and the options she has if she was confirmed to be pregnant at 7 months. She could decide to keep the baby or put her baby up for adoption, but at this point, it doesn’t matter what she wanted — there’s no other option than to have the baby. As she had already been using drugs so far through the pregnancy, the child will have symptoms and will need treatment as well.

The doctor stepped out of the room temporarily. Gina remained quiet, in contemplation.

“Do I look 7 months pregnant to you?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure how to reply. “That’s what your examination suggests.”

She remained quiet, thinking what she should do.

After the doctor returned with the finished paperwork for the detox, Gina said with a sense of panic in her voice, “There’s no way I can keep the child. I don’t have a job, and I don’t have the time. I need some time to think about this, on what to do.” The doctor agreed and told her to let her know if she needed any support, and Gina left.

After we saw a few more patients, we got a knock on the door. It was Gina again. She had become distressed, and was crying. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t keep this baby.” The doctor comforted her and gave her a tissue.

It’s easy to have no sympathy for this woman, and say that she brought on everything by herself. After all, she was a drug addict, and continued using drugs knowing she was pregnant, not taking responsibility for herself. Now, she’s stuck with a baby she doesn’t want, and because of her past choices, she has lost control of her future choices, and committed harm to her child as well. For many, finding out about a pregnancy is a happy occasion, but for her, the news brought her down to her most helpless state. It made me a little angry inside seeing her story unfold. However, listening to her cry, it made me empathize with her as well. After all, we all cry the same way, no matter what our situations are. While she may need our help now, she had needed help and support long before today.

Lesson of the Day:

No matter what brought us down to our most helpless states, we all cry the same way. While its important to help patients on their problems, it’s even more important to help patients help themselves.

Note: Names, ages, and other pertinent info have been modified to protect identity of the patient.