In two years of interacting with pregnant women on a near daily basis, I never once touched a pregnant belly. Pregnant women are rather protective of their bellies and I never wanted to be one more person trying to touch their “little peanut,” while their little peanut was still in utero. That all changed yesterday, when my big sib, M, who is 31 weeks pregnant, walked me through Leopold’s maneuvers using her own belly as a classroom.
“Leopold’s maneuvers” are really a fancy way of saying “techniques for palpating a baby to figure out how it’s oriented inside of mom.” M started by placing my hands on either side of her baby, showing me how to push in with one hand so that I could better palpate with the other hand. I’ve placed my hands on people before and in general I know that I don’t have to be as gentle as I think, but as I very intentionally placed my hands around M’s baby, I felt the sudden need to be very delicate. “Don’t be afraid to dig in there,” M said, as she demonstrated just how much pressure I should be applying. After pushing her baby back and forth between my hands a few times, the way you would idly pass a beanbag from one hand to another, I determined that the back was on M’s right side. She confirmed and then had me feel around her fundus, where I was able to feel the baby’s bottom. Finding the head was harder – I found a shoulder instead and M showed me where she thought the head was, saying that it might be hard to feel as she suspected her baby was face up. Then M let me play with her fetoscope so that I could listen to her baby’s heartbeat, a sound so different than when you auscultate with a doppler. This whole time her baby was very quiet – no kicks or flutters from within, but as we were finishing up, M’s face lit up and she pointed and exclaimed, “Now here’s a foot!”
She lifted her fingers and I put mine in their place, feeling, very distinctly, the outline of a tiny foot. I’d been trying to play it cool this whole time, but when I felt that little foot pressing against my hand, just a few layers of skin and muscle separating us, I couldn’t help but to let my awe show. For a moment I couldn’t believe my luck, that I would get to do this every day for the rest of my career, that I would literally be allowed to hold a new life between my hands and then help bring it into the world. Kneeling on the floor next to the couch where M lay, my hand still touching that 31 week old foot, I felt humbled by how amazingly privileged I am to share in this intimate moment, experienced daily, hourly, with each breath, by mother and child. I know that at some point Leopold’s maneuvers will become routine, one of those things I will do half asleep after a night on-call, but I can’t imagine losing my sense of wonder, can’t imagine waking up every day not absolutely in love with my work.