As parents, our number one goal is to keep our kids safe. We make sure they are fed appropriately, we teach them not to run into the street, we make sure they are ready for the real world… So it’s a completely different feeling when we realize that there are some times when we have absolutely zero control in regards to their safety and well-being. During pregnancy, so many things can go wrong. We take our prenatal vitamins to make sure babe has their nutrients, we avoid cold lunchmeat and hot tubs, and we follow all of the other rules in What To Expect When You’re Expecting. But sometimes that isn’t enough.
With this being my fourth child (fifth pregnancy due to a miscarriage between Hunter and Kaiden), and with my advanced maternal age – or “elderly multigravida” if you will, yuck – I already have been somewhat nervous since I first found out I was pregnant. We planned this pregnancy, knowing there could be risks of having a baby close to 40. But honestly, neither of us were afraid of having a kid with Down syndrome. I’ve taught special ed, and I know that kids with disabilities can still have an amazing quality of life. Even with my youngest brother who had moderate disabilities, both mental and physical, he was such a joy and such a positive part of my life. We knew we would love our child no matter what.
The First Ultrasound
We went in for our first ultrasound at almost 7 weeks due to elevated HCG numbers. My OB was concerned that we might be carrying multiples. That was terrifying. We only saw one baby on the screen though, and it was the most perfect little blob! Too early to hear a heartbeat, but we saw it beating so amazingly on the screen. The rest of the appointment was routine, and there were no concerns. Lab work was done – all normal – and future routine appointments were scheduled.
The Second Ultrasound
I went alone to my second appointment, as I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. I was 10 weeks 6 days, and started with an ultrasound to confirm the fetus size and viability. Baby was found right away, with a strong and healthy heartbeat of 165 BPM. My little Meatball (the Seghetti Meatball, get it?) seemed to be sleeping, although I did catch him shaking a fist at us at one point. We saw both arms, legs, the bladder, stomach… and then the sonographer seemed to take a lot of pictures of his skull. In my experience, many pictures without a lot of talking usually means something could be wrong. I didn’t ask though, as I also knew she wouldn’t tell me much. They usually let the doctor do that part – and I was right. The OB met with me after the ultrasound was over, and voiced her concerns. The back of the skull did not appear to be fully developed with bone, and the brain looked as if it may be underdeveloped as well. These findings could be representative of a neural tube defect (specifically anencephaly – a fatal birth defect). I listened and nodded as she explained what she saw, and as she told me she wanted to refer me out to another doctor for maternal-fetal medicine. I took the info, and walked numb and shakily to the elevator. I’m not even sure how I made it to the parking lot before I started running.
I ran all the way to my car, where I lost it. I wanted to scream. How could this happen? Why me? Why my baby? I thought when there was a heartbeat that we were out of the danger zone. I had been so wrong. I cried until my eyes burned, then I drove home. I cried again as I explained to my mother-in-law what was going on. I explained to Arien when he called from work. I cried off and on all day until I finally fell asleep last night exhausted. Thoughts of how I would explain this to my other kids, how I would decide whether to terminate or carry my dying baby to term, of how I would cope in the coming months and years were too much for my body to handle. I slept restlessly, and thought of my sweet baby every time I woke up during the night. Luckily I had an appointment for the next day to see the MFM and get a second opinion.
The Third Ultrasound
As soon as I woke up today, I was almost in tears again. I was trying to hold on to hope, but from yesterday’s report I just expected the worst. I knew they would tell me that my baby had anencephaly, and I would have to say goodbye to a baby I hadn’t even met. I drank some coffee and saw my older kids off to school, keeping it together so they wouldn’t know the pain I was feeling inside. I snuggled my little fuzzy-haired baby when she woke up in my bed, and breathed in all her innocence and love. I thought about how thankful I was to have three very healthy babies in my house, how I was so blessed to have what some women are never able to have.
Arien and I drove to the office and met with the ultrasound tech first. She spent a lot of time trying to get good images of our little Meatball. He (because I’m convinced he’s a boy) wasn’t very cooperative at first – just like his older siblings, I joked. He wanted to sleep and not give a good view of his head. I moved around a little, which woke him up and then we were able to get some good shots of his beautiful head. Super strong heartbeat again, with all the body parts we would expect to see at 11 weeks. And just like his siblings, he is bigger than he should be! Measuring closer to 11 weeks 6 days, he looks like he will be another big baby. It’s a good thing my body knows how to birth them that big!
After lots of pictures, the MFM doctor came in to talk to us. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better doctor with a better bedside manner. She explained everything and was very thorough. To our relief, she was able to see calcified bone in the back of baby’s skull. YAY! From what she saw, there did not appear to be concern for anencephaly. The fatal diagnosis that I was so afraid of was gone! What she did see was a dark spot in the brain. She told us that she couldn’t determine if it was truly a defect or issue at this point, but she did want to keep an eye on it to see what happens as Meatball grows. It could still be an indicator of a neural tube defect, or it could be nothing. I’m going to focus on it being nothing, until we are told otherwise.
MaterniT Genome Test
At our doctor’s advice, we agreed to labs for the MaterniT Genome test, a non-invasive and comprehensive test that analyzes every chromosome for abnormalities (not just 13, 18, and 21). We will get results in 2 weeks or less, which should give us more information about risk levels for birth defects, and allow us to make decisions going forward. We will also get to find out if we are having a boy or a girl, which is exciting! If we end up having a girl, I may just have to add a bow and a tutu to this outfit.
The Waiting Game
With Christmas coming up, I am hoping that I will be able to keep my mind busy so I don’t worry each day. I will admit though, that I am already feeling more hopeful today. The little bit of good news along with knowing that the fatal diagnosis of anencephaly is off the table has helped me to see that this may all be nothing. No news is good news, as they say. And seeing that little Meatball move around on the screen, kicking and squirming and swimming around helped me to connect to him a little more. Fear has kept me somewhat detached in this pregnancy so far. I haven’t bought any baby items. I haven’t prepared the nursery. I have hesitated on even thinking of names. But now…now I feel more like this is going to be my baby. This baby has a chance. And until anyone tells me otherwise, I am going to focus on that.