When my husband, Nick, and I decided to pull the goalie and start a family in October 2011, I was “with child" in the matter of two weeks. Ok, full disclosure: it wasn’t necessarily because I’m exceptionally fertile. I charted my temp and used OPK's (Ovulation Prediction Kits are basically pregnancy tests that detect the hormone that releases when you ovulate) to detect my two most fertile days. When we started trying, I wasn’t messing around. I’m a self-admitted control freak. I had to know when that egg was dropping. As my luck would have it, that egg decided to drop when I was at a weekend photography retreat an hour out of town. I may or may not have bolted out of the retreat, called Nick and told him to set the mood. Ok, I did. This was definitely the most awkward of all intimate moments with my husband. I’ll never forget him saying, “Should we eat first?” And just like that, I became an escort. We both laughed like teenagers and got to business.
Ten days later, First Response told me I was pregs. What the fruke? I mean I guess when you get in the shower you expect to get wet, but this was all very sudden. I handed Nick the test, and he dropped to the kitchen floor with both hands on his head. We'll call it shock. As you can imagine, this was not the Woohoo!, run around the house and pick-your-wife-up and-kiss-her reaction I was hoping for. Very anticlimactic. Definitely not writing anything about this in the baby book.
I wasn’t totally oblivious to the fact that a positive pregnancy test didn’t always mean you were going to have a healthy, perfect bundle in 9 months. I was aware that I needed to at least hear the heartbeat at our 8-week appointment, and even then, we still weren’t out of the woods until 12 weeks. However, I was naïve to think my age saved me from most problems. Oh, silly, 29-year-old me.
At our 12-week appointment we were out of the woods! Healthy heartbeat and wiggly as ever. During this appointment the nurse asked me if I wanted to pay an extra $400 for a screen that tests the “odds” of your baby having Down’s Syndrome, Trisomy 13, or 18. The test consists of a blood screen and an ultrasound. After a few measurements they take of your baby and combine that with your blood test, they tell you your “odds.” For example, “you have a 1 in 200 chance of your child having Down’s Syndrome.” We ultimately decided it would just be a really expensive ultrasound and maybe we can see if it was a boy or girl. They typically only do this test on women 35 or older. I had little fear. After all, I was 29 and totally invincible. (Insert sarcasm)
Nick and I walked into the sterile room, hand in hand, as I was quickly and quietly coaching him on how to tell the baby’s sex by the white lines in between the legs. I spent 99% of my awake time Googling everything; I'm a non-certified pregnancy expert. So there we were, on our lunch break, getting another appointment off our checklist. One minute into the appointment, the perinatologist looked over at the genetic counselor and shook his head. Then she nodded her head with understanding. Ok, people, we can see. I mean, you know we have eyes, right? Clearly nothing is wrong; I hear the heartbeat and see the baby moving. Obviously, they’re just telepathic and confirmed their secret dinner plans. That would have been much better.
The perinatologist mumbled a lot of words that sounded just like blobity blobity blah and blah. Oh and blah blah. Spare me, Doc. Can you just say “head” instead of “cranial region?” It’s totally cool to dumb it down for us non-doctors. And then he left. Directly after that, we were escorted to talk about our options with the genetic counselor in the infamous "you have cancer" room. At this point, I wasn’t even crying because I had NO IDEA what just happened. I knew it wasn't good by the way the perinatologist didn't make eye contact. BUT I saw the baby moving, and there was a perfect, horse trotting heartbeat?? The next words I remember hearing were: “It’s best if you terminate this pregnancy. We have some openings next week.” Sometimes when I look back on this day, I wonder how I didn’t slap her. But that was the moment I started to tear up, not out of sadness, but because I was being forced to be civil when I wanted to scream. They were fury tears. I couldn’t understand what was happening…the confusion was painful.
After many hours glued to the Internet, I finally gathered what blobity blah meant. The ultrasound showed cystic hygroma (water) that was surrounding my baby’s head. That amount of water was indicative of a serious problem. However, they had no idea what this problem was. It could be Turner’s Sydnrome, Down’s Syndrome, or a variety of problems. Bottom line is: they didn’t know.
Two weeks of research, second opinions, genetic testing and prayers later, we discovered what had caused a woman to callously suggest the termination of our child. Our son had Trisomy 18. Out of all the syndromes that were a possibility, this was by far the worst one. What are the odds? 1 in 3,054. I was blindsided. Devastated. But no longer confused. Trisomy 18 for a male child is a terminal diagnosis. The chance of them even making it to term is very rare. Our son passed away when I was 4 months pregnant.
Throughout this experience, I learned being a mother has very little to do with pregnancy. Watch Teen Mom. No don't, it's depressing. Errrr, so I've been told. Being a good mother has everything to do with fear. If you are fearful that every action or inaction you take will affect someone’s life, then you are a mother. Not just any mother, but you are a great mother. No matter when that child’s life is put into your possession, whether you adopted your child, inherited your child through marriage, or the baby started his or her journey in your very stomach, you become fearful. Fear governs almost every decision we make. On this specific journey, my fears were so overwhelming. I knew this precious baby I was carrying was relying on me to be a great mother.
I'm not exactly known to be a private person but I didn't share our two weeks of hell with many people, partly because I didn't have the energy. When I finally told my friends and family, I found myself comforting others more than others were comforting me. And I was just fine with that, except when I felt like I needed to cry when they were crying; that's always uncomfortable. Explaining this was as exhausting as I imagined. I can't tell you how many times I repeated, "It was completely out of our control. When the sperm met the egg, they made three #18 chromosomes instead of two,” or "Really, our baby was just an overachiever." Making people laugh always muffles those awkward moments.
It was a terrible time, but when it was all said and done, I just felt grateful. Grateful to be a mother. Excited to try again. All of the crap, all of the sleepless nights, and my first question to our doctor was, “When can we try again?” I was positive and hopeful, even knowing all that can go wrong. Why was I handling this so well? The love outweighs the fear. Every. Single. Time.
Although many-a helicopter parent takes their fears to the extreme, I truly believe fear is what makes you a great, protective mother. It’s why you check if your child is breathing 3 times a night, why you put up the baby gates and strap them safely in car seats. It’s the fear that has you avoiding the pesticides and preservatives. It’s fear that they will grow up to be jerks that has you enforcing manners. Or fear that they’ll be delinquents that makes you enforce the rules. It’s the fear of anything bad happening to your child that initiates your actions to prevent it and protect your baby that makes you a great Mom: an exhausted, bags-under-her-eyes, full of self-doubt, GREAT mom. And it’s the love, the unconditional, all encompassing, indescribable love that fills your heart that makes the fear worth every second.
I eventually became pregnant again and have a hilarious one-year old. My journey has just begun, but Moms, far more seasoned than I, tell me the fear NEVER stops. That you will worry forever. Great.
I know I'll have worse times than my first trip down Mommy Lane. But it was this journey with our first son that solidified my role as a fearful, loving Mom; baggy eyes and all.
How have you handled having fears as a mom? Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org!