I was the proud mother of two wonderful boys and thought our family was complete when I found out I was pregnant again. I was particularly excited about the eighteen-week scan, as we had planned to find out our baby’s gender. The day before the scan we had a holiday open house (it was the week before Christmas). I confidently told all our friends and family how excited I was about my scan, as I was convinced it would tell us we were having a girl.
Fast forward to the next morning… I told my husband not to bother coming with me, as he was not allowed into the scan room anyway. I would call him with the good news later – having no idea how my day ahead would actually unfold. I lay on the bed for my scan and after forty-five minutes of silence, and the technician running over and over the same part of my belly, I started to feel something was a little strange. Why was this taking so long?
I asked, “Can you tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” hoping this would break the silence. “Yes, I think so,” she replied. More silence. “Is everything okay?” I asked nervously. She responded with a statement – and a question: “There is a good heartbeat (more silence)… Are you seeing your doctor after this?” I was. And with that, she completed her work and said, “We are all done here, and I think you are having a boy.”
Feeling deflated, worried and scared, I walked from the x-ray department up to my doctor’s office, my phone beeping every two seconds – friends wanting to know if I was having a girl, as I had fully expected to be told. I ignored the sounds and walked in silence, in conflict with myself over the disappointment I was feeling about having another boy, alongside my gut feelings that something was wrong with my precious little baby, which was far more important than his or her gender.
Without hesitation, my amazing doctor gently told me that the scan had shown some “soft signs” of a problem with my baby. She said it could be any number of things: Down syndrome, Cystic Fibrous, a genetic disorder or indeed nothing. She recommended I speak with a genetic counselor. Stunned, I phoned my husband and mother. My husband was not able to come quickly as he was out of town, and despite me telling my mum I was fine, she was beside me within what felt like seconds of our phone call.
The genetic counselor walked me through the possibilities and asked me questions about my husband’s and my genetic family history. Neither she nor the OB/GYN in the genetic clinic felt Cystic Fibrous was likely given there was no family history, but thought it would be best to rule it out with a simple blood test. Without hesitation, I agreed to this – admittedly with very little knowledge of what that condition would mean for my baby or our family.
From there, they showed me graphs and percentages measuring the likelihood that my baby had Down syndrome, given the soft signs visible on the scan and my age. All I heard was the likelihood was very high; I didn’t care about the numbers. I was asked if I wanted an amniocentesis. The idea of this terrified me, as I knew it carried risks. I had not had the triple screen test, as for my husband and I, it was not the right choice, nor had an amniocentesis been. I think the OB/GYN picked up on my need for human connection when she calmly looked at me and said, “It is your choice, but I believe your baby has Down syndrome and this (having an amnio) would allow you and your family to be informed and prepared.” She said she could book it for that afternoon, and promised me I would know the results before Christmas, so I wouldn’t have to agonize over the holidays.
After a walk around the hospital, a light lunch and a talk with my mum and husband, I agreed to the amniocentesis. It was a little daunting, but not as scary as I had thought it would be. I watched the screen and focused on my baby as the needle was gently inserted and removed, feeling it was my duty to make sure it went nowhere near my growing baby! It was painless and provided me with a good reason to say in bed for the next two days.
Three days after the amniocentesis, the genetic counselor called and told me that our baby had Down syndrome. I had prepared myself to hear this over the past few days, but regardless, it left me speechless, stunned and very sad. She asked if I had any questions, and believe it or not, all I could get out was, “Is the baby still a boy?” Yes, my baby was XY, with 47 chromosomes. Not at all what I expected just four days before when I had been telling friends about the little girl I was going to have.
Looking back on those four dark days of my pregnancy, I now have only positive thoughts. I am glad we had the opportunity to learn about our son’s unique make-up before he was born. It allowed us to learn about both the challenges we might face, and the joys we will have in raising our son. The journey to his birth was not without feelings of great sadness, loss and fear of what might be or might have been, but with time and acceptance it was also filled with the same joy, anticipation and excitement that all expectant parents feel.
Our son Owen was born on April 30, 2012. He is precious, beautiful and perfect. He has completed our family and is deeply loved by his older brothers, mum, dad, extended family and friends.
Jennifer Crowson blogs regularly for DSRF.