Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start, or so I’m told.
My husband and I are expecting our first child; we could not be happier, more excited or more filled with excitement for the future.
Despite our age, we are both of us still children ourselves at heart and the idea of having a little human, a little piece of us, to share all our bubbling enthusiasm with is something we’ve always dreamt of.
The first trimester was rotten (why is it that no one ever warns you about that?) It was dogged with 24/7 nausea and vomiting for about two months. It was characterised by impressive bloating, which left me looking five months pregnant and sheepishly buying my first maternity trousers at 7 weeks gone.
It was marked by the 12-week scan, by my total inability to live up to everyone’s expectations that I should cry with joy. The scan was nothing to me, if not a reminder that I had not and seemingly could not connect with my baby.
It was pursued to by an almost crippling fear of giving birth, a fear, which, left unaddressed and subconscious saw me diagnosed with pre-natal depression. It saw me assigned a new midwife, trained to deal with, well, with ladies like me. We talked birth plans. We talked options. And between her and my stalwart counsellor, we came through that bleak patch.
Cue the golden month. That glorious four weeks; my bump was showing and I was glowing. My energy was back. My fear was dampened. The toilet was no longer my closest companion.
We talked baby names, we talk nursery decorations, we talked about what our little lady was going to be like.
We were bursting with excitement when the 20-week scan came along. Out of the woods of the first trimester, this was going to be the one. We’d find out whether my hunch that I was having a daughter was correct. We’d finally see her fully, more than just the cartoon-like blob of the 12-week scan.
The 20-Week Scan
We arrived (my bladder fit to burst after a morning spent dedicated to my water bottle). The Sonographer could see our excitement and reminded us that she needed to be left alone to concentrate so that she could carry out all the necessary checks on our little one. We held hands and grinned at each other as we saw the little one bopping and jigging on the screen.
We couldn’t tell from our uneducated view, that she was curled up like a pretzel, her head hidden down in my pelvis. I was dispatched to the lavatory and we came back for a second attempt.
Still no luck; baby was moving like a trooper, but not in the way our Sonographer wanted. Off we were sent for a walk around the hospital, for a few glasses of water. At the time I was so touched that they were trying so hard to accommodated us, I had after all explained that getting time off wasn’t easy for my husband and that I’d probably have to come back alone if we couldn’t complete the scan today. I’ve since heard that many women have been banished from the room for ‘The Walk’ after an anomaly has been spotted.
When we returned the technician looked quite unhappy. I was worried that we’d walked for too long and had outstayed our welcome. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The third scan was equally as unsuccessful in yielding results. My poor bladder had been up and down like a yoyo and it didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to the little wriggling thing in my belly.
The Sonographer hung up her tools, defeated. Then turned to us and told us that she had “a concern”. Baby appeared to be missing her right hand. The left, it turned out, was also proving difficult to pin down.
That’s ok. Sure it is. I had thought for a minute it was going to be something serious. But a missing hand and an unformed limb? Sure, no problem. My husband was white.
We were not to be sent back to work, instead we were dispatched immediately to the Fetal Medicine Unit (our favourite anagram at the time, as close as it is to the terribly appropriate FML).
They sat us in a family counselling room and brought us tissues. I realised then that they think this is a big deal. Then I cried. My husband did too.
The problem, the FMU midwife (sent to deal with us as the consultant was on annual leave) explained to us in no uncertain terms, was that the Sonographer had been unable to scan baby’s face, brain or heart due to her difficult position.
(We’d come out of our shock long enough to ask about the gender. If we were going to process what was to come, we wanted her to have an identity. There were “no boy parts” they said.)
This, combined with the lack of any obvious causes for a missing hand (i.e. amniotic bands), had led them to believe that there was a possibility of a far more serious genetic problem. A problem that could result in severe metal disability and severe limitations on her quality of life not to mention the likelihood of this occurring in future pregnancies being a mere 4 to 1. The midwife brought up the issue of the legal 24-week abortion cut off limit.
We were referred to another hospital, an hour away, whose consultants are some of the top FMU doctors in the country. Today was Thursday. Our appointment would be on the following Tuesday.
The speed with which they referred us was simultaneously reassuring and terrifying. They were taking this seriously. Seriously enough for us to feel in capable hands, yet a little too seriously for our peace of mind.
As the weekend passed in a bit of a blur the shock began to crack and the fears started to sink in. The worst-case scenarios bounced around my head like sugar plum fairies. We could hardly eat. We barely slept.
The idea of having to even consider a termination, having just spent the day bonding with my daughter, watching her dance and punch about in my tummy, was the most unbearable contemplation I’ve ever had to make. She was no longer an anonymous fetus. She was no longer just a swelling in my belly. She was my daughter. She was feisty. She was stubborn. She was awkward. She was little, but she was fierce.