As we just passed the forth anniversary of one of the worst days on our family-making journey, a heavy reminder of how we learned Sophia was not meant to be with us clouds my thoughts. Coincidentally, I recently finished a second rewrite of this post originally shared on Sophia’s Story in September 2013. As I continue to work on editing Sophia’s Story, I hope to re-share more parts of my memoir that evolve into something even better than before. For those who have been along for my writing journey, I appreciate any additional comments, suggestions, or remarks. For those who recently started following, I hope you find some solace in Sophia’s Story.
Four years ago, December became the hardest month of the year: a festive holiday-clad time of year, filled with memories of killed dreams, assassinated hopes, and dashed promises of a healthy baby. The only way I know to combat the sadness, nagging memories, and overwhelming pain is to fight it head on and continue to share Sophia’s Story.
Sitting stoically, my limbs solidify, my fingers interlock like a zipper swiping closed. The feigned effort portrays the tranquility that eludes me. Past Laura would have never imagined this personal purgatory. Future Laura will hopefully suffer amnesia.
“Laura?” A pretty, young, brown-haired woman softly calls as if wanting to get my attention whilst not bothering me. There is a peaceful air of serenity surrounding her. The manner in which she speaks bids a comfort I misplaced yesterday in Dr. Walsh’s office. On our shuffling march down the hall, we pass the point of no return. Sweaty hands, knotted stomach, shallow breaths accompany my shaky exterior as I muster up all my strength to stay the course. Turning and bolting back across the squeaky, waxy tiles loiters on the outskirts of my terrified thoughts.
What are we doing here?
Making little note of the white walls, glaring fluorescent light beams, and emptiness, the fugue culminates at the ultrasound room.
“Lie down here, Laura.”
Desperately clinging thoughts of still being a “normal” pregnant woman are quickly assassinated by the large, chair-cluttered, machine-filled space. Monitors hang from each wall, taunting from top, behind, and point-blank. It’s almost like a sports bar. Almost. No drinks, no food, no fun. The menacing beasts, covered in buttons, knobs, switches silently await us. More technology, more answers.
Envy ignites my shallow thoughts as Jason is allowed to simply sit there, with no probes on or in his body, and watch our baby effortlessly.
What I wouldn’t give to be the man just once.
On the contrary, I don’t envy his obligation to watch everything. He sees every flaw the technician finds with baby. He sees every furrowed brow the medical staff don. He sees the how arduous these exams are on me. He sees every tear that escapes my relenting eyes. Helpless, he has no recourse, no action to take this all away.
Fielding my own struggles, I am a specimen. I collect no reward for my efforts, not even a clear view of the main attraction. Once again, I find myself straining my neck to get barely a glimpse. My neck begs for a break, painful straining getting the better of me. Allowing myself to rest my neck every couple of minutes, I lie in the all-too-familiar glow of the monitors. My thoughts are lonely, full of dead air.
Despite her calm, sweet presence, the technician does not mince words, “I’m taking a lot of measurements that the doctor will want to see. This may take a while. Don’t be alarmed if I’m not saying much while I do this. If you need a break at any point, just let me know. I realize lying on your back for too long can get very uncomfortable.”
Anything that will hold up this process is enormously unwelcome. Escape from this hellish, white cube is goal number one.
I will lie here as long as I can stand it. I will take as few breaks as possible. The mantra is a poor distraction from the burdensome gravity of the situation.
From within the shadows, a soft narration filters through my internal voice. Lethargic, deliberate, factual words flitter from the technician and through the cold silent air, hanging like a low-lying fog.
“I’m measuring the head now.”
“Here are the limbs.”
“I’ll be measuring those next.”
“Now, I’m going to use color to show the heartbeat and blood flow from the umbilical cord.”
The tiny black and white heart now flutters in bright colors, reviving the notion that there is still life. An additional twenty minutes slink by.
“She must be sleeping,” the technician finally says. “She sure hasn’t moved much. I need her to roll over.” She pushes lightly on my stomach, in hopes of making our little peanut roll around. We watch the screen intently as she’s doing this, but there is only slight movement.
“She is stubborn!” cheerfully states the technician. At the forty-five minute mark, my bladder declares its surrender. I find the fortitude to stop her.
“Absolutely! It’s a good time for a break anyway. Maybe you moving will get baby to roll around a bit.” Heaving myself off the table, my stiff and sore hips barely rotate for each step. Having aged thirty years on the table, I adopt an elderly gait, shuffling my feet down the hallway; disoriented, I search for the bathroom. A nurse notices me looking confused, and is kind enough to point me in the right direction.
Upon returning, I begrudgingly endure another five minutes of the table, the wand, the monitors, the dark.
“I think I have all I can get, so I’ll be back in a few minutes with the doctor. You guys can wait here.” Welcome words, spritely stated. My spirits are buoyed briefly.
“Ok, great,” I reply. “Thanks.”
What am I thanking her for?
Maybe for being so kind to us, or maybe for being an integral part in finding out what is wrong with our baby. I wish we could be done. I wish we could get up and leave with her. We wait a few familiar, quiet minutes. Our breathing, the crinkling of the paper cover, and the soft drone of machines fill the air but lack substantial comfort. I am grateful at this moment that we are comfortable enough with each other to sit in silence. I don’t feel much like talking.
Contracted joints. Small chin. Undersized head. Poor blood movement through the umbilical cord. Minimal fetal movement. Rocker-bottom feet. Low-set ears: All words presented to us when Dr. Bates makes her quiet, yet dominating, entrance. Her statements make my head spin.
How many things can possibly go wrong with one tiny baby?
The younger, African-American doctor speaks in a gentle, consoling tone. It does not protect us. We remain quiet; the smack in the face we were just dealt echoes.
“While I don’t know exactly what condition your baby has, what I do know is that when I see this many abnormalities at once, it’s most likely an indicator of a lethal condition.”
The punch in the gut reverberates. I hear one word only: lethal.
Until this point, I never considered the mortality of the situation. My breath escapes me. The nightmare impossibly hits a new low. Jason’s face reflects my own: dazed, tearful, in shock. Yesterday, this issue was labeled as “something like Down’s Syndrome”, and I was devastated. Now, I wish it was only Down’s Syndrome. The leap from merely physical and cognitive disabilities to death knocks the wind out of me. Feeling the warmth of Jason’s hand against the chill of mine is the only lifeline I have right now.
“I know this is a lot of information to process right now. I know it’s confusing and scary. I wish I could tell you definitely what kind of disorder she has, but without further testing, we cannot be certain. If I were to guess based on her presentation, it would look like Trisomy 13 or Trisomy 18.”
Her doctor talk is a new language. I feel the anger swelling in my heart. My stomach is queasy as I think about our baby having something I don’t even understand. Down’s Syndrome I could grasp; this is inconceivable. Dr. Bates senses our confusion, our panic. As her eyes fail to conceal sadness, she explains, “Trisomy 13 and 18 are chromosomal disorders, either adding an extra chromosome 13 or 18. Doing an amniocentesis is the way we can tell for sure if it is either of those two conditions. We would use a needle to get some amniotic fluid, which we could test for chromosome abnormalities. We can do that today–right here–if you want to go ahead with it. I’ll step out for a minute.”
The stifled tears run amok as we are now unattended. Grabbing several tissues, yet not nearly enough, the sobs are uncontrollable. Rushing from his chair onto the exam table with me, choking away his own sobbing, Jason hugs me as if he will never let go. Our tears speak volumes. Jason’s face is anguished, pained. His face damp with tears, his eyes pleading for something different. My sobs intensify. It’s a struggle to get my rattled voice under control long enough to speak, knowing that our time is short before someone returns. We have decisions to make.
“What do you think about doing the amniocentesis?”
“I think we should do what you’re comfortable doing, Babe.”
Tingling shivers slither down my spine. I feel like an outsider watching two other people. My head floats to the ceiling. This isn’t me any longer. Fighting the disconnect, I try to compose myself, bring myself to reality. The terror of this test wards off any more tears. This wasn’t on my radar. This was suppose to be only the ultrasound. Now I’m face-to-face with a huge needle.
Hasn’t my gut suffered enough?
“I really don’t want to do that test. Honestly, it scares me to death.” I hesitate. A deep breath inflates my cringing lungs. My fingers rub together, making circular motions. Refocusing on the sensation, the soft, tickle-like motions on my palm brings me a hair closer to rational.
As a patient, I know what I don’t want to do. As a mother, I know what I should do. Reluctant words dissolve into the air, sounding a million miles away, “to find out what’s going on, I know this is our only option.”
“You’re probably right. I just want you to be okay with it. But there really is no other way to get the answers we need right now. You know I’ll be right here with you.”