Week 18, Day 1 … a little recap, a little catch-up, a little looking forward.
In the last three months, I’ve had doctor’s appointments every other week, ultrasounds, morning sickness, afternoon sickness, bedtime sickness, an ever-shrinking bladder, eight different pillow combinations, fewer cravings, and more naps than at any time in my life since before kindergarten. What I haven’t had until the last week or so is the ability to embrace this pregnancy 100 percent.
During my first marriage, I had two anencephalic pregnancies. The first one, diagnosed in February 1997, was a complete shock. I’d never heard of anencephaly until my nurse midwife explained that the routine 20-week ultrasound showed that the baby’s brain and skull had not developed. Once a first anencephalic pregnancy occurs, the odds of a second go to 1 in 25. In July 1998, that second one was diagnosed at 17 weeks and the odds of another occurrence shrank to 1 in 4. That’s what I was left with.
In the 12 years since then, that first marriage ended, laws were passed that would restrict my medical options in the event of another catastrophic pregnancy, and I resigned myself to the idea that I just wasn’t ever going to be a mom. As time went by, I found my best friend and true love, and we settled into a happy life being aunt and uncle to two nieces and five nephews.
Last summer, a sweet six-year-old I know celebrated her success in fighting off childhood cancer. At almost the same time, a little friend of hers lost his fight. And as I felt joy for Caitlin and sorrow for Pablo, I also felt something shift in my perspective. Caitlin and Pablo’s parents have such love for their children, for the lives they share as a family, and nothing diminished that love. I began to feel like the only thing that would be worse than having and losing a child would be never having the love of that child at all. I began to feel like the chance of having that love would outweigh any pain caused by another anencephalic pregnancy.
I told my husband: I’m willing to try.
He told me: We will do whatever it takes.
His love and reassurance have gotten me to this point, kept me calm and helped me carry on. He made it possible for me to leave a toxic job that was causing health problems, to set up my own small consulting business instead so I could have more flexibility and less stress. He drew up a budget that provided for the fertility treatments. When those treatments worked after just two months, he hugged me and held me and helped me not think about anencephaly all the time.
But the specter was there. I could take deep breaths and be comforted by each ultrasound that showed normal cranial development. I could feel a bit better with every assurance from my doctor — who knew my fears — that “this is looking really good.” But I didn’t want to post several times a week, trumpeting happiness and talking about the future, until I knew that there would be a future.
Well, there’s the future. After a high-resolution sonogram coupled with amniocentesis and chromosome testing, all looking specifically for neural tube defects and any other catastrophic chromosomal abnormalities, we have heard the word “perfect” from medical professionals a few times. Everything is normal. All 46 pairs of chromosomes are in place and there aren’t any extras and aren’t any missing. All four chambers of his heart are functioning normally, his kidneys are the right size and doing the right thing, and it’s just crystal clear that the development of his brain, skull, and spine are exactly as they should be.
And did you notice the pronoun? That’s for definite visual-confirmation chromosome-tested sure.
I’m still going to have the typical pregnant-mom worries about this cramp or that spot or when will we feel an elbow jab. I can count the days between doctor’s appointments and wish we were still on a two-week schedule instead of four weeks. I can obsess about the fact that we haven’t settled on a name yet and will likely need all 22 of the remaining weeks to do so. But for the first time in 13 and a half years, I can jump back into the dream of a child, without deep fear and numbing anxiety, with happiness and confidence and joy. And in embracing it, I hope to write about it, here.