The waiting room was cold and uninviting. I had scheduled the recommended 20-week prenatal ultrasound for a Sunday, because I knew that it would be less crowded at the hospital. My anxiety was high as I sat in the stiff chair, my mind wandering and getting the best of me. I fingered the pages of a new book, scanning the words but not absorbing anything of substance with each turn of paper. This was my second baby that made it to 20 weeks-the halfway mark- and I would have thought my nerves would be less on edge this time around for routine prenatal care. But something was different; something was tugging on my soul. Relax, relax! It’s just an ultrasound. Everything is fine. Just breathe. Deep breaths. I’m fine. I’m fine. I repeated to myself, quietly trying to center myself and talk myself out of my small anxiety attack. My breathing was quick and my heart was racing. But I needed to get a grip.
My name was called out into the almost empty room a few minutes later by a large, intimidating man, who looked like he was more fit to be a personal body guard. I was wondering if he was going to be my technician, or just my escort to the room. As he lead me to the dim-curtained area, I was half relieved when he said to go ahead and change and wait for my technician.
When the ultrasound technician finally arrived, I was laying moderately calm on the exam table in the now open hospital gown exposing just my small baby bump, and a white, starched blanket draped across my bottom half. My nerves were replaced with the nagging feeling of my cold feet that I was trying desperately to keep warm. I knew I should have worn socks today, I thought to myself.
Ultrasound technicians are not allowed to tell you anything about your baby unless a doctor is present-a rule that annoyed me with my first daughter‘s ultrasound. Knowing this rule, I laid silently, only making small chit chat to introduce ourselves as she entered the room and got settled, and she again explained to me that during the ultrasound she can not tell me anything until a doctor looks over the images. Yes, Yes, I know. I felt more at ease after the exam started, and my nerves seemed dormant as I counted the square tiles on the ceiling above me.
After thirty minutes passed, I began to study my ultrasound technician’s solemn face. I tried to catch glimpses of my baby in the reflection of her eyes from the computer screen as she moved the machine’s wand across my jelly covered belly. An hour passed, her voice broke the still cold air. She looked at me with a furrowed brow. It was the first she had really spoken to me the entire procedure since our hellos, and a few jokes I attempted that had fallen flat. “Uhm, I can’t seem to get a few images I need, baby is very active. Do you mind if my colleague tries?”.
“Sure, no problem,” I said with a polite smile, my heart dropping. Was something wrong? Was the baby really being too active? Was this lady an idiot and just needed some help? Maybe she was new. That’s it. She was new. And inexperienced. She was a new, inexperienced, idiot. I told myself. Satisfied with my own answer, I calmed my nerves again, still rubbing my feet together.
The second technician came in, and within about fifteen minutes, after both women stared doe-eyed at their screen, smiled to me and said, “Okay. You are all done. Do you have any other appointments today by any chance?”
My stomach felt tight again. Why? Because you need a doctor to tell me something? It’s Sunday! No other doctors are here besides you guys and the emergency room!
“No.” Was all I could muster at first with a million questions trying to push themselves out all at once, but at the same time, not wanting to know if something was wrong. I swallowed hard. “I know you can’t tell me anything until a doctor looks over everything…but two things. Can you at least confirm that she is a girl?” I asked firmly, still searching their eyes for something wrong.
“Yes, I would say a girl,” said the first technician, keeping her poker face.
“Ok- and in your experience, do you think you need more images? Did you get what you needed to complete this?” I asked.
“Uhm. Yes, I believe so. If they are not satisfied with the images then someone will call you if we need anything else. You can exit down the hall when you are dressed. Have a good day, and take care.” the second technician said. They both disappeared behind the curtain, the first technician giving me a small polite smile as she closed the curtain behind her.
When I got to my car I called my mother and my husband complaining of their seemed incompetence and expressed my feeling something was not right. The ultrasound took about an hour and thirty-five minutes. Which is long for this procedure. My mother and husband were both sure after I talked their ears off for 30 minutes that I was probably over analyzing and everything was okay.
After two days went by, I had not heard anything from the hospital, so I put it behind me that the baby was fine and felt relieved thinking no news is good news, and I did not have to have another ultrasound.
Wednesday came. I will never forget this day. I was driving to do errands, and my two year old daughter was asleep in the backseat. My cell phone rang. I stared at the hospitals number for a few seconds before picking up.
“Hello?” I asked, feeling every hair on my body stand at attention.
“Hi, am I speaking with Kaili? This is the genetic counselor. We need you to come in for a level two ultrasound. There seems to be a severe problem with the baby’s heart along with some other…concerning internal abnormalities.”.
I kept it together long enough to get where and when and what time I needed to be at the next appointment. Friday. Two appointments. A specialist? Her heart? How severe? Other internal organs? There are more things wrong? What else? Is she going to die? Can I fix her? What are my options to help her? Testing for what? You want me to stay positive until we test further? I need to bring my husband? Tell me again what is wrong. Everything. Tell me everything you see. I just want my baby. I had her repeat these findings three times, as I pulled into a parking lot to look for a piece of paper to write on.
I scribbled, “heart, stomach, brain”…She said that these initial findings from the first ultrasound included that her stomach looked abnormal, and possibly on the wrong side. They believed she had multiple things wrong with her heart. Cysts on the brain. The list kept going. I looked at my toddler still sleeping in the rear view mirror of my car as I had her explain to me that there were “a few” things that could be causing these concerns, but that they needed to do a more in depth ultrasound before making an official diagnosis- because they could be wrong. Great, you could be wrong. I said. She then explained if the findings of the next ultrasound were consistent, to be prepared for considering an amniocentesis, and discussing the ‘next steps’. “It’s perfectly legal to terminate until 24 weeks when…” Excuse me?
The phone call put me into a spiraling dense fog as I tried to center myself in the real world again as the counselor’s voice and her uncanny calmness to every question I had trailed on. My ears felt hot when I hung up the phone, and I sat in a daze, staring at the scratch paper and scribbled words. The tears came pouring down my face like a flood and I cried harder than I ever had with a real broken heart, and my soul ached. I couldn’t breathe. My body shook. I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up, and the lump in my throat seemed to be growing with every sob.
I pray no one ever has to cry so hard that they can feel their soul crying too.
This was a deep pain. I had my hands on my belly sobbing as I could feel my baby moving and kicking inside me, every movement making me cry harder. The ultrasound I had been so uncharacteristically nervous about, would be the first of many as we monitored my second daughter for her eventual diagnosis of Trisomy 18.