I put Tessa’s first 3D ultrasound proudly on the corkboard in the kitchen for everyone to see. I stared at her little face and wondered what I could do to make some memories. I decided that the best way to make memories would be to do the exact same thing I did for Tatum’s pregnancy. Knowing she was now high risk for being stillborn, I had a sense of urgency to quickly make appointments before I didn’t have the chance.
We decided to get heartbeat teddy bears, and do maternity pictures. At first, I had fought with the idea of being in maternity photos, simply because I thought it might be too hard to be in my favorite setting where I had pictured my daughters together in the future. After some emotional panic, I realized this might be the only opportunity we would ever have.
I emailed the ultrasound business downtown, and I was taken aback by the kindness of the owner. She had done both of my girls’ gender determinations as well as Tatum’s 3D video during my pregnancy. Once I expressed to her that I was interested in pricing for a couple of heartbeat bears and briefly filled her in on Tessa’s diagnosis, she offered to do the bears as gifts for us, and she also recommended the same local non-profit group that our genetic counselor had recommended for support. I am still grateful for her empathy and compassion.
I was set up with an appointment for the same week and was feeling blessed that we were able to record Tessa’s heart. Tatum sat with me on the bed of the ultrasound business, happily saying, “Oh, look, my sister!” She carefully picked out the stuffed animals and decided that a small elephant would be the perfect one for her pictures. At the age of two, I am amazed at what a caring person she already is, even if she doesn’t know it yet.
I had already scheduled a photoshoot for Tatum for her two-year-old photos for the following Saturday, and I thought this could be the perfect time to document what we could of our daughters “together.” I contacted our photographer to let her know about Tessa’s diagnosis, and that I wanted to get in a few pictures during Tatum’s shoot. She agreed that this would be a wonderful way to capture a moment in time that she would be more than happy to be apart of. This photographer has done all of our photos, from my first maternity pictures, our wedding, newborn pics, you name it-she’s done it. There was no one more perfect to document this time for Tessa.
The photographer met Tatum and I at one of my favorite beautiful parks a few cities over. This wasn’t just some random photoshoot. As I stood in my gown in the long grass, I realized her heartbeat animal was never just an elephant. It represented all of the pictures she would never get to take in the park if she didn’t make it. It was her “sister picture” that she would never get to have. The birthday pictures. Her prom pictures. Her wedding pictures. Things that I knew she might never get to do on earth all wrapped up in this plush toy. This was a big responsibility for such a small little stuffed animal, but I wanted to do her justice while her heart still beat inside me. I haven’t listened to the elephant since she has been gone. After she passed, I put it in a box with her memories from the hospital. Maybe there will be a day soon that I can feel strong enough to listen to it again. I did not know how important those pictures would be for me until Tessa went to heaven. Photography is such a beautiful thing, because it holds still a moment in time that you can never have back.
A few days after the photoshoot, I was scheduled for my next appointment with the specialist. At 25 weeks, through ultrasound, my specialist checked Tessa’s tummy for a “stomach bubble.” A stomach bubble shows that the baby is swallowing fluid, and there was still no sign of this yet. In a normal pregnancy, when your baby is growing, she should be practicing swallowing. This allows the fluid to stay at a normal rate around the baby, as well as helps to develop internal organs.
“Not too concerning yet, you have an 8-pocket. This is the start of polyhydramnios, it is common for Trisomy 18”.
An 8-pocket is a pocket of fluid inside the uterus measuring 8 centimeters or more. I asked what causes this, and the specialist explained to me it’s because Tessa was not swallowing. At this point we weren’t sure if it was because she just wasn’t swallowing or if there was an esophagus issue.
Polyhydramnios happens in 1% of pregnancies, and I had never heard of this condition. I was told that on top of normal monitoring, we would also measure fluid at the appointments to keep an eye on it. Another way to measure polyhydramnios, is to measure four areas of fluid around the baby, and then add them together. After taking the four areas, you can determine an amniotic fluid index or “AFI.” A normal pregnancy will be between 8 and 15 AFI, and I was bordering on 24 AFI.
My specialist told me I was mild polyhydramnios, and we would hope to see the fluid stay in the 20s and low 30s for AFI. Usually, it is a slow gradual increase. I expressed that I had been having a lot of contractions for the last two weeks, and I thought they might just be Braxton Hicks. I was told to keep an eye on my contractions and try to take it easy. In the next few weeks, I would discover how strong the human body can be.