Luckily I don’t have all day to dwell on the implications of my impending and sudden MRI scan. I’ve invited my two lovely local mum friends and their toddlers around for morning play and lunch. Our offspring are just at the age when they have started to interact with each other. It’s so funny to observe from the sidelines.
One of the mums offers to come over in the morning and look after BB along with her son, so that I can have Dad with me. How brilliant! She’ll be round 9 a.m.
In the evening I look over the information the hospital had sent me. I have an overwhelming feeling of having been railroaded into a whole other world of clinical instruments, machines, procedures and choices that I don’t want to be part of. I’ve requested a second homebirth, why would I want all these tests and checks? What can they do with all this information when they find it? Nothing apart from offer an abortion.
There’s a link to a video of what to expect at the MRI scan. The machine reminds me of things I’ve seen in Terry Gilliam films. Oh God, you have to take off all your clothes and wear hospital scrubs. You have headphones to help block out some of the noise. They play you soothing music (this is the most frightening prospect of all). You hold an alarm button which you can press if you start feeling funny. You have to stay perfectly still, and the whole thing won’t last more than 45 minutes. Studies have shown that the deafening noises don’t appear to have any impact on the baby. Well, that’s all just great.
You can take a CD of your own music to listen to if you like. I can’t think of any music I would like to listen to, stuck in a tunnel. Someone else’s idea of what you might want to listen to seems a horrifying prospect. 45 minutes of soothing classics in a narrow tube, accompanied by loud knocking and banging. I’m sure the baby’s brain is fine, but I would come out foaming at the mouth. I have to have talking. Mmmm… composer of the week? I don’t want to create a lifelong aversion to any poor composer. Desert Island Discs then. Who? Julian Clary.
The information states, ‘A scan has been requested by your doctor to help him/her with the management of your pregnancy.’ This is the whole thing. I don’t want to have my pregnancy ‘managed’. I want them all to leave us alone. I remember saying to the girls earlier, ‘I wish they’d all go away and leave me alone and I’ll have my baby in a bush!’ Ahem.
In my mind I am resisting the continuation of this rollercoaster I’ve been set on. I discuss it with Dad. I think my baby’s probably ok, and I don’t want to go through any more stuff. If there’s something wrong, the scan won’t change anything, I’ll still have him. It’s way too late to think of anything else. Dad’s view is that if the baby’s ok, it’s better to know for certain rather than worry for the rest of the pregnancy. And if there is doubt hanging over it, they may not allow us to have a homebirth. Good point. So really I have no choice, and the way I try and retain a bit of control is to make a positive decision that I will have this scan, and whatever the result, it will be the last medical interference I will submit to.
In the night, it all goes around in my head. They seem to be rushing me into all these scans before it gets to the 24 week mark. This is all assuming that I share the same view that a baby can be terminated now at the 22nd week. It really gets to me that I wasn’t consulted, and asked whether I wanted all these checks in the first place.
Then I get to thinking of the sheer intrusion into his space. Why am I putting him through all this? If you can’t even hide away from people in your 9 month gestation period before you’re born, when can you?
The morning rolls around, brilliant mum and toddler arrive. We leave on our bikes with my notes and the disc of Julian Clary. We are looked after by the nicest person you could hope to meet, I think she’s a research scientist. We have a long chat first of all, where I air all my apprehensions whilst trying not to get emotional. I am asked to be part of a study that would mean a longer scan today, further scans and more after the birth too. It is worded in quite a persuasive way, but I’m prepared, keep my Britishness in check and say no. Then I have to put an X on a line indicating how anxious I felt, starting at ‘not anxious at all’ and ‘extremely anxious’. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, given that she was supposed to have reassured me (British to the core). Still, I put my X quite near the ‘extremely anxious’ mark.
So then I have to get my kit off and get the new kit on. You can’t have anything metal on you at all, that’s why they have you in the cotton hospital gear. I always feel a bit naked without my watch. Dad is allowed to be with me up until the door of the Terry Gilliam room. Here we part, not knowing quite when to say goodbye. There’s a rhythmic, train-like shuffling noise. I am helped onto the bed, kind of wedged in place, given the headphones, the alarm cord to clutch and am shunted into the tunnel. I make a little wave in Dad’s direction, I can’t see him. I think of my Grandma, how she hated these scans. When you roll in there, the roof of it is right in front of your face. It’s a nasty feeling, I don’t blame her. But if it’s not your brain which is the subject of the scan, but rather the little one inside your stomach, you continue rolling through till your head pokes a little way out the other side.
So this is it, I just lie here now, and try to keep as still as possible. Scanner professor lady, and the nicest person you could hope to meet settle me in. ‘We will talk to you through the headphones’. ‘let us know if you need the volume adjusting.’ ‘if there’s anything you need, ring the bell’. ‘Remember, don’t be scared. The noises are quite startling’
Julian Clary starts, and so do long beeps from the machine. I wonder if I made an error of judgement with my choice CD when my belly shakes with inward laughter. Every time there is a loud noise, I feel my baby leap around vigorously inside. So much for the babies being unaffected. I try to concentrate on the interview between the obliterations, rather than ruminating on how I came to be in this situation. Terrorising my baby with continuous loud noises and stressed and upset emotional chemicals. At one point I think, ‘If I had been stronger I would have said no to this’.
What were described as knocks are more like long held beeps, mainly As and Ds in different octaves. When heard in conjunction with the excerpts of music, an eerie, science fiction type horror music is produced. I was glad I wasn’t listening to all music. The interview comes to an end, I know I’ve done 35 minutes, so not long now. For a time I focus on the beeps. I can hear different harmonies emerging the more I listen. What feels like 20 minutes go by, and then on comes Desert Island Discs again. Funny. The CD must be starting from the beginning again. I’ll catch the bits I missed. But no, it’s not Julian Clary, it’s a forensic psychiatrist in Broadmoor! I’m sure I only burned the one onto the disc, how can this be? Then I hear the scanner, professor lady in my headphones. ‘Doing alright in there? There are going to be about five minutes of normal sound, then some high pitched one, then a little knocking and we’re done’.
The forensic psychiatrist and the noises resume. And then – the noises stop and all the lights go out. ‘It’s broken!’ I think. The ladies come back in. ‘we’ve had a power cut’. Scanner, professor lady is visibly hacked off. The nicest person you could hope to meet comes to talk to my prone head sticking out of its sausage roll.
‘Did you approve of our choice of listening material?’
‘Oh it was YOU!’
It was a Desert Island Discs episode that she had been personally listening to a few days ago.
‘I saw your CD had finished, so I put this episode on. A bit of a different subject, but very interesting’.
She told me about the large library of audio they keep for the patients, and every time someone brings in a CD, they copy it and add it to the library. Dance music tends to go better with the beeps, classical music tends not to work too well.
I take the opportunity to move, which isn’t easy, as I’ve become so stiff. At first I go to move my legs and nothing happens. I’ve never experienced this before. The machine is up and running again, they try to resume from where they left off. No, they have to roll me out and back in again, and start from further back. Some more loud noises, baby somersaults, insights into the criminal mind, and it’s all over.
I am so disorientated getting up. They hand me a glass of water. I walk into the next room with normal alert people in proper clothes and feel like I’ve been reduced to a vulnerable plate of jelly. I immediately see the clock. Is it really twenty to twelve? A smiley girl comes up to me and asks me to fill in the same chart as before. Now how anxious do you feel? As I’m still on the verge of tears like I was when I went in, I don’t feel much has changed, but my Britishness overcomes me, and I put the X a little closer to the ‘not anxious at all’ end, but not much.
People keep smiling at me and asking how it was, so I keep having to say, ‘Not great’. I elaborate to another smily girl who takes me to my basket of clothes. ‘I feel it was a massive thing to go through for such a small reason’. (basically for me to know that my baby’s ok, after already being told there’s a 90 percent chance of everything being perfectly fine).
I meet Dad and phone brilliant mum who has cooked lunch for the little ones and is just serving it up.
After a little wait, we go with the nicest person you could hope to meet and look at the findings.
‘This is your bladder, and this is your baby’s head’.
Well, that explains a lot.
‘here is the ventricle in the brain. The largest measurement is well within the parameters of normal. Your baby is perfectly fine. The results from the ultrasound were misreadings.’
I phone brilliant mum. ‘They’ve had their lunch, do you mind if I take them to the park?’
So we cycle back, away from stress and anxiety, towards reality and our family life. We catch up with BB in the park, and she’s properly walking around!
So there we are. Getting back to normal life now, possibly to never set foot in that hospital again. I have a feeling of lightness and appreciate more how good life is.
The whole experience has made me think a lot about the automatic process you get swept along in from the time you tell the doctor you’re pregnant. It seems that the technology just gets sharper and sharper, they can measure ever more detailed things inside a tiny fetus, inside a woman. They can, and so they do, as a matter of course, for every single expectant mum. How many wrong results are they producing? How many lives are being turned upside-down for no reason?
My mum friend was told there was an abnormal measurement in her daughter’s heart which could have worrying consequences. On the next scan when she was a bit bigger, they said it had ‘got better’. I’m sure it was the measurement on the scan that was the problem, not her daughter’s heart.