I used to think that the two scans you have when you’re expecting a baby are amazing, wonderful, joyous things to look forward to and relish every moment. You get your little skelly pictures, with which you can bombard unsuspecting people, or even put them on facebook if you’re so inclined (that’s another matter).
But I’ve just been through what I would call an ordeal which has me pretty sure that were I to ever be pregnant again, I would refuse to have a scan at all.
Ok. So here’s what happened-
I’m pregnant! Whoops! Feels just like last time, no concerns.
The first scan is late at 17 weeks due to paperwork error at doctors. Fine by me. By this time, there’s quite a lot to see. A restless, bouncing baby boy. Wow.
Two weeks later- the second scan. This time the sonographer is concerned about a measurement of a ventricle in the brain –bordering on slightly too big. She wants to measure it again in another two weeks. ‘It’s not big enough for them to want to see you upstairs, but I’d like to scan you again just to be sure’. Ominous, but I’m not convinced. By this time I can feel my boy leaping about plenty more than his sister ever did.
Another two weeks later –a different sonographer says the ventricle has grown. So now the thing that was a bit too big is a bit bigger. I’m still not convinced. There’s talk of being sent upstairs, ‘but don’t panic’. After lots of toing and froing in and out of the room to verify things with superiors while I wait with a sticky belly, I finally cut her off mid-flow. ‘What’s upstairs?’ (feeling a little Orwellian), ‘The Fetal Care Unit’. I’d rather call it the Fetal Scare Unit. ‘They will scan you in more detail, you can make an appointment, it won’t be today.’ Another scurry out of the room and back. ‘They can see you at 2.15 today’.
This ‘probably nothing to worry about’ issue is suddenly seeming quite urgent.
I cycle home. I play with BB in the kitchen while Dad hoovers the crumby front room. I make a toasted sandwich which I hastily wrap in tinfoil and race back to the hospital. This time, ‘Upstairs’.
I get there just in time. I stuff the sandwich in my face in the shortest time feasible. I wait. I wait. People with clipboards and dangly ID cards come through and expertly avoid my eyes. I ask the receptionists to check if there’s been any mistake. They respond defensively and patronisingly and laugh to each other when I sit back down. I wait. I wait. I daren’t ask them again. One of them takes pity on me when it’s nearing two hours and checks. There’s been a mistake. The doctors have missed my name off the list.
Soon I get to have eye-contact with the previously aloof people. I say, ‘Has it been very busy today?’
‘Yes, it’s been busy.’
‘I’ve been waiting for two hours.’
By this time I’m feeling rather miffed.
So now it’s time to get squirted with gel again on another bench with the obligatory pillow which isn’t quite high enough to rest your head on.
‘Are you comfortable?’
(No, I’ve been told there’s something wrong in my baby’s brain. I waited two hours, you refused to apologise, I’m rather miffed, and this pillow isn’t quite high enough to rest my head on).
She is very kind and very clear about what the concern is. If this ventricle continues to grow, it could mean a number of things. All of them some kind of brain impairment. If it stays the same, it could well be just an abnormality that has no effect at all on the person’s life.
A lot of questions.
‘Did you have your Downs Syndrome check?’
‘Did you get the results?’
‘No, I don’t think so’
‘Have you been taking folic acid since the beginning?
(There was a gap of a month or so before I got it together to take it, and sometimes I forget. But my breakfast cereal has it in too. Could I have given my baby brain damage by not ingesting enough folic acid?)
‘You might have been exposed to a dangerous virus without knowing it.’
There’s no fun screen to watch in this room. The sonographer has a screen, but I can’t see it. I fix on the clock wondering if I’ll make my 5.00 piano lesson. The scanning stick goes back and forth over my belly. She stares at the screen. I stare at the clock. After about 20 minutes she reassures me that her silence doesn’t mean she’s finding lots of things wrong with the baby. I’m very happy to hear this, but it’s a little too late. She resumes scanning, and I feel tears running out of my left eye and into my ear. Perhaps if I lie still, they’ll just dry and no-one will notice.
40 minutes now and the right eye has become a problem, because those tears are forming a pool between my eye and my nose. A quick flick. She didn’t notice.
‘Ok, here’s some tissues to wipe the gel off, I’ll just get my supervisor to verify my findings. I don’t see anything bad.
At this stage, what’s bad?
‘If you can wait here, we’ll be a few minutes.’
‘Ok, I need to ring my client to tell her I’m running late.
No time. The supervisor is already here, and she wants me back on the bench with the pillow and the gel.
More scanning. More silence. Those pesky eyes are at it again. I ask the first sonographer sitting on the other side of the bed to pass my phone so I can send a text. Great idea! Sending a text will keep those tears at bay. More scanning. I focus on the ceiling. I’m doing really well now.
This scan lasts half an hour, and afterwards I’m offered an MRI scan for the baby, a blood test to see if this abnormality has been caused by a virus, and a procedure called amniocentesis to rule out downs syndrome. There’s a 1 in 200 risk of miscarriage. I say, ‘I don’t think I have a high risk of miscarriage, I’ll have it. Because by now I’m sold and full of fear.
I go to the loo and think about my bike leaning up outside.
I return to the room and sign a consent form to say that I know the risk of miscarriage, and hey, I’m fine with that.
I ask about cycling home – no, no, no. Ok I’ll just leave my bike here and get a taxi home. The thought of arriving home in a taxi having abandoned my bike makes me feel suddenly very vulnerable. Taxi isn’t really part of my vocabulary.
‘Don’t cycle or do anything strenuous like lots of shopping for a few days’.
Since when was shopping strenuous?
Time to get back on the bench with the pillow and the gel. I hadn’t quite realised we were going to do it then and there, but there’s no time like the present. I guess I’ll have to postpone the lesson to another day.
This time, the sonographer tilts the screen so I can see my son, all cosy in his bubble and looking for all the world like a perfect baby. There’s lots of prodding and discussion about where would be the most harmless place to put a needle right into the bubble. I watch my baby. Those darn eyes are back with a vengeance. Still, nobody seems to have noticed.
What am I doing? I haven’t even discussed this with Dad. If I do have a miscarriage after this, I’ll always blame myself for killing our baby. AND I DON’T THINK THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH HIM.
‘I’ll hold the needle in place and the midwife will come and suck up the fluid, then we’re done’.
She moves away, and I’m completely given away by loud sniffles turning into sobs. ‘I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing, I croak.
Now everything is halted, the wheels of this accelerating machine I’ve found myself on grind to a halt.
‘Don’t feel pressured. Go home, discuss it with your husband and you can call us any day this week if you would like the test.
I now have a face like a beetroot and the eyes won’t stop streaming.
They take me to a private room rather than the waiting area so I can be a beetroot in peace. I see I have a missed call from Dad, but I’m too choked to speak right now. I wait for what seems like ages then a nurse comes in to do the blood test. We talk (I croak) about the amniocentesis. ‘Don’t worry, you can call us any time this week if you still want it done.’
I ask why not next week or the week after.
‘it can’t be too close to 24 weeks, as that’s our cut-off point where we consider it too late to perform a termination’.
Are we really talking about aborting this bouncy boy I’ve been seeing such a lot of recently?
I have to wait some more while the report of today is written up. It seems like another age, I try and sniff some fresh air out of the narrow opening of the window. There’s some thunder in the sky. I really want to go home.
At last I can go, they hand me the report and an appointment card for my next scan.
‘We got the results of your Downs Syndrome test’ they say, ‘your risk is very low, 1 in 12000.’
It was so great to see BB when I got in, all smiles and ‘mummmy!’
The next day Dad got a call at work to say they wanted to see me the next morning for an MRI scan. I phoned them and booked it.