“Everything I see leads me to believe there is something wrong with your baby.”
I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent or a sibling. I’ve never been in a battle where I’ve had to fight for my life. So I consider myself very lucky that I haven’t truly known true fear. But yesterday that all changed. Because I’m telling you right now, the fear you feel when someone tells you there’s something wrong with your tiny unborn baby is a paralyzing feeling the likes of which I’ve never experienced, and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
MJ went into yesterday’s appointment already convinced of the worst. Call it Mother’s Intuition if you want, but she was POSITIVE there was something wrong. I tried to calm her down and managed to get her into a reasonable state of mind as we entered the office. But I knew the moment of truth would be the minute that little hologram popped up on the ultrasound machine.
I don’t pray, but I hoped like hell the first thing we’d see is that kid spread eagle. I had it all planned out in my head. The tech would smile and reassure us, showing us the baby’s legs were separate and flailing away. MJ would shed small tears of relief and I would say “See? Told ya so!”
But it didn’t work out that way.
When the fuzzy image came into focus, it looked exactly the same as it did Wednesday. MJ asked if the legs were separated but even I could see the answer to that was no. And when MJ saw, she lost it. She immediately started crying and sniffling. I gripped her hand as tight as I could and told her it doesn’t mean anything yet. After all, this was only the ultrasound tech. We hadn’t even seen the doctor yet. He would take a look and find that everything was OK. I refused to shed a tear and I convinced myself the doctor would come through for us. I was going to will this baby into acceptable condition. I clung to that.
The doctor came in and immediately started asking MJ a barrage of questions about her health history. It became abundantly clear that this guy might be an expert in examining ultrasounds, but some etiquette and sensitivity classes would’ve also been a worthwhile investment. With deft skill but horrible manners, he viewed the baby from every possible angle as MJ and I struggled to keep our shit together. Then he stopped and looked at us.
“The fact that the legs do not separate and won’t move is highly unusual,” he said. “It leads me to believe there is some kind of lower extremity defect.”
I’m not a religious person and I’ve never believed in heaven or hell. But there is a hell. Hell is sitting next to the person you love most in this world and listening to her wail hysterically because her heart just broke into a million pieces. Hell is watching her entire body convulse with sobs as she screams because she’s being tortured with grief. For as long as I live and no matter how many children we have, I will NEVER forget that sound. Ever.
I tried to hug her, to hold her hand, to console her in any way I could. But she just pushed me away and screamed at me to get away from her. In that instant I was completely powerless. My baby is sick and there is nothing I can do for him/her. Nothing. I can’t even hold the baby to comfort it. My wife is devastated too and once again, I’m powerless to do anything about it. I couldn’t make her feel better no matter what. I can’t fix my child, I can’t comfort my wife…that feeling of helplessness is crippling. And terrifying.
The only thing I could do was flip my switch. I went from being a parent to being a newspaper reporter. It’s a defense mechanism that allows me to do my job in some of the most emotional, saddest situations possible. And while it’s usually reserved for fatal accidents or knocking on the doors of grieving families to interview them about a lost loved one, this time it was a quest for information concerning the health and well-being of my future son or daughter.
I asked how unusual this was. What’s the next step? What are some possible diagnoses? What are our options? When can it be narrowed down? I asked every question my frazzled mind could muster.
Unfortunately, there really aren’t any answers right now. It’s too soon to know specifically what’s wrong. The only way to do that is wait a few weeks for the baby to develop and grow, so doctors can get a better look. So in 2-3 weeks we’ll have an amnio done which should be able to tell us what we’re up against. But the problem with that is we can do nothing except have this damaged child grow inside of MJ for the next month while we figure out what’s wrong. I have no idea if it’s going to be fatal. Or if it’s going to put MJ at risk during delivery. Or what kind of quality of life this child can expect if he/she does survive.
But to be honest, I can’t think about any of that right now. There are too many unanswered questions at this point so to try and answer all these hypotheticals would just drive me unnecessarily insane.
That’s why on the way home from the doctor’s office yesterday, the only thing MJ wanted was Will. Unfortunately he was an hour away staying with my aunt. So I dropped her off at her mother’s house and told her I would get him ASAP. I hugged her tight and swore to her that everything would be OK, even though that felt like a blatant lie. And I held it together long enough to make sure she got inside. Then I turned the car around, drove out of sight, and completely lost my mind.
I cried. I sobbed. I openly wept. I pulled the car over to the side of the road, put it in park, got out on the side of the road and fell on my knees. And then I threw up. I didn’t care who saw me or how I looked. I didn’t care about anything.
Eventually I made it my aunt’s where she was waiting along with Will and both of my parents. I held it together the whole time I was there. I hugged them all and I saw the love and concern in their eyes and heard their words of encouragement. And while I appreciated the sentiment, none of it mattered. I just wanted my son.
I put him in the car seat and hugged my family goodbye. I drove away but pulled over down the road a bit. I got in the backseat with Will and I told him there was a problem with his little brother or sister. “Brother sister” he said excitedly. He likes to give kisses to MJ’s belly and last week he even tried to share monkey — his most prized possession — with his sibling in mama’s stomach. The smile on his face as he spoke of his brother and sister might as well have been a knife twisting around inside my chest.
I broke into tears as I told him he might not get to be an older brother. I laid my head and all of my problems in the lap of my poor 2-year-old son. When I glanced up Will looked a little stunned and concerned. I wiped the tears from my eyes and told him I was sorry. And that’s when he grabbed my hand, looked me straight in the eye and said “Dada, it’s OK.”
To be fair, the Hallmark moment was ruined seconds later when he inexplicably slapped me across the face. But still, it was incredibly sweet and something I’ll never forget.
MJ and I both took the weekend off from work. I just can’t function properly right now. When I woke up this morning I was happy for a fleeting instant because I thought it was all a dream. But then I remembered my world is now upside down and the nightmares take place during the waking hours, the only reprieve coming at night.
I have no idea how this will turn out. We’ll get as much information as we can over the next few weeks and make the best decision for our family. I just hate this. I hate feeling like I’m cursed. With the exception of Will, the last few years have been nothing short of fucking miserable. MJ lost her job and had to take another with a significant cut in pay. Our finances suffered to the point we’re on the brink of declaring bankruptcy. We’ve borrowed thousands from generous family members that we haven’t been able to pay back. MJ was diagnosed with Crohn’s an other serious medical conditions. We went through two miscarriages before Will was born. MJ suffered through hellish postpartum depression. Will gets kicked out of daycare and then a day later, we find out there’s some horrible defect with our unborn child.
And each time I try to reassure MJ that nothing else can go wrong, something does. Each time I tell her things can only better, they get worse. I don’t have any more optimism in me after this. The fact that my poor unborn child is cursed with some kind of freakish defect after we’ve already suffered through two miscarriages is proof that I am not destined for normalcy or peace of mind.
But why not? When is it going to be enough? Am I literally going to pay with a pound of flesh in the form of my unborn child??? I’ve fucking had it. I don’t even want fame, fortune and riches. I just want to avoid devastation. Is that really too much to ask? I don’t think so! And I don’t want to hear about God’s plan, or God not giving people more than they can handle, or what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Bullshit. God is crap, this is more than we can handle and what doesn’t kill us only weakens us and leaves us even more vulnerable for the next fucked up thing that happens to us.
While I don’t know how this will all end, I know it won’t end well. Because in the end there are two choices we can make and neither one is appealing. But both are daunting and terrifying.