I was almost 12 weeks pregnant with this baby, and eager to get my first appointment with the OBGYN over with. I was feel terribly nauseous, was in the middle of my work day, and it was humid as all hell outside. I circled the parking lot at least 5 times trying to score a stall that didn’t leave me out in the elements for too long, and finally threw in the towel, claiming defeat. I parked four blocks away in a 30 minute zone. Great.
In the lobby of the Berkeley campus, which I hadn’t visited before, stood a lone receptionist who had been clearly anticipating me. “Rachel? We’re all ready for you!” well, this was a relief at least. Id be in and out of here in no time.
Getting undressed and waiting for the OB (another first time meeting, as my regular Dr Duffy was out of town), I allowed myself to remember my first ultrasound with my first pregnancy and what a different experience it had been. For one, I took the whole day off work. Melbs was with me too. It was an event. We arrived early, nervous, excited. As if someone was going to give us a baby right then and there. I smiled at the thought.
Within seconds, the door to the room flew open and an unusually tall, spry, blonde woman in a white coat bounced in. She gave me a hearty handshake and introduced herself. She was filling in for Dr Duffy for a few weeks, then was shipping off, along with her family to Montana, “where we can afford to live like decent human beings,” she said. Gosh, I thought; If a doctor can’t make it in this town, who can?
She was funny, quick witted, and fast. Exactly what I needed. I hoisted myself up onto the table so that she could wave her magic wand, confirm that I wasn’t having twins (which I was convinced was the case), and leave me with a photo to bring home to my boys.
First we saw the heartbeat. “A strong one!” said the doctor. And then she began circling around, pointing out limbs or limb buds… and then she got quiet.
“Hmmmm,” she said. “I don’t like what in seeing now.”
I craned my neck to look at the small monitor positioned to my left.
“You see his dark area on the skull?” she asked. The screen was black and white and grainy, but I could see it: a small spot on the top of the baby’s skull. It was a few pixels, could have been a small tissue floating by, or a shadow? I didn’t know.
The doctor said, matter of factly and unwavering in tone, “I’ve never seen anything like this. Could be a cranial abnormality. Like the skull hasn’t closed all the way?”
My heart leapt. What?
A defect was honestly something I wasn’t prepared to hear, even after having seen the dark spot.
“I’m not a technician though, so we’ll need to get you in to the imagine center for a better look right away. Get dressed.”
Unthinking, I obeyed. I then followed her down to the lone receptionist. And just like in a dramatic ER show scene, she plowed passed the other expectant mothers who were waiting to check in for their appointments. “Shannon, dial up East Bay Perinatal.” I just stood there, awkwardly, trying not to make eye contact with the other patients who looked concerned. I felt like I was in trouble.
When the imaging center picked up the phone, we all heard this doctor, who I later thanked for “kicking ass on my behalf” say the following:
“Yeah hi. I need an appointment right away for my patient. We’ve detected an abnormality and need it confirmed… No, it needs to be done this week…no, I will not hold…ha! It’s not ma’am, it’s doctor, thanks… yes, I’ll speak to him please… cranial abormality, left side…(then to me)…Rachel, can you go in next Wednesday?”
It was only Thursday and that seemed like an awfully long time to wait. But I nodded. Now it was the other patients in the waiting room who were avoiding eye contact with me. “Yeah, this sucks, huh? Sucks to be me!” I wanted to say, but my eyes welled with tears and I shook my gaze back to the floor.
The doctor hung up the phone and pulled out a note pad to write down the time of my appointment. She put it in my palm, and said, “I wish I could be congratulating you right now, but sometimes these things just happen. I’m obviously not going to order bloodwork for you. Let’s take this one day at a time. After the appointment on Wednesday, head straight to my office and we’ll decide how to proceed.”
And that was it. She left no room in my mind for hope.
This did happen sometimes, I thought. Plenty of women I knew miscarried… maybe due to fetal abnormalities. I had to be strong, not act like I was special. This happens to people all the time. In an instant I made peace with it.
I walked to my car in the sweltering heat and felt proud of myself for not crying. I drove all the way home, where Melbs was waiting with our son.
As nonchalantly as I had said goodbye when I left for the appointment did he ask, “how’s spud?” — a name he had apparently just made up for the new baby.
I burst into tears, “not good!” And I sobbed and sobbed while he held me, his eyes wider than they’d been during childbirth a year earlier. Neither of us had experienced anything like this before.
He convinced me to not think a single negative thought. That if there’s really nothing wrong with the baby then my stress may make things unnecessarily worse for both of us. He was right. And despite the sureness of the problem depicted by my doctor, he convinced me to believe otherwise.
All I could do was pretend the appointment never took place. I couldn’t give myself false hope, but I could push the entire experience from my mind. And that is what I did for the next week.
Upon a closer look, by three trained technicians the following Wednesday, there was nothing abnormal about Spud at all. She was perfect in every way and remains healthy and strong ten weeks later.
I may never understand the importance of this experience and what lesson I needed to learn from it. Or why this hot-shot, bitter, on her way out of town doctor felt so sure my baby wasn’t viable based on a small blip on a small, crappy monitor… but I am reminded of what a wonderful life partner I’ve chosen. An incredibly strong, positive man who had the ability to keep me from drowning into a negative spiral, as he has done many times over the years.
It’s only been within the last couple of weeks that I have begun to allow myself to get excited about this baby. What started as such a for sure, easy, no-brainer experience for me has been turned upside down and into something I’ve never dealt with before. I guess the shock is dwindling and my confidence in this pregnancy growing. I don’t want to treat this pregnancy nor this baby like a routine anymore. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that is the point of it all. She is special, she is my daughter… Not just my “second kid.”