It’s been a while! The truth is I didn’t feel like writing these past couple weeks and if there’s one rule I’m adhering to during this pregnancy, it’s not to do things I don’t feel like doing—at least when they’re fully under my control. It’s something I already started practicing during lockdown, but now with the wellbeing of a second human to take into account it’s become that much more important. This week though, writing is a way for me to process the events of the past 10 days.
Now is perhaps a good time to mention that I’ll be touching on the topics of abortion and Down syndrome, so I understand if some of you might want to skip this week’s post.
Nine days ago was my “Feindiagnostik” which is called the “anomaly detection scan” in the UK. It’s an ultrasound that usually takes place some time between the 20th and 22nd pregnancy weeks and its purpose—as its English name makes obvious— is to detect potential anomalies with the foetus. For Tom and me, the scan was an occasion to look forward to: it was the first time Tom would be allowed to see the baby. Ongoing Covid restrictions have meant that I’m sadly not allowed to bring anyone to my regular checkups at the gynaecologist’s, so all Tom has had to go on are my retelling of the scans and grainy photos the size of a postage stamp (OK, more like a deck of cards).
On the morning of the scan, we were both excited. My last checkup had been only a week before and everything was looking good, so we weren’t worried. And, even if something were to come up, it’s not like we had many options at this stage of the pregnancy, right? (wrong, but more on that later)
As the appointment got underway, we followed along watching on a big screen as the doctor took various measurements of the baby. Our hearts warmed as we watched the baby scratch its nose. The doctor seemed happy with the way everything looked, apart from one thing. The profile of the baby looked a bit flatter than expected: “It’s probably just a facial feature and nothing to worry about but…it could also be an indicator of Down syndrome”, she said. Despite none of the typical markers of the condition being there, she suggested I take a blood test “just to be sure”.
I’m not sure anyone is ever prepared for that kind of news, but we were less than prepared. I was dumbfounded, so was Tom. With little time to process the information, we both agreed that I should do the test, and so it was that less than half an hour later, a nurse took my blood. The results would take seven to ten days. Until then, we’d have to wait.
As I left the clinic to find Tom outside waiting for me, the shock made way to tears. In the space of an hour and a half, we’d gone from being giddy and excited to grappling with the possibility that our unborn child might have a genetic disorder. And not only that. As we processed the news over the next 24 hours, we found out that under some circumstances—a Down syndrome diagnosis being one of them—pregnancies can be terminated well into the third trimester. Should the test come back positive, we could be faced with the decision of whether to continue with the pregnancy or not. We were utterly unprepared for that.
As you can probably guess by the fact that I’m writing about this, the test came back negative. We’re lucky: not only do we have confirmation that the baby is healthy, but we get to walk away from a difficult question and an even more difficult decision. While I don’t wish for any expectant parent to have to answer that question, I wish we’d known more about the potential outcomes of doing the scan beforehand. After all, it’s an optional procedure. And how is it that both Tom and I had no clue about the rules around abortion? One of my German friends whom I confided in was also under the impression that abortion was only permitted until the end of the first trimester—which is true for elective abortions.
Of course, as many of the parents in our circles shared with us as we told them about our fears, the anxiety we were feeling is part and parcel of what being a parent is all about. The scan was a reality check: things can go wrong and there’s little we can do to change that. All we can do is try to come out the other end in one piece. While I wish we hadn’t had to go through those difficult seven days, going through them made me realise just how grateful I am for the people in my life.
For Tom first of all: we tackled the week as a team, taking turns taking care of the other, when one person was feeling down or under the weather, and making time to do fun things together like play video games and put together IKEA furniture (although that last one did cause some tension). For our friends and families who listened and kept us in our thoughts. And I also feel grateful for the coping mechanisms that I’ve developed over the years, like writing in my diary and exercising (thank god for Zwift!).
Wishing you all good health,