Saturday, 19 February 2011

Silence of the Sisterhood - part 6 - The Scan

The Scan

You have arrived at the miraculous milestone of 20 weeks and you are about to see your baby for the first time.

It’s round about now that you begin to question the good old NHS.  Friends in other counties will say things like, “oh, I had my first scan at 12 weeks”, or “have they not done blood tests to work out if the baby might be Downs?”.

Er, no and, er, no.

Proud that you have remembered to pee in a cup and wipe it before you packed it in your handbag, you toddle off excitedly to the hospital with your partner.  You can’t wait to see the little screen and the little beating bean, the part of you both that your love created.  Because you are a Virgo and therefore both a natural worrier and a voracious reader, part of you dimly acknowledges that you could see a hole in the baby the size of a grapefruit or an extra limb, or no limbs at all.

But life is about hope, and you cling on.

The chilly goo and then the TV screen fuzzes into life, and there suddenly is your baby.  (It will always be more yours than “ours” because you have to endure pregnancy; the only time you award sole parenthood to your partner will be when you have a complaint). 

For 20 silent minutes the radiographer moves her magic wand while you squint at what looks like a leg but could frankly be just about anything.  Eventually the baby stretches the way her dad does in bed and we get a gorgeous complete view of our baby – it is the single most magical thing I have ever seen.  The baby, with arms, legs, and a head, turns to camera and waves, though my boyfriend (more accurately, I think) believes she has flashed us the V’s because she wants to get back to uninterrupted sleep.

We are revolved out of the door to the waiting area, “and then the consultant will see us”.  Private people, we clutch our baby photos silently, not wanting to coo or crow in public.  We will look at them and smile and maybe shed a tear when we get to the car.

The consultant welcomes us into his room with the bon viveur of Hannibal Lecter, and in that beautifully empathetic style of consultants everywhere says, “your baby has a cyst on the brain and only 2 vessels in the umbilical cord.  Usually we wouldn’t worry but the fact she has both abnormalities suggests Downs Syndrome.  Goodbye.”

I am sure the “goodbye” didn’t come so quickly, but it might as well have.  No time for questions.  No time for good news.  No time for balance or considered opinion or “oh my god that must come as such as shock to you, let me rephrase more professionally”.

Just nothing.  Nothing as we stumble out the door, and nothing as the tears start to torrent down my face.  Nothing as we drive the short distance home.  And nothing as Shaun pulls me into his arms as we get inside the door and shut the world out.


In many ways we are opposites, my man and I, and in other ways too similar – we are the blunt force and the immovable object.  I am positive; he is negative.  I believe in hope; he that life will screw you for a sixpence, or less if it can get you on special offer.  I embrace change and the possibilities of the future; Shaun tends to get vertigo if he thinks beyond the current moment.

But it is now that our oppositeness helps us both.  While I plummet down a lift shaft of doom, Shaun clings to the thought that “it will be alright” and “I don’t think there’s really anything wrong”.  All I can do is cry.
By the time he gets home from work that evening, we have both moved on the polar axis, nearer to our natural positions.  Shaun now believes it could be bad news and is fighting tears, while I – although not positive – have reconciled myself to the “facts” and faced the unthinkable, which has made me calmer.

It is one of life’s great ironies and truisms that what does not kill you makes you stronger.  I am about to make a terrible confession, and in the beauty of love, we find we agree – I say it out loud: “If this baby is Downs, I can’t possibly have it. I’m not strong enough to raise a Downs child”.   We discuss the unthinkable and the unpalatable – neither of us believe in abortion, but we both know we would be woefully inadequate parents to a child who would need us so much.  Slowly, doom turns to bitterness and we curse an NHS in which such news can be imparted when I am no longer legally allowed to choose an abortion.  If abortion – sorry, everybody says termination these days, less emotive don’t you know – is evil, it is at times a necessary evil.  Isn’t it about choice ?  Isn’t that why its called the Pro-Choice movement in the States ? Where is my choice ?  Where are my options ?

No longer obsessed with my all day nausea, all I can think about is a world where I will have to give birth to a child I don’t want in order to give it away, all because the NHS in my area left its tests too late.

Now I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours, but I think that God has a sick sense of humour ….

It takes an age for the next 7 days to pass.  I am relieved to be back at work and be able to use it as a distraction.  I have become quite a good liar too:  “Have you had a scan yet ?” – “No, the machine was broken.”    “Are you getting excited ?” – “Erm, no, cos I think having felt so sick .. blah blah …”  I am also very good at having short conversations or changing subject mid-sentence.  Mercifully, nobody notices.

Shaun and I grow closer.  Perhaps the closest we have ever been.  At night we hold each in other in bed like shipwrecked passengers clinging to a piece of driftwood.  It is the sort of bodily contact that redefines intimacy and need, and which I like to think Ronan Keating really meant when he warbled, “you say it best when you say nothing at all.” (Most of the time I think he means “shut yer gob luv, I hate your accent”)

In the midst of this, the greatest emotional crisis I have ever faced – not least because my body has in some way betrayed me – I feel miraculously calm and in control.  From the second I accept that the baby is the baby, and is already healthy or not, whether I worry or not, my mind feels clearer.
Not that this stops me staring at the ultrasound photo every night and crying myself to sleep.

I am also gathering strength from knowing my mind, and knowing that the choice I will make will be the right one, the only one, for us.  The sisterhood coo that I will change my mind, but I know myself, and I know I won’t.  
Finally, one by one, the sisterhood admit to miscarriages and friends of friends who have experienced something similar.

The veneer begins to crack, but frankly it goes in one ear and out the other.

I want my baby back.
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