“Ten Fingers, ten toes?” That is the first question a coworker asked my husband when he returned to work following our 20-week anatomy scan. When Lyndon later shared this, I actually laughed, given the irony of the situation. “What did you say?” I asked, “…actually, no…” (That’s exactly what he said). I bet that coworker seriously wanted to put her foot in her mouth. Good thing she has a foot to put in said mouth. I have been having these types of thoughts since May 22, 2019. I can’t help but stare at everyone’s fully functioning limbs. It seems like everybody has them. Everybody except my unborn son.
Leading up to the anatomy scan, I was excited. I counted down the days until I could bring home cute little pictures of my baby boy’s adorable little profile and hear that everything was developing just fine. Neither of those things happened.
On the morning of the ultrasound, I woke up on edge. I said to Lyndon before we left, “I just want confirmation that everything is okay… I don’t want life to be hard for our son”. He assured me that it would be. Fair enough, as I am the first to admit that I am no stranger to anxiety. But I only felt worse after the scan. The tech was eerily quiet. Over and over, I read the big black letters on the wall stating that the ultrasound technologist could not deliver results. I tried to get her talking… at least tell us what she was looking for and identify each body part for us. Her answers were short. She was friendly and kind, but quiet. I just knew, deep down, that something didn’t feel right. During the appointment, I laid on the bed with an uncomfortably full bladder, my head twisted unnaturally to the side, trying to see my baby on the screen. She did not tilt the screen towards me to help my view. I reminded myself that I could admire pictures of his little face after the appointment and told myself that she was just doing her job.
Following the appointment, I sat in the car with an envelope of pictures in my hand and said to Lyndon, “I feel uneasy. That was supposed to make me feel better and it made me feel worse.” Lyndon assured me that all was likely just fine. “Do you really believe that?” I asked him what felt like 100 times in the upcoming days. I then slid my coveted pictures out of the big orange envelope and had I not been sitting down, I may have fallen over. I would be giving birth to a Halloween mask. Not one, not two, but three frightening looking images stared at me. Front views of my precious baby’s face (i.e. skeleton)…
“I can’t show my 2.5 year old niece these pictures! She’ll literally have nightmares!” I shrieked to Lyndon. Even my calm, cool and collected husband looked a little flabbergasted. “Why would they give us THESE ONES!?” I questioned over and over. Clearly something is wrong or they would have had the mind to print us out some typical looking pictures of my fetus …the kind of picture that literally EVERYONE gets after an ultrasound and frames for their cute little social media announcement. Lyndon agreed that this was quite ridiculous and noted that they had indeed taken some normal looking photos.
Me: Was he cute?
Lyndon: Yes, he was cute.
Me: Are you sure?
Lyndon: Yes, I’m sure.
Me: He MUST HAVE A CLEFT LIP! Did you see a distinct lips and nose!?
Me: You really think our baby is okay?
Lyndon: Yes, I really think that.
I had the same conversation with my mom. And my sister. And my friend, Haley, who is expecting 11 weeks before me. Literally anyone who would listen. I tried to make jokes of my fears but my thoughts continued to be anxiety-fueled. I just needed to make it to Thursday when the doctor would tell us that everything was okay and I could laugh at myself knowing that it was all in my head and that I am indeed a crazy person.
Except for that is wasn’t. After a sleepless night, we sat in our doctor’s office two days later, awaiting the results of our ultrasound. Lucky for us, one of my many anxious thoughts was, ‘What if the results don’t make it to the doctor in time?’, so I appropriately harassed all parties involved. Our doctor came into the room looking cheery. The poor woman didn’t know that there was an ominous report waiting in my file or that she was walking into a room full of crazy. She wasn’t even our regular doctor. I immediately told her about the report and how I am dying to know the results. “Here it is!” she confirmed. I breathed a sigh of relief. The relief lasted for .06 of a second as I watched her face as she read the report. She finished, took a deep breath, and said, “Okay…”. She then walked us through each tragic line. “You have a low lying placenta. This can move up naturally as you grow, but if not, you will need a C-section.” Lucky for me, I took some time to process this news instead of reading ahead (unlike Lyndon who was barely listening to this placenta talk). After answering a few of my questions, she moved on. “There is an apparent abnormality on the left hand with only two digits convincingly identified.” These are the exact words in the report. I know because I read them about 800 times after that. The report went on to state the possible cause may be amniotic banding, although no evidence of bands were detected. Amniotic what?! I’d never even heard of such a thing (I now know that this means that a tear in the amniotic sac can leave the fetus exposed to strings of sac that can become wrapped around body parts). My mind was racing. I could barely compute what the doctor was saying. I worried about many things in our time trying to conceive and throughout the first half of our pregnancy, but never once did the thought cross my mind that my child may not have all of his fingers. “What are the odds that this is all just a mistake?” I asked, numb. “It’s possible,” the doctor said apprehensively, “But I don’t want to give you false hope.” Great. She then went on to share that the heart structures were not able to be properly assessed. Even more great. My mind swam. I just stared at random objects in the room while the doctor looked at us with her most empathetic face. Lyndon rubbed my back even though he had every right to be as shell-shocked as I was at that moment. We went on to do the routine Doppler and measurements. We learned that we would be referred to a maternal fetal medicine specialist. A gynecologist who completes her own ultrasounds who would go in and take another look. Oh good, more waiting.
As soon as we got to the car, I started crying. I cried on and off all day. When I wasn’t crying, I made the mistake of googling. Google, in these types of situations, is never your friend. Neither is your brain if you’re me. A few hours after the appointment, a sudden thought occurred to me. ‘OMG my baby is swimming around in a death trap of strings!’ I could not be placated. I called the doctor and begged the receptionist to leave a message for her to call me back. “And what is this regarding?” she asked politely. “Ummm…” was I to tell her about the stringy death trap that is likely my womb? I quickly decided on no and told her “my ultrasound results” like any sane person. Our lovely doctor got back to me shortly, which I’m certain my mother and sister were beyond thankful for as they had since joined the pity party at my house. She told me honestly that she knew very little about amniotic banding but that she did not think that my baby was in any further danger since he was significantly bigger now than when the banding would have likely occurred. Phew. For the remainder of the day, I oscillated between trying to find humour in the situation (I didn’t realize how many jokes you could make about hands!), and completely losing it. I spent time with my favourite tiny humans, my nieces, but all I could do was stare at their perfectly formed little hands and marvel at all that they did with them, even at the ages of 8 months and 2.5 years. When Lyndon returned home from work (yes, he was calm enough to proceed with his workday), we zombied around the house, every once in a while, bringing up an aspect of our son’s life that was bound to be harder with only one hand.
It was a good thing that the night prior was sleepless, because I managed to sleep fairly well that night, and to both our surprise, we woke up the next morning feeling much more content. We resigned ourselves to the fact that no further information could be given to us until our follow-up ultrasound and let ourselves enjoy (as much as possible) a long weekend with our families. I went back to operating like a fully (okay, mostly) functioning human being until the phone rang a mere five days later on my way to work. We had an appointment the very next morning with our new gynecologist. We were going to get answers. Fight or flight mode reactivated!
To be continued…