First signs

Monday, March 5 The sonographer arrives bang on one. His name is Trevor. He escorts me into the dimly lit room, makes me comfortable, offers polite chitchat. He will have a good look at my baby first, he says, and then explain what he is seeing. The whole procedure should take no more than fifteen minutes. When do I first suspect that something is wrong Maybe its when I notice the digital clock on the wall tick over 1.45, or when I see the same perspective of my babys skull appear on the screen for the seventh or eighth time. I feel like an oversized mouse pad as the scanner glides left and right across my gelled-up belly and dread curls its way through my gut, killing the flutters of excitement. At last Trevor speaks. He is having problems getting some of the angles he needs, so continues to poke here and prod there for a further fifteen minutes. I stare at the screen above me, trying to make sense of what I am seeing, looking for clues, to what I dont know. I catch glimpses of my babys spine, a foot, a face and the gently throbbing lump that can only be the heart. Finally it stops. Trevor is seeing some things that dont look quite right. He needs to be sure. Can I sit tight, jam-packed bladder and all, while he seeks a second opinion I stare at the now blank screen and do the only thing I can: whisper over and over, please God let my baby be okay. Enter Tim, radiologist. Again my babys skull bobbing before me. Nods. Clucks of the tongue. Anatomical terms exchanged in hushed tones. Now the heart, now the kidneys, now the tiny profile. Exit Tim to page the consulting obstetrician while Trevor sits down and again wields the scanner, this time verbalising my fears even before my mind has allowed me to acknowledge them. My babys skull is strawberry shaped, theres an absence at the back of the brain, the kidneys appear to be too prominent, theres some disproportion in the chambers of the heart and a possibly receding jaw structure. Bottom line: these are markers commonly indicative of a chromosomal disorder. Is it Down syndrome No, the chromosomal disorders were talking now generally have far graver outcomes. Im sorry, I stammer, Im not sure what that means. Well, Trevor says gently, these disorders are not compatible with life – the baby will most likely die in-utero or very shortly after birth. Many people whose babies are diagnosed with these conditions choose to end the pregnancy. Bam. Head and heart racing, I ask how much longer this will take. I havent made arrangements for Gabe to be picked up from school, I was sure Id be back in time. The consultant arrives and gives me time to sort it. Her name is Helena Johnson. I wriggle to relieve the pressure on my bladder and try to articulate the questions piling up behind the growing lump in my throat. Helena is patient. She doesnt mind when I repeat myself. She doesnt make me feel stupid or ignorant. She doesnt call my baby it or speak as though theres not another life inside me. She tells me Im carrying a little boy. She asks me to come back tomorrow for a second scan and suggests that I consider amniocentesis. Finally, as she hands me a towel to mop the gel from my belly, she asks if Ill be okay. Of course, I say, Im fine. Autopilot kicks in as I drive the twenty minutes to pick up Gabe from my friends house. When I arrive, the first wave of grief hits. Danyelle does everything right. She listens, she hugs me, she cries, she holds my hand and tells me to call her if I need anything, no matter what time. I know she means it. Home again, home again, I say to Gabe as we drive away. Jiggety jig, he says back and I put on my sunglasses so he wont see me cry. Ive picked a name, I tell him. Its Daniel Sean??do you like it I love it, says Gabe. So its decided. Walk the dog, homework, dinner. Everything is normal. Everything is fine. I phone my husband, Paul, whos interstate. He books the first flight home. I phone my family in Queensland. More questions. More tears. Bath, story, bed. Finally Im alone with my baby. I feel him moving inside me and know all I can do is wait. And pray. I lie beside my slumbering six-year-old and stroke his hair. When, an hour later, sleep still eludes me, I slide from the bed, tiptoe to the spare room and turn on the computer.