Wow. Last week was a big, stressful week. But like many of the milestones we’ve reached since we lost Patrick, the anticipation was far worse. Once the week arrived, I was ready to hear the news and know how Stitch was doing. Reaching 20 weeks was probably our biggest milestone in this pregnancy, other than bringing baby home, of course.
We lost Patrick at 20 weeks, receiving the news that there was no heartbeat at a fetal echocardiogram that had been scheduled to take a closer look at concerns with the heart. The autopsy showed that Patrick’s death was primarily caused by placental deficiencies, but he also had a hole in his heart. We were assured that the issues with his heart stemmed from the core growth problems from the placenta, but the heart continued to be a big concern for us with future pregnancies. Knowing that, my OB scheduled a fetal echocardiogram along with a 20-week anatomy scan to offer significant reassurance at that point in the pregnancy. But having those tests scheduled at the same gestation that we lost Patrick was tricky. We desperately needed the reassurance, but it added fear and anxiety to the already challenging milestone week.
In a lot of ways, we were really smart about how we approached the week. We knew it was going to be challenging and thought a lot about how we could cope through the week. What would make things even the tiniest bit easier? Originally we had planned to have the fetal echo, anatomy scan, and an OB appointment all on the same day. Lloyd took the entire day off of work. But, when I went to schedule the fetal echo, I found out they didn’t schedule on Thursdays, so I scheduled it for Tuesday instead, first thing in the morning. That way we wouldn’t be sitting around for hours or all day waiting for the appointment. Also, it allowed Lloyd to go to work after the appointment. My favorite OB nurse also suggested we come in to the clinic before our fetal echo appointment to hear the heartbeat, so we knew there was still a heartbeat before walking into the same waiting room and likely the same exam room as we had found out Patrick had died.
Having the echo earlier in the week also meant that we had time in the morning before our anatomy scan. Neither Lloyd nor I liked the idea of sitting around the house being anxious, so we took the opportunity to plan an adventure to the Museum of Science’s The Science Behind Pixar exhibit, which we’d really been wanting to see. We both were very excited about this mini-adventure, and it helped ease the pressure of waiting until the afternoon appointment.
Knowing our schedule, we headed into the week cautiously optimistic and ready to have a better picture about Stitch’s health. Everything is easier to deal with when you know what you’re dealing with! Early Tuesday morning, we heard a perfect heartbeat in the OB clinic and walked up the one flight of stairs to the suite where they do the fetal and pediatric echocardiograms.
The tech remembered us, as she did our echo with Patrick. I was a little embarrassed, but I didn’t recognize her. Honestly, we didn’t spend much time with her. She quickly realized something was wrong with Patrick and went to get the doctor. She was so kind and walked us through what she was looking at with Stitch’s heart. This time, the scan took about an hour before she went to get the doctor, which was reassuring.
When the pediatric cardiologist walked in, she immediately said, “Well, we have much better news this time.” As she took more pictures, we talked about Patrick and his autopsy results, my work with PALS, and the important structures of the heart for which she was looking. When she was all done with the scans, she turned on the lights so we could talk more about her findings. She could see all of the vital structures of the heart that could cause potential problems. She said she couldn’t rule out a VSD (hole), but that if there was one, the pediatrician would likely find it easily after birth. She offered us the option of coming back later in the pregnancy for another scan or waiting until after birth to consult with our pediatrician. She’s also made herself available for any questions. We chose to wait and reevaluate after birth. I appreciated her willingness to offer further reassurance, but I also trusted her assessment and didn’t want to deal with the anxiety of another test if it wasn’t really necessary.
At the end of the appointment we had a really interesting chat about how often she’s the one to find no heartbeat. My mom had asked me the night before our appointment if I thought she’d remember us, so I asked her. She said she remembers every one of her patients to whom she’s given a fatal or devastating diagnosis. She also said that she’s the one to find no fetal heartbeat about once a year, and she frequently sees those parents again during their subsequent pregnancies.
Lloyd and I left feeling fairly optimistic. I had a follow-up appointment with my psychiatrist, and he assessed very quickly that I was doing better and that the fetal echo likely played a significant role in that. Honestly, late Tuesday was the first time I thought, “Wow. We might actually bring this baby home.” I’d spent the first 20 weeks of this pregnancy bracing for bad news, and just maybe we weren’t going to get it.
Thursday morning, we headed into Boston to go to the museum. I cannot speak highly enough about the Pixar exhibit. If you live in the area, you really must visit it before it leaves in January. It melds the creative and the science just beautifully. They have lots of photo spots and activities for all ages. We had a blast. You can see all of our photos on Flickr. Oh, and going on a Thursday morning was brilliant! There was one school group that went through after we arrived, but otherwise it was pretty wide open. We were able to do all of the activities and watch all of the videos without any or much waiting. We spent two hours in the exhibit, then left to get lunch before our anatomy scan.
Stitch wasn’t in the most convenient position for the ultrasound tech. She got a lot of the images that she needed, but none of the fun images they usually print for the parents. When she left, she hadn’t printed any images for us, and it was breaking my heart a little. She did say she’d have the doctor try after I went to the bathroom. We were hoping Stitch would flip to a better position when I got up and walked around. And Stitch cooperated!
The doctor came in and spent a significant amount of time looking at the heart again, as well as some other areas the tech wasn’t able to get very well. He talked to us about how much different this pregnancy must feel than Patrick’s, and when I think about it, he’s very right. It really has been a much more textbook pregnancy. Before he left he said exactly what we needed to hear: “Well, whatever was the underlying condition with your son, I don’t see any evidence of it happening in this pregnancy. This baby is perfect.”
He also managed to snap a couple of those perfect ultrasound images that parents love. I’ve been overly protective of the images we’ve gotten of Stitch on ultrasound. I can’t really pinpoint why. I’ve shared them individually with people–especially family–but I’ve really hesitated sharing them online. Maybe I wanted a piece that was just ours in case things went wrong again. Honestly, I’m not really sure. But the doctor got an image of Stitch that screams to be shared. He was pretty pleased with himself that he caught it too. Apparently, it’s very rare to get a shot as clear and open as this. I don’t like to believe in signs, so I don’t think this is a sign. But I do think this is Stitch waving to us, saying, “Hi, Mama and Daddy! I’m one cool kid, and I can’t wait to meet you!”
We’re now feeling incredibly hopeful about the outcome of this pregnancy, which has caused my panic to turn to how much we have to do to prepare. Anxiety and exhaustion didn’t leave a lot of energy to research and prep and start to sew projects. On Friday I made a master list of things that need to get done, and I started chipping away at those over the weekend. Monday I started sewing burp cloths and organized the projects I’ve already purchased supplies for. This weekend we have a cloth diapering workshop, then we hope to go finish our registry at Buy Buy Baby. We’ve selected a doula and childbirth classes. We’re moving towards being more ready. But, I’m trying to take some advice from my brother, a father of three, to heart: “Prepare, prepare, prepare. But also know, you can never be fully prepared.” We will do our best. We also know that there are still numerous things that could go wrong, but I’m trying very hard to be mindful when those fears sneak in and not let them consume me. We will deal with whatever comes. It’s what we do.