Are you positive?

“And then the husband passed out.”

I chuckled at the doctor’s story just like I was supposed to as the technician prepared the biggest needle I had ever seen in my life. The specialist was sharing anecdotes about fainting spouses in an effort to distract me from the upcoming procedure.

As I laid there with my sterilized belly exposed I didn’t cry. I had shed more than enough tears in the past three weeks, and they weren’t due to typical, fluctuating pregnancy hormones. This streak had begun when a nurse from the OB’s office phoned: Abnormal test results. Follow-up required. Call this number. Have a nice day.

An hour earlier, the fascinating Level 2 ultrasound distracted me from weeping. The technician had pointed out fingers and toes in all their 3-D glory. She told me to look away at the right moment since she knew I wanted the baby’s gender to be a surprise.

Despite my desire for suspense, I had signed a bunch of release forms during my last visit to the obstetrician. I read the disclaimers but thought, What’s the harm? They’re drawing blood anyway. Knowing that bad things happen to other people, I agreed to the screening tests as a formality.

When the results came back indicating that the fetus might have Trisomy 18, I was shocked. I had never heard of the genetic disorder. Thanks to the power of the internet, I soon knew enough to come undone.

What the internet didn’t tell me was how to behave until I knew for sure. It was hard to accept congratulations as people learned of my pregnancy. I knew that, “I’m terrified that my baby may only live for days” was not the proper answer to “How are you feeling?”

So I found myself in the office of a specialist in high-risk pregnancies hoping for confirmation one way or the other. He explained how no markers for the condition were observed during the ultrasound. However, if I wanted to know without a doubt, I needed amniocentesis. Through tears I asked to use his phone. Bravely or foolishly, I had come to the appointment alone and didn’t know what to do. I called my husband, and we decided to find out for sure.

Risks explained and consent forms complete, I was alone in the room with the technician, the doctor, and the needle. The fluid was drawn out. I was sent home and told to wait for the results.

Another week passed in uncertainty. I carried my phone with me everywhere, hearing phantom rings and checking for missed calls. I tried not to think about what we would do if they told me my baby had a fatal disorder. All I could think about is what we would do if they told me my baby had a fatal disorder. Impatient and anxious, I called the office for my results. I had to leave a message and resume my wait.

A nurse phoned back a day later: “Oh, everything’s fine. You just had a false positive on your blood work.”

She hung up. I hoped she was rushing off to call another pregnant woman to give her good news. Maybe she would even celebrate with her. For me, five weeks of waiting, worrying, stress, and crying came to an end without fanfare. Of that, I’m positive.

A big thank you to the writers in the yeah write summer series bronze lounge who helped me transform this blog post into this story.

40 thoughts on “Are you positive?

  1. I held my breath during this! That’s great writing. SO many women have to face that time period between Maybe there’s a problem and the confirmation one way or another. No one tells you how to face that gray area.

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  2. ugh. i’m reminded of my miscarriage (before Lovie). the way some of the doctors and nurses acted during that time was unreal (cold). today i understand it’s b/c they, too, have to process a loss but at the time, it adds to the awfulness of everything.

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    1. Part of me understands there’s no time to hand hold a woman who’s pregnancy is uneventful when there are patients having diagnoses confirmed or dealing with losses like you. Professional detachment has to be balanced by compassion, though.

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  3. So glad you got the good news. The waiting is so hard! Luckily, I never had any blood test flags, but it was still hard to wait for the amnio results knowing how much higher the risk of a genetic mishap was vs when I had my first son 6 years earlier (I was 40 when I had my second).

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  4. Been there. Maybe the nurses and doctors have become immune to all the emotional knots such news wraps us in. They see it every day, but it is a wallop upside the heart to us. Good job with conveying emotion that is ‘not’ emotion. Made the piece more of a gut punch.

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  5. OMG I went through the SAME THING. Except they thought Jagger has spina bifida (he doesn’t). They didn’t tell me they thought this way until I went for a routine ultra sound and a zillion doctors came rushing in to see the baby. I had the amnio as well. yuck. Thankful it turned out well for you!

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  6. Wonderful news! I went to my ultrasound / amnio appointment alone, too – I don’t know what I was thinking. Longest 10 days of my life. Then, “Hold on, lemme get the doctor.” (dying, fainting, vomiting) “Your results are normal. Do you wanna know the gender?”

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  7. This was very gripping, Cyn. You conveyed your own muddle of emotions and the medical profession’s seeming lack of same perfectly. I’m sure as others have said that they do have to find some distance given everything they see every day but the nurse at the end could have been a bit more present in the moment for you. Still, for the sake of the piece, the dichotomy makes it punchier. Silver linings and all 🙂

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    1. I realize it was selfish to want a cheerleader while other women have their fears confirmed. Still, I always wonder if I would have been better off not having any blood tests and having those five weeks back.

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  8. The lines that pulled me up in this were: ‘I knew that, “I’m terrified that my baby may only live for days” was not the proper answer to “How are you feeling?”’ and ‘ I tried not to think about what we would do if they told me my baby had a fatal disorder. All I could think about is what we would do if they told me my baby had a fatal disorder.’ They describe perfectly the knots we tie ourselves in waiting for news. Your fears come across very clearly and also that the end of the wait isn’t necessarily a time of release.

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  9. Wow..i cannot imagine going to the appointment by myself. I refused all those types of tests during my three pregnancies b/c my doctor had warned me of the many false positives and it wouldn’t have changed anything for me.

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  10. Cyn, this is a great, cohesive, sympathetic piece. I agree with Sarah Ann about those critical lines that let your reader into your head and heart.

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  11. How terrifying but so glad that all went well in the end. You captured the emotions so well. I have unfortunately been there, and done that. The only difference was that they discovered my baby was dead. I carried that little black rain cloud over my head throughout the pregnancies of my two children that did live to be born. Just couldn’t seem to be happy about being pregnant until I knew for sure it wouldn’t all end in disaster. Waiting and not knowing is awful, but discovering your worse fears is devastating. Brilliant piece.

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    1. When I hear about someone who lost a child during pregnancy, it really makes me feel like a heel to complain about what happened. I can only imagine how scary it was for you having experienced the loss and knowing it was a very real possibility. I’m sorry for your loss and celebrate your two children with you.

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  12. I really liked the flow of your story and how you fleshed it out. Well written as usual!

    And being a nurse, I too am often telling stories to distract patients from needles and giving results they may or may not want to hear. Your story is a good reminder to me, about that uneasy period of waiting…. Thanks for sharing your experience; it helps humble me and compels me to be more compassionate as I do such tasks daily.

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