Monday, November 8, 2010

Joy and Pain

I will be twelve weeks pregnant tomorrow.  We had our early genetic screening this morning, where they combine the results of ultrasound analysis, a blood test, and the mother’s age to spit out the likelihood of certain genetic abnormalities. As the technician was examining me, she asked, “This is your second pregnancy?” And I said, “Yes,” and took a deep breath, trying to prepare for what I knew was coming. “And how old is your older child?” she said with a smile, anticipating the glowing response of normal parents in our situation. I, of course, began to tear up and said, “Our older daughter passed away earlier this year.” She said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” obviously chagrined that she had brought it up. Through my tears, I tried to make her feel better and said, “Oh, that’s okay.” She said again, “I’m sorry.” I spent the next several seconds trying to calm down so that my abdomen wouldn’t be so tense—I was irrationally worried that it might somehow affect her ability to do the ultrasound.

A little while later, but while I was still on the table, the genetic specialist came in and we had to do it all over again. “Do you have older children?” “I was just telling the tech that our older daughter died in May.” Tears again. The specialist, an older woman with a very mama-bear personality (forgive the now co-opted expression, but it really did apply here), immediately said, “Oh, sweetie, you poor thing.” She came over and put a hand on Ed’s shoulder and then put both her hands on my shins and squeezed. This was exactly the kind of reaction I had been waiting and hoping for from someone in the OB’s office from the time we first had to share the news during our first visit with this pregnancy. Sometimes I think doctors just maintain too much professional distance. I understand why they do it, but the compassion and humanity that this doctor showed us helped me feel relaxed and normal almost for the first time since we found out we were having this baby. Her hands on my shins as I was lying on that table, so vulnerable, marveling at the growth of our next baby, crying over the death of our older baby—well, it just changed everything. I continued to cry a little bit as the scan went on, but it felt okay.

Everything on the scan looked fine, but we have to wait for the results of the blood test before we know what the actual risks are. After the ultrasound was over, we went to the specialist’s office where she took a full history from both Ed and me (since I’ll be delivering after age 35, I’m considered “advanced maternal age,” so they do a genetic counseling session in addition to the early screening). She was, again, so full of compassion and motherly love and warmth, yet also very knowledgeable and straightforward. She told us about our options to do amniocentesis and suggested that this procedure is now considered so low-risk that the ACOG says they can offer it to anyone, whether they are in a heightened risk category or not. In tears again, I said, “Well, we’ve already thought about it and given what we’ve been through, we don’t want to take any risks at all.” She totally understood and didn’t say another word about it, then put her hand on my knee and kindly told me that crying is actually good for women’s coronary arteries (but it doesn’t have the same effect on men). We all immediately started to laugh and I said, “Well, then, I will end up with a very healthy heart.”

We mentioned that the infectious disease doctor had told us that the only time they usually see a child’s immune system get overwhelmed by infection the way Hudson’s did is if the child does not have a spleen. The specialist had actually worked with a family who lost two young babies to infections, at which point they discovered that the mother had hyposplenism (a small spleen), and were able to protect the third baby by getting earlier immunizations, etc. She ordered abdominal ultrasounds for both us of just to take a look at our spleens and recommended that we get one for the baby when it arrives as well. When she was finished, I asked her if we needed to check out or anything, and she said, “No, you just have to get a mama hug,” and she pulled me to my feet and embraced me warmly.  Wow.  We left feeling comfortable, comforted, and well-informed about how we were going forward.

Back during the summer, when Ed and I were trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant again (even though it happened on the fourth cycle, it truly felt like forever—every month that we were not pregnant felt almost like losing Hudson all over again), Jess said to me in an email that she really wanted us to get pregnant because, she said, “I so want joy for you. I know this will bring you joy. I know it won’t take away the pain. But joy and pain has to be better than only pain.”

She was right. And I’ve thought about it over and over again since she first said it. How could we not feel joy today when we heard the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of this baby’s heartbeat for the first time (a strong 146 BPM) and when we saw these beautiful pictures?  (Like Hudson, this baby is measuring several days big.  Unlike Hudson, this poor kid is definitely getting my nose.)









And yet, as soon as we stepped out of the office, I started to cry, and kept crying all the way back to the car. I said to Ed, “I just hate that it’s like this. I remember how happy I was when I left this appointment last time.” I couldn’t stop thinking about these two little kids I’d seen in the Johnny T-Shirt catalog last night, a little girl about three years old sitting next to her little brother about a year old. Each wore a UNC t-shirt, but the girl’s read, “I’m the big sister,” and the boy’s read, “I’m the little brother.” I just can’t understand why Hudson never gets to wear one of those and hold her little sibling in her lap.

Extraordinary joy. And still heart-wrenching pain. But indeed, joy and pain is better than only pain.

20 comments:

  1. Hoping so much for really big, really frequent helpings of joy for you. xoxo Keely

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  2. Mandy--what a special, bittersweet day. I'm so sorry that Hudson wasn't with you today to hear her sibling's heartbeat. I hope you can focus on and really feel the joy for at least part of the time. Sending love to you, Ed and the little one.

    Allyson Lawless

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  3. I'm glad you have people who recognize that the joy doesn't take away the pain, but that you can feel both deeply at the same time. I hope all continues to go well.

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  4. I just finished reading the book "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave, and a quote from that book reminded me of you, and your pregnancy:

    "Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. The next thing you know something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile."

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  5. Big hugs, Mandy. I know the pain is ever-present; may the joy be so before long.
    Claire

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  6. I quite like your nose, Mandy. :) And I was so happy to see this joyous scan today. Thinking of you all the time.

    Ann

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  7. I'm so glad you had such a wonderful doctor with you today, Mandy. The kid looks great! (too bad about the nose - joking of course, since I've never met your nose).

    Rebecca

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  8. It was great to see you and give you a big hug. This baby is so blessed to have you and Ed as parents and Hudson as a big sister. Much love!

    Brooke

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  9. One of my favorite songs by Frankie Beverly and Maze goes like this "Joy...and Pain, it's like Sunshine and Rain". On another note, as I viewed the pictures of Hudson's sibling, I asked myself...who is Amanda Hitchcock? So this is how I learn that your first name is Amanda and not Mandy!?! lol Renee P.

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  10. I hope you have lots more hugs from kind doctors in the future.

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  11. I am so happy that you had a sensitive, caring, person for your visit. No, the sadness won't go away, but you do have happiness and joy incoming. (((hugs)))
    Oh, and from the photos I've seen, there is NOTHING wrong with your nose. I've always felt that my nose was AWFUL, and I was looking at photos of me when I was 14 (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) and my nose is/was wonderful. Silly, mommy!
    Your u/s photos are beautiful -- Mariann

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  12. Mandy,

    I also find your nose very pretty! And I'm so happy that your new baby is looking so healthy and that you were treated with such care by the geneticist yesterday. I hope that you continue to experience joy and that it may outweigh the pain at times. You are amazing!

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  13. http://jacksonparkcity.blogspot.com/
    Please check them out, they have been exactly where you are.

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  14. What beautiful photos/US! So amazing that at that tiny size, a person is emerging. I am glad that some joy is emerging as well, week by week, day by day. But, as with others, I am saddened that you don't get to share this with big sister Hudson in the way you want. Love to you, Ed, and that sweet, growing peanut inside.
    -amber

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  15. Thank you for sharing the pictures. I remember how exciting it was to share the ultrasound pictures of Ellie with our parents. One image in particular sticks in my mind -- that of Luke's father alone in the living room while we were clearing dishes the night we told him I was pregnant, staring at the ultrasound photo for the longest time. We are so sorry he died before she was born, but so happy we had those early images of her, so that he had concrete evidence of her presence. I remember so vividly staring at, and smiling about, your "Tar Heel Turtle" message announcing Hudson's impending arrival. And now these images, of a sweet new baby we all so eagerly anticipate with you. Well put, Jess. And congratulations all over again, Mandy and Ed.

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  16. Lovely to see your ultrasound pictures. I'm glad you were met with understanding by the medical professionals. I know that joy cannot take away the pain but they can exist simultaneously in the same moment. Thinking of you.

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  17. Congrats on the first trimester being behind you and surviving some very difficult situations and emotions--a beautiful post.

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  18. That is a beautiful little bean you've got in there!!! As a future medical professional, it's good to know that the doctor's kind words and gestures made a difference to you. You deserve all the thought and care in the world.

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  19. So happy and excited for you Mandy though I know how bittersweet this is. Your friend is so right about the joy/pain thing...
    xoxo, Olivia

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