Today I am 39 weeks pregnant – or 40 weeks if you go by my original due date. In any case, Baby Girl is still cozy inside.
It’s been a week of emotional ups and downs. That cold turned into a full-blown flu, and I’m still not completely over it, though feeling better than I was a couple days ago. Feeling that crappy this late in pregnancy has been no fun at all! Also, my blood pressure has been up and down all week, which has heightened my stress level, which . . . probably hasn’t helped my blood pressure. It seems to be okay for now, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. I’m keeping an eye on it and taking all kinds of extra measures per my midwife to keep it in a healthy range. Oy.
I don’t know how much stock I put into the mind-body connection, but sometimes I wonder if anxiety about this impending birth might play a part in baby taking her sweet time in coming. Not that I’m feeling impatient. Yet.
I wonder if I’m up for this. For labor. For giving birth. I guess I have to be, right? I also wonder if I’m carrying around emotional baggage from Finn’s birth and the aftermath. I’m not sure. I just want everyone to be okay.
I realize now that saying, “I just want a healthy baby” is a loaded statement. Or at least an ambiguous one. What does it mean? I guess it probably means different things to different people. For me, from my own vantage point, it really just means that I want her (and me) to come through the birth unscathed, and that I hope she doesn’t have any issues that will require surgery or hospitalization.
This is the first pregnancy I’ve had that Kevin has been less than thrilled about pretty much the entire time. I have no doubt that his age is part of it – being 15 and realizing exactly how your mom got into this condition is, I’m sure, horrifying. He also remembers very well the aftermath of Finn’s birth and is worried that this baby won’t be okay. It’s not Down syndrome that any of us are scared of, it’s health issues, the possibility of the baby having to go to the hospital. Also, I finally dragged it out of him that he’s afraid to get attached because of the age difference! He’s afraid that he won’t really have a relationship with her anyway because he’s 15 1/2 years older than she will be and will likely be out on his own when she’s still little. I can see his point, and honestly, I find it very touching that he even thinks about stuff like that.
All the other kids are very excited (though worried, too, about the possibility of Mom or baby having to go to the hospital), except Finn who really just doesn’t get it that there’s a baby in Mommy’s tummy. I think he’ll be okay with the idea, though, once she’s here.
So, we wait.
Well, pregnancy is nothing if not unpredictable.
Today, my blood pressure is completely within healthy range. My midwife and I have been in close contact via text and phone even though she’s been out-of-state for the last few days (she’s back now, as of tonight – I have a sneaking suspicion that she cut her trip short because of me, which I feel really shitty about, but she’ll never tell me if she really did or not), and she’s been having me really load up on protein and super-hydrate myself since yesterday morning, plus today I started taking my bp med on an empty stomach rather than with food. Still, it’s hard to believe that those things alone brought my bp down from 169/75 (!!) yesterday to 124/62 today. I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, ya know?
I’m still going to go in tomorrow morning for blood and urine workups so she can get a baseline on me in case my bp goes up again. Sigh.
Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve bought some time. Hopefully I can kick this cold in the next few days and get through this last week of school for the kids before Baby Girl makes her debut.
Thanks to everyone for the kind words and positive thoughts, here and on Facebook – it really means a lot to me!
That probably doesn’t look like a girl who’s not only sick with a nasty cold in the end stages of pregnancy, but who also suddenly feels scared. It probably doesn’t look like a girl whose blood pressure has crept up to a level that is concerning her midwife enough so that she’s talking about encouraging this baby to come out and meet the world sooner rather than later. It probably doesn’t look like a girl who’s dissolved into tears more than once today.
That’s the story, though.
Other than the cold, I feel fine, but my blood pressure, which has stayed beautifully under control up until now, has suddenly decided to play games with me. I’m going in for a blood and urine workup Monday morning, and depending upon what that shows, my midwife may be coaxing labor within the next few days. And I’m scared. Because I don’t want to deal with an induction (even a “natural” one). Because I don’t feel ready to have this baby (how crazy is that?). Because I suddenly feel a little helpless, and am reminded how much of life is really out of my control. Because, because, because.
Stay tuned . . . and think good thoughts for me, huh?
It’s a funny thing to find oneself pregnant again after having a child with Down syndrome. Some people never do go on to have more children after having a child with Ds – either because they hadn’t planned to in any case, or because, perhaps, the possibility of having another child with a lifelong diagnosis is more than they can or want to deal with. Some people do go on to have another child – because they planned to anyway, or because in some secret place in their heart, they want a do-over.
Finn was our sixth child. I was 40 years old when he was born, and Michael 41. It was somewhat of a surprise pregnancy, but not a complete shock; after Lilah was born, I wanted another baby – just one more (it’s hard to explain . . . I felt like there was still another child waiting to join our family – which I admit sounds really kooky coming from someone who doesn’t believe in any of that divine or supernatural hooey. It was probably the death moans of my biological clock). Michael, on the other hand, was ready to call it a day and be done having babies – a very practical position to take, no doubt about it. But, neither of us was very careful, and, well, if you play with fire . . .
And along came Finn. He was definitely going to be our last. Six kids, two parents in their 40s – that was it. And while I was pregnant with him, I was in complete agreement. I love being pregnant, but I was tired, and I couldn’t argue with the fact that we were about to have all we could probably handle.
Then he was born. It was a hard birth – difficult to explain because it went off without a hitch, but it kind of wrecked me. I felt like I had been hit by a truck after he was born; it just took a lot out of me, probably owing to the polyhydramnios I had developed which put my body into a degree of shock with his birth. Then he had to go to the hospital and have surgery, and we spent a nightmarish two weeks living a dazed existence going back and forth between the NICU and home. We learned that he had Down syndrome, and that was hard. Really, really hard. I grieved, I ranted, I wrung my hands, I shook my fists, and I cried myself out. And this tiny kernel began to gnaw at me: I wanted another baby. I wanted a do-over. Not that I didn’t love Finn – there wasn’t a single moment that I wasn’t consumed by how much I loved him, despite my grief over his diagnosis. I just couldn’t imagine that being my swan song in my long career of having babies. I wanted to go out on a high note, not a sad one, left with memories of gloom. I wanted a happy birth, and a happy aftermath. I wanted the babymoon I never got to have after Finn was born.
It sounds silly now. Or selfish, anyway. And in time, I got over it, that urge to have another baby. Down syndrome or not, it was hard to say goodbye to that chapter of my life, though, the childbearing chapter. But in time I began to enjoy and appreciate the next chapter, the one of just raising kids, watching them grow up, and enjoying all the things that we could finally do as a family that were too difficult to undertake when I was constantly pregnant or caring for a newborn or nursing.
And then, surprise, surprise – I found myself pregnant again. At 44 years old. I didn’t even think it was possible, what with all the chemo and radiation Michael underwent when he had cancer, plus at my age I figured my chances of conceiving must have been pretty diminished. Not so, evidently.
When I discovered I was pregnant last October, it wasn’t happy news. I was upset. And scared. I had made peace with the end of childbearing! I had moved on. I had gotten rid of everything – all my maternity clothes, all the baby clothes, all the gear that Finn had outgrown, gone. Where would we put this kid? Space-wise, we’re maxed out as it is, in the house and the truck.
And what if there’s something wrong with this baby?
I spent the entire first trimester being really scared. To the point of having anxiety attacks and crying jags, convinced that I was going to lose the baby – that the odds were that something was so terribly wrong with the baby that it would die. And I kept thinking, “If it’s going to happen, let it be now, when it won’t hurt so much, before I get too attached.” When the news hit that Michelle Duggar miscarried at 20 weeks, I went into a tailspin. She’s only a year older than me; clearly pregnancy at this age could only end in heartbreak.
It’s funny. When I was torturing myself with fantasies of a do-over after Finn was born, I wondered whether, if by some chance I did get pregnant again, I would do prenatal testing. Just for peace of mind, you know? But over time, as Finn grew and his having Down syndrome gradually stopped dominating so many of my thoughts and feelings, my feelings about prenatal testing began to evolve. I didn’t do any prenatal testing with Finn, mostly because I was having a home birth and choosing prenatal screenings would have landed me in an OB’s office which I wanted no part of, and partly because even at 40 years old, it just didn’t really occur to me that I might have a baby with a genetic condition. Naive. Smug. Call it what you want. Probably some of both. I did do some prenatal screenings with my other pregnancies, but I did them somewhat mindlessly, just going through the motions because I was advised to, but never really thinking to worry about possible outcomes.
So what would I do now that I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at 44 after having a child with Down syndrome? It actually didn’t take much soul-searching for me. I realized very quickly that I did not want to do any prenatal testing. I think this surprised a lot of people.
Here’s the thing: the more I look back on how it unfolded with Finn, the more grateful I am for the way we received the news of his diagnosis. Do I look back fondly on the hard birth or his surgery and hospitalization, or the grief I felt coming to terms with the fact that my baby had Down syndrome – and it was forever? No. But I am glad, so very glad, that I didn’t know until after he was born, that I got to enjoy a pregnancy filled with anticipation and not fear and dread, that I got to meet and fall in love with a beautiful tiny little baby before he had a frightening diagnosis attached to him, and that the news of his diagnosis was delivered to us gently. If it turns out that this baby has a genetic condition, I’d like to have it unfold much the same way it did with Finn.
So, although I was pretty scared throughout the first trimester, I decided very quickly that there would be no prenatal screenings this time around, and I’ve had no regrets about that decision. I’ve had three ultrasounds, one to date the pregnancy, and one “anatomical” ultrasound which, for me, only served to reveal the baby’s gender and to confirm that it’s safe to go forward with another home birth. I was adamant during both, however, that I did not want to know about any soft markers. I don’t want speculation, I don’t want shadowy possibilities that can only be confirmed or ruled out by more invasive testing. I only want to know if the baby appears to be viable and healthy enough to be safely born at home. The tech who did my ultrasounds is the same one who did my ultrasound when I was pregnant with Finn, and apparently, according to my midwife, she still feels terrible that she “missed” his Down syndrome. My midwife tried to explain to her that I’m grateful to have not known until after he was born. When I was in the ER last week with that mystery pain and they did another detailed ultrasound, my biggest fear was not that they would find something wrong with the baby, but that they would find something wrong with the baby and tell me. But according to all the ultrasounds, this baby appears to be just fine. I know ultrasounds are not definitive, so I take all this with a grain of salt – and a measure of optimism.
I’m no fool. I know that at my age, the odds are not overwhelmingly in my favor. One source, downsyndrome.about.com, puts the risk of a woman my age at 1 in 38 of having a baby with Down syndrome, and 1 in 26 of having a baby with any other trisomy. But odds and statistics don’t necessarily predict the future. Would I rather this baby not have Down syndrome – or any other condition? Of course. I wouldn’t change Finn if I could, but I know the world is not welcoming to people like Finn, and if I could choose for my child to not be faced with the prejudices and difficulties that go hand in hand with Down syndrome, of course I would choose that. But I know that if it turns out that she does have Down syndrome, we can deal with that, and I don’t think I would be undone by it this time. And if she has something more serious than Down syndrome? We’ll deal with that, too. In any case, we will love her – we already love her – and we will give her as full and healthy and loving a life as we can.
I decided not to do any prenatal testing because I just wanted to enjoy this pregnancy – this gift that I never thought I’d experience again. I wanted to fall in love with this creature moving about inside me. I wanted to revel in the magic of it all. And that’s what I’m doing.