The Death Stare & Pregnant Brain

There are many things that go on around here that I could write pages about.  Entire chapters in a book.  Stand up comedic routines.  But then there is pee on the floor (dog or child) and laundry threatening to suffocate me (no, seriously) and 5,000 requests for something to eat, and the moment passes.

Mostly my life is filled with just that.  Life.  I am constantly surrounded with fun and learning and I overhear endless endearing and hilarious things.  I'm going to try and remember a few.

A couple weeks ago Cash did something that made a mess or frustrated me or was something I had asked the kids not to do.  (I can't remember what it was.)  I asked him why he did this terrible thing.  He told me Penelope made him do it.  I asked him why he listened to her; told him he should have told her no.  He responded with, "But mom, she gave me the death stare!"  Since then I have overheard Cash and Libby both refer to Penelope and her "death stare."  I have yet to see this, but obviously I need to get a death stare of my own because it seems to be quite intimidating and get really good results when you want somebody to do something...

There is the reading.  The requests to go to the library.  The wonderful few hours afterward when my house is full of QUIET children reading on their own, reading together, and discussing and sharing books.  The bookstore that Libby and Penelope set up stocked with original books and charged 50 cents for.  Juliet padding down the hall bringing me books to read to her.  I cling to these evidences that my children will not grow up with an electronic device constantly in hand.

There are drawings like these that I find lying around.  Better than any photograph I could take to capture the essence of my three girls.  Penelope stands on her own and Libby sacrifices herself to elevate Juliet to a higher plane.  It is super AND amazing.  (I guess Penelope is without the Death Stare in this drawing...)

It is my Cash, shopping today with his Dad for supplies to give me a home grown pedicure for Mother's Day tomorrow, that makes me feel special.  Cash announced to my friend that he was going to give me a pedicure for Mother's Day.  He then followed it up with, "We have a pedi-file and everything!"

As far as events go, Jackson was in a yo-yo contest.  We spent a few hours a couple Saturdays ago waiting for his one minute routine, which he did almost perfectly.  He didn't move on to the next round, but we didn't care.  I was so proud.  He put his video on YouTube.

I also finished up my art class year with a show, as usual.  It was great, the work was great, the kids were great, and you know I love art when I am willing to wear an extremely unflattering to my pregnant body home made t-shirt out in public.  I was proud of all my students (which includes my own kids) and their hard work.

Last week I hit that part in pregnancy where I was opening something (this time it was a door in the freezer section of the grocery store) and I hit myself in the stomach with it.  This is a pregnancy milestone for me.  There is something beginning to protrude whether you realize it or not.  It's like your brain has not caught up with your changing body.  In fact, when you're pregnant your brain is always a step behind.  Blame it all on pregnant brain.

Which is why I have now run out of things to write even though I know there is more to say.  In fact, when you're pregnant your brain is always a step behind.  Blame it all on pregnant brain...wait...this sounds familiar...

Between the two trapezes

A few weeks ago I got a call from a nurse at my OB practice.  She called to tell me that my routine blood screen I'd had ten days or so before had come back abnormal and that my blood levels were positive for Down's syndrome.  This was a blood screening.  This did not mean my baby had Down's syndrome, but just that I was at higher risk after the screening.  She told me the chances my baby would have Down's  was 1 in 270.  She made sure I had an appointment with the fetal medicine doctor (I already did--everyone over 34 is advanced maternal age and goes for this upper level ultrasound at 18-20 weeks pregnant) and we hung up.

I told Jimmy immediately.  We sat with dueling iPhones doing research on an abnormal AFP (Alpha Feta Protein) blood tests.  It seemed many people have abnormal or "positive" results and most of the time have a healthy baby.  Besides, 1 in 270 is fairly good odds.

Yet in the next week until my ultrasound I was filled with thoughts of the possibility of having a baby with special needs.  You consider how this will impact you and your family and how your child will be perceived by others.  I didn't allow myself to get upset though, it seemed like such an outside chance.  Besides, it really didn't make much difference.  I would still be having a baby in a few months.

God kept bringing the scripture to mind--"When I am afraid I will trust in You.  In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid." (Psalm 56:3-4)  This puzzled me a bit because I didn't really feel fear.  I just felt thoughtful.  I felt like I just wanted to know.  If she was going to be special, so be it.  I figured I'd know soon enough.  I figured when I had my ultrasound, then I'd know.  I only had to wait a few days.

So when Jimmy and I were called in for our ultrasound and the doctor himself walked us straight back to his office, I was immediately nervous.  When the doctor takes you to his desk, it is never good news.  He set a sheet of paper in front of us full of statistics about three different chromosomal abnormalities.  He said a bunch of stuff that I honestly don't remember.  But words like "birth defect" make your brain stand still and your throat get thick.  He said that before my AFP blood test, my chances of having a child with Down's syndrome were 1 in 270.  But that after my test, my chances were 1 in 34.  (So the nurse had given me the wrong information.)  I did hear this part.  The bottom sort of dropped out.  This is strange news.  It's unknown territory.  I began to feel fear.

So then we went into the ultrasound room.  The tech started my scan and I tried to get her to slow down and tell me every little thing.  She was going so fast as the doctor looked on.  But they do this all day long.  It is nothing new.  As they measured and checked for Down's markers, they found nothing.  Every single thing measured correctly or functioned properly.  About halfway through, I started to cry.  For no apparent reason (they weren't done so I wasn't happy or sad), it was just that I had held it all in and finally let it all out.  It's hard to pay attention to your precious baby when you're blubbering all over yourself.  (I did have the presence of mind to ask her to make sure it was a girl--which I had found out during a quick scan at the OB the week before.  It was!)

All of a sudden it was over.  But the fact that they found nothing wasn't the end of it.  The doctor told me that only 50 % of Down's babies show signs on ultrasound.  But they would double my probability to 1 in 74 since they saw no signs.  The doctor asked me if I wanted to do a more extensive blood test called a cell-free fetal DNA test which can tell you with 99% accuracy whether or not your baby has Down's or one of two other chromosomal abnormalities (although these were pretty much unlikely because they would have shown on ultrasound).  I said I wanted it.  Jimmy said he didn't think we needed to.  Even if she had Down's, we don't have to know beforehand because her heart was fine and she wouldn't need any immediate treatment.  True.  But I wanted to know.  I needed to prepare my heart and my kids.  My extended family.  So they drew my blood right there.

Now I had to wait a full 10 business days for the results.  More waiting.  There is a Coldplay lyric that says "...I'm in the gap between the two trapezes..."  This is how I felt.  I just want to know which path I'm going down.  I did feel scared now.  Just scared of the unknown.  Of going down a path about which I knew nothing about.  So I resolved to follow the scripture and trust in God.  It didn't matter.  I recalled another scripture.  "Ask and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you."  I felt release to pray for a baby with no chromosomal abnormalities.  You can lean toward feeling bad asking for this, you don't want God to think you would be upset by a "different" child.  He makes us just the way He wants.  Yet He knows our hearts and I truly wanted a "normal" child and so I decided to pray for that.  And I did.  I also read, "In His presence there is fullness of joy."  So no matter what I am literally filled with joy.  Because I'm carrying a baby God made.

A few days ago (after only 7 business days) the nurse called.  I had already been jumping every time the phone rang.  Keeping it near me constantly between 9 and 5 weekdays.  She asked me if I was ready for some results.  I said, "Sure..."  Everything was negative for any chromosomal abnormalities.  My chances had now been reduced to a less than 1 in 10,000 chance of having a baby with Down's syndrome.  Which is really as low as they get.  I was of course relieved and grateful and praising God for answering my prayer.

What I learned...

This whole ordeal was an interesting place to be.  Because even though you don't want to get news that there may be something "wrong" with your child, this news wouldn't have changed our day to day life very much.  I'd still be pregnant, I'd still have a baby to feed and care for in a few weeks, I'd still love the baby, she would still be born into a family of five siblings who love her...yet it seemed like something that was life changing.  And I guess it would have been.  But so is having a "normal" child.

I thought a lot about life changing things that happen to people every day that there is no warning for.  Car accidents, heart attacks, that sort of thing.  In reality, we don't really know what could happen at any moment.  We are always caught in the gap between two trapezes.  We live under the hand of a sovereign God who can do whatever He wants.  But the truth is, He wants to do what is best for us.  To care for us and be amazingly gracious to us.  Sometimes this means trials, sufferings, difficulties.  But I am okay with this.  There is no suffering outside of His care.  It is humbling.  And it should be.  I can "fly through the air with the greatest of ease" because I'm not in control.  It's not up to me.  It's a really good place to be.