“You may have to consider terminating the pregnancy.”
This was the last thing I was expecting to hear at my 20-week ultrasound.
On April 16th I was scheduled to have the standard anatomy scan that most expectant moms get between 18-22 weeks. Nick couldn’t attend due to Covid-19 precautions, but for moral support he drove me to the appointment and planned to wait in the car.
I was surprised at how quickly the ultrasound tech finished my scan— it took just about 20 minutes. She left the room and told me a doctor would be in to quickly look at me again and during that time I could call my husband on Facetime.
FYI my regular OB-GYN doesn’t offer ultrasounds—all patients have to get scans and genetic counseling done at a nearby perinatal clinic that has the technology and staff to do advanced testing. My last ultrasound at this clinic was very impersonal and I found the vibe of the office and staff cold and off-putting, but I didn’t dwell on it because I knew I would only have to go there for a few specific appointments during my pregnancy.
I had never met or been seen by the doctor who walked in to discuss my ultrasound. After taking five minutes to scan me again, he told us that baby boy’s brain, heart, blood flow and weight looked perfect. Then he paused and said, “but I do have a concern.”
The next 30 minutes of the appointment were a blur. With Nick listening on Facetime and me still laying on the exam table covered in ultrasound gel, we were told our sweet boy had a very rare and serious complication that likely could turn fatal.
This doctor told us my pregnancy was now high risk, I would need weekly ultrasounds and for next steps we’d have to schedule a series of specific genetic tests and bloodwork. He also told us we should be prepared to discuss termination.
By the time I made it outside to where Nick was waiting in the car, I was sobbing so hard that I had burst a blood vessel in my left eye and the inside of the protective face mask that I’d been required to wear for the entirety of my appointment was covered in blood from a nose bleed.
All I had to take away from my 20-week ultrasound was a post-it note from the doctor with the name of the rare complication he claimed my baby was suffering from and a follow up appointment confirmed for the next week.
The next seven days were the worst of our lives. I’ve struggled with generalized anxiety disorder since childhood and nothing can compare to the all-consuming fear I felt over possibly losing my child.
For three days, I could not stop crying or get off the couch. My appetite completely disappeared and I lost nearly half of my pregnancy weight because I couldn’t keep food down. I have never experienced such extreme physical and emotional grief.
Around the same time we found out this devastating news, I started to feel baby boy move and kick. I had mixed emotions. On one hand it made me so happy and hopeful feeling him active and moving. On the other hand, it broke my heart knowing that feeling could soon disappear.
Nick finally helped me snap out of my blackhole of mourning. He pointed out that despite the isolated complication seen on the ultrasound screen, our boy was otherwise completely healthy and growing normally. Hearing him say that made me realize that I needed to fight for my son and the best thing I could do for him while we waited for our next ultrasound was to start taking care of myself.
The first step in doing that was seeing a different perinatal specialist for my follow up and finding a new OB-GYN. Just the idea of getting weekly examinations by the doctor who casually suggested we think about terminating our now 22-week unborn son was traumatizing. Even though I had never had any issues with my OB-GYN, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling about continuing care with a practice that was affiliated with the perinatal group where I’d be forced to go for any type of ultrasound or procedure.
We spent hours last week having my medical records and care transferred to a hospital group in my Pennsylvania hometown and pleaded to get in for a follow up ultrasound and appointment with one of their top maternal-fetal medicine doctors.
On Wednesday, we got the good news that this doctor could see us the next morning and surprisingly that Nick was allowed to accompany me as long as he wore a protective mask. I had been mentally preparing myself for a long road of solo appointments and exams, so I couldn’t believe it when the receptionist told me they were still allowing partners to attend office visits. For the first time in days I felt hope.
I went into my follow up ultrasound on Thursday morning ready to hear the worst. I’ve never been so nervous and scared for anything in my life, but my appointment was night and day compared to my experience seven days earlier.
The ultrasound tech at my new doctor’s office spent 1.5 hours doing a detailed scan of baby boy during which she explained everything she was seeing. She found absolutely NOTHING. There was no complication anywhere. He was perfectly healthy and normal. I could not stop crying, but this time it was happy tears.
Afterwards we met with the doctor to review the scan and discuss any necessary next steps. He was kind, compassionate and took the time to really talk with us and answer every little question.
He said that in his 30+ years of practicing, rarely does a complication that at first appears to be a worst-case scenario actually play out. He was also very skeptical the complication observed by the previous doctor had ever existed in the first place. He told us that for peace of mind we were welcome to come in for another ultrasound in three weeks, but other than that he was giving baby boy an A+ for health. He encouraged us to take a big deep breath and put what happened at the last ultrasound behind us. After we left the appointment Nick and I both sobbed tears of joy in the car.
This experience has been a wake up call for me in many ways. Being faced with losing my baby made me realize I need to be more grateful for my healthy pregnancy. Not that I was ever ungrateful, but I had definitely been taking my thus-far easy road to motherhood for granted. During those seven days of unknown I felt completely naive and foolish for thinking that everything would just go perfectly. I still feel very guilty about the stress I put on my body and baby boy during that week.
I also learned that the word of one doctor isn’t the word of God. When it comes to medical care, I have every right to seek second, third and fourth opinions. Doctors can make errors and I need to trust my gut. No one should feel forced to continue seeing a medical professional or get procedures done at office that makes them feel uncomfortable and scared.
A few of my friends have asked me if I’m angry and plan to call and confront that first doctor… My answer is NO. I honestly wish I could forget that it ever happened.
I’m personally looking forward to continuing my pregnancy journey closer to family in my beloved home state. Fun fact: when I was growing up my mom actually worked as a NICU nurse in the hospital where I’ll now be delivering. I also volunteered there when I was in high school. Little man is going to have a Pennsylvania birth certificate like his momma!
As I near the end of my second trimester, Nick and I are going to take our new doctor’s advice and put this traumatic experience behind us. Our plan from here on out is to only focus on the positive. Our baby is healthy and that’s all that matters ❤️