Momma-to-be scares

Last week we had our last ultrasound of the second trimester.

I thought it would be a routine thing where we could, maybe, double-check the child’s gender. Through no fault of my own, I had somehow fallen prey to an old wives’ tale that Marta had convinced me might be true. It is this: that if a mother has “the glow” then she is carrying a boy and, if she looks wretched, she’s got a girl. Now that I write all this out here, I realize how misogynistic the myth is–as if the inferiority of women were so acute that even your own body would recognize it and, in protest, refuse to deliver “the glow.”

But, anyway, Marta has that glow. She’s beautiful. And it’s not just me who thinks so. Friends, strangers, enemies. All of the above have commented on it. So I had decided that, since Marta has that glow, we must be having a boy, and the ultrasound we had telling us it was a girl was, in fact, wrong. I now realize how delusional that sounds. But this is why I have a blog: to put a stop to crazy thoughts.

As you might guess, the ultrasound confirmed the ultrasound before it: We are having a girl. And she is currently about 2.5 pounds (the size of a Chinese cabbage in Baby Center speak).

Besides confirming what we already knew, the ultrasound did something else: it got me worrying. Up until this point, I have been pretty chill about the ol fetus. I figured she was developing nicely and, when Marta had come to me worrying that the baby will only have one leg or that she’s not moving and so something might be wrong, I’d assure her that it’s all OK. I’d say that she likely has two legs, but we’ll love her the same with only one and, besides, worrying about it now won’t do any good. It’s not like worrying about a test, when the worrying might propel you to start studying and, thus, do better. Worrying about problems in the unborn fetus in your belly is useless.

And yet so hard to resist.

Near the end of the ultrasound, the technician, who was horribly technical and would get agitated if we asked simple questions like “Is that her spine?” (“I’m not looking at her spine now,” she’d snap back. “I’m looking at the heart ventricles.”), told us that she had to double-check that Nico’s legs could bend. You see, our litte fetus-child is at this point folded over on herself. She’s not snuggled up fetus-style, the way they are in movies, but in fact folded in half with her legs over her head. Like the plow pose in yoga, though in a sea of amniotic fluid.

Because of this, her legs were completely straight and the ultrasound technician said she need to make them bend. Because, she explained impatiently when I asked why, there are some children born with a form of muscular dystrophy where they can’t bend their knees well or at all. She said this as she was shaking and poking Marta’s belly again and again saying, “Come on baby! Come on baby!” Meanwhile, our baby’s legs did not move.

I was totally freaked out.

“Come on baby,” she tried again, clearly about to give up. “Come on!”

And then, in a quick movement, Nico bent her knees. You could see it, in that ultrasound-skeleton way.

It should have relieved me, but somehow it just set me off worrying more. Sure, she bent her knees once, but why did it take so long? What is there really is something wrong with her limbs?

None of this was helped by our next visit with the midwife, who explained that a previous problem, with the location of umbilical cord attachment to the placenta (something called a marginal cord attachment), is still there and will have to be “monitored.” She was my least favorite of the midwives, the one born without a personality (a birth defect I’m sure no child of Marta’s could ever have). When I asked her more questions about the marginal cord attachment, she robot-talked about how it could mean the baby isn’t getting enough nutrients and could also mean that in some point now or during the pregnancy the cord might detach and (she didn’t say this but I deduced) starve the child to death.

I left that appointment now convinced that not only did we have a “una bebe tiesa,” as Marta called her, or a stiff baby, but also a half-starved one.

After that we went to Marta’s next, and last, appointment, where she was required to drink a cup of corn syrup the color of an orange highlighter and then wait an hour before having her blood drawn. The test is meant to determine if she has gestational diabetes, which is a condition in which your body’s pregnancy hormones block insulin from working correctly and your glucose levels rise, which overfeeds the baby, resulting in some of those horror stories of 10- and 12-lb babies.

As you might guess, the next day we got a call from the nurses saying that Marta had tested positive on this preliminary gestational diabetes test. They said she’d have to come in again for a more extensive test, in which you drink even more of that orange crap and have your blood drawn three times. I was driving Marta to the airport for another job interview when we got the call. After I dropped her off I called home in a sort of panic. I got my dad.

“Dad,” I said. “I’m worried we’re gonna have a child born without a brain and with robot limbs that can’t bend.”

“Ah, don’t worry, Sarah,” he said. “It was a long while before I was sure any of you kids had a brain.”

“Also I don’t want my child to become a teenager and reject me,” I added, because once I start worrying I can go all over the map.

“You should tell your mom that,” he said. “It’d make her feel better.”

Marta got back from her job interview, did the second test, and it came back negative. She doesn’t have gestational diabetes. We lay in bed that night and, in one moment, both felt Nico move. I read a short story from the One Story project about a young woman whose little brother has downs syndrome. Her family was just as wonderful and just as dysfunctional as the rest of ours. The simple reality of this fiction made me feel better. These things happen. We cannot control the shape and model of the child we bring into the world. We can only decide how to love her once she’s here.

And I stopped worrying. At least for now.

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