I really don’t care what sex the baby is, as long as it’s healthy.
This is the response you hear when people ask a pregnant woman if they want a girl or a boy, right? I used to utter those words, too, during my first two pregnancies. But what happens when your precious baby is NOT perfectly healthy? What happens when you get devastating news from a very serious, very concerned OB-GYN?
I remember exactly what I was wearing on January 9, 2015, at a follow-up to my 20-week sonogram. I had just left work; we have two boys and were ecstatic to know a baby girl was on the way. At my appointment, the sonographer was having a hard time getting clear pictures of my daughter’s heart. She brought in a more seasoned sonographer who spent some time taking pictures, got quiet, and said I should go talk to my doctor.
“Whitney, we need to talk about your baby’s heart.” These words echoed through eternity as I stared at my doctor and immediately asked God to make it not be terrible news. But it was. They weren’t sure, but they thought that my daughter either had pulmonary atresia or truncus arteriosus, both of which are critical congenital heart defects. No matter what, this meant that my daughter had a serious defect and would need life-saving open-heart surgery right after birth. It’s the type of scary diagnosis that isn’t really covered in the What To Expect… books; it just glosses over these types of critical defects as “you shouldn’t worry, because this type of defect is very uncommon.” On top of that…there was a 30% chance she had severe chromosomal defects, some of which could affect her mental and physical abilities.
I give you all this background to say that once you hear that your baby is NOT 100% healthy…everything changes, obviously. What you once took for granted becomes just out of reach, so close yet so far away. I have to believe that almost any mom whose child has a health issue faults herself for that issue. Maybe we don’t admit it. Maybe our doctors tell us the cause of this scary diagnosis is “unknown,” but deep down, don’t we all wonder things like, “What if I hadn’t eaten that sushi when I knew I was probably pregnant?” “What if I had started the prenatal vitamins earlier?” “What if I wasn’t so stressed at work?” and on and on. I know I thought back to every moment I could remember before I knew I was pregnant—didn’t I have one too many glasses of wine at my aunt’s birthday party? Didn’t I feel a little bit TOO proud at how quickly I’ve been able to get pregnant each time? In other words, it’s my fault that my innocent baby has this health issue. I did this to her.
Now I’m almost three years into this journey, and have cut myself a little bit of slack. Maybe I’ll never fully forgive myself for the fact that my precious, wonderful, beautiful daughter has a critical CHD that has resulted in three open-heart surgeries so far, but on most days, I’m able to look at her face and not feel the guilt.
I now can see her—someone who has beaten so many odds, who is incredibly strong and brave. It was her face that kept me going before I really knew her when she was a newborn in the ICU. I wasn’t allowed to hold or feed her; there was this indescribable fear in my heart. But then a doctor decided she was strong enough to take a bottle of my milk, and that was the turning point for us. I made sure the bottle was full, propped her head up while standing next to her, and placed the bottle to her mouth. She knew just what to do! She took that bottle while looking at me, and it was then that I knew that no matter how inadequate and guilty I felt, she was more than capable of handling this whole thing. And that even though she wasn’t born “healthy,” she was born strong and willing to fight, no matter what.
So if you got a scary diagnosis and are just trying to remember to breathe, please know that this child will beat your expectations and fears in the BEST ways. They are born not knowing fear, or anxiety, or with any knowledge that things aren’t quite right. What they do know and see is that they have a mom who believes in them and loves them unconditionally. You’ll find that you draw strength from each other. And that is what they need to thrive and flourish and delight you in ways you can’t even imagine. Please hear me when I say, you will get through this—together.