Everything will be alright
This post is best read whilst listening to "Please please please let me get what I want" by The Smiths.
The morning Daniel and I made our way into central London for my twelve-week scan and subsequent CVS was probably one of the hardest and most stressful of the entire pregnancy. When I woke up, after a restless night, I couldn't stop thinking about two words: "nuchal translucency". If you have followed Luca's story, you will probably remember that the first alarm bells started ringing when his nuchal translucency appeared very thick during a first trimester scan. A thick nuchal translucency - which measures more than, approximately, 2.8/3cm - can often be an indicator that something in the baby is not developing as it should. It might point to chromosomal abnormalities, genetic disorders, cardiac problems and more. Of course, I am not a doctor, but by that time I had done so much reading and researching on the subject that I felt eerily knowledgeable.
When we walked into the hospital, memories drowned me like a huge, sudden wave. We'd had countless scans there, when I was pregnant with Luca. Countless bad news. Countless doctors and nurses. Countless appointments. Until the final, devastating diagnosis of rhizomelic chondrodysplasia punctata type 1. Daniel and I were holding hands whilst walking, in silence, along the same corridors, recognising the same faces, the same smells, the same lights and paintings on the walls. I cried a bit, without making a sound. I could hear my heart beat so fast and loudly that every other noise was muffled, as if under water. Sitting in that very same waiting room where we'd been crying so many times in the past few months - together with other distressed couples, who had probably received similarly terrifying news - was chilling and unnerving. The doctor called my name and we followed him into the scanning room. He knew us and remembered our story pretty well: he was, in fact, the same doctor who diagnosed Luca's heart problem when I was only 13 weeks pregnant. A phenomenally skilled (one of the best in the country, in fact) and very matter-of-fact man, he proceeded to scan me whilst making small talk - to which only Daniel was responding. I was too busy trying to hold myself together as I was feeling increasingly nauseous and dizzy.
"There he is, the baby, and the heartbeat," Daniel squeezed my hand tightly as if to say First hurdle: overcome. To us, it would never be obvious that our baby had a heartbeat, so we felt a small rush of relief. The doctor remained silent for a few minutes whilst continuing to scan. The baby wouldn't stop moving. He or she was very active, but I couldn't focus on that. I kept staring at the little area under the baby's neck - the nuchal translucency. I thought it looked very small. Definitely, smaller than Luca's - and I remember being the one who noticed how thick Luca's was in the first place. I couldn't resist any longer so I asked the doctor "How's the nuchal translucency?" "Ah, fine. Normal, very normal." "How thick?" I added. "1.5cm". Daniel and I looked at each other, his facial muscles loosening to welcome a smile. I smiled, too, and squeezed his hand. Second hurdle: overcome, we were both thinking simultaneously.
Knowing our history, the doctor proceeded to examine closely the baby's heart, limbs, skeleton and all the other organs that he could see: everything appeared absolutely normal for the gestation. He couldn't see any signs that baby might be poorly - not yet, at least. He looked for specific, early signs of RCDP1 - and couldn't spot any. Finally, he added: "Look at him. He's so active. Sick babies don't move this much." "Can you already tell the gender?" I asked. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I can." "Could you tell us, please?" "It's a boy." Daniel and I looked at each other, and smiled again. So, we've just had our twelve week scan. And it had gone well, really well. A huge weight had suddenly been lifted from my chest - I could just about breathe again now. Our baby was alive. Our baby had a normal nuchal translucency. Our baby seemed fine and healthy. Our baby moved loads already. Our baby was a boy. All those positive, bright thoughts were soon tarnished by the realisation that it was time for the dreaded CVS.
The mental image of a very long, thick needle perforating your tummy to collect cells from the placenta whilst only a few centimetres away from your precious baby can be daunting to say the least. However, the whole procedure becomes absolutely manageable and not at all painful if the doctor performing it is experienced and puts you at ease, and if you try to relax as much as possible.
When I walked into the CVS room and I was greeted by Dr P., I immediately felt relieved: he was the same doctor who had performed a CVS on me while I was expecting Luca, as well as scanned me several other times during that pregnancy. He remembered us very well so there was no need to tell him our story or to explain anything: he knew it all. He was, in fact, one of the two doctors who spotted the signs of RCDP1 on Luca during my 24 week scan. A smiling, personable, and extremely competent man, Dr P. started preparing the room for the procedure, instructing his staff and looking very calm and confident, just like I remembered him. This gave me a much-needed confidence boost - I knew I could trust him to do his job very, very well. I knew his skills meant that I would feel minimum pain, and that the (already super-low) risk of miscarriage would be practically brought down to zero with him. All of these thoughts allowed me to relax and feel safe and positive. I decided to close my eyes when Dr P. announced that he was going to inject the local anaesthetic and then proceed with the actual CVS - I didn't want the sight of that big needle to spoil my zen-like demeanour. I felt a fairly uncomfortable scratch on my skin, and then, after a few minutes, something cold on my tummy, along with a bit of pressure. I remember holding my breath for most of the procedure (you really must be very still when a CVS or amniocentesis is performed) to the point that I started feeling dizzy and light-headed.
I was still holding my breath, with my eyes closed, my left hand squeezing Daniel's, and my right holding on tightly to my Idles badged pinned to my Bruce Springsteen t-shirt, when Dr P. stated that it was all done. He joked that he thought I had fallen asleep, given how still I had been the entire time. We all laughed and I was escorted by a lovely nurse to a nearby recovery room. I suddenly felt very tired, a mixture of physical discomfort, sleepless nights, and a lot of anxiety. A slight cramping sensation began a few minutes after the CVS, but other than that I had no pain, bleeding, or anything else. I felt no pain during the procedure and I felt no pain after the procedure - the biggest pain, I knew all too well, would be waiting for the final results.
One full week before we found out whether or not we would need to say goodbye to our third baby, too. Strangely, for the first time in many months, I had an overwhelming feeling that everything would be alright.