Luca's story - June
This post is best read while listening to 'Mirrors' by Justin Timberlake.
My two late-May weeks in Piacenza, the small northern Italian town where I was born and raised, were against all odds truly delightful. Daniel joined me on my second week, and we spent our days lazying around my parents' house, strolling in the city centre, aimlessly riding our bikes on the river bank, and meeting up with my friends for coffees, chats, and walks. Towards the end of our stay, I started feeling little flutters in my belly - I wasn't entirely sure, but thought they might be my baby's first movements. I was ecstatic and began the nightly ritual of lying on the bed, hand on my growing bump, trying to tune into my body and spot any fleeting sensation of movement.
In the first few days of June, I believe it was a Sunday, Daniel felt the baby kick for the first time by gently resting his hand on my belly. I will never forget how his blue eyes lit up, as he excitedly announced: "I'm pretty sure I've felt him, too!". Despite these brief moments of pure bliss, we were very aware that one massive cloud was still looming over us: the third, and most important, fetal echo.
On the 4th of June, we celebrated our second wedding anniversary. We had originally planned to go away for a couple of days, but we found it hard enough to get out of the house and have a pseudo-romantic dinner. All we could think of was our scan on the following day. Daniel, for some unexplained reason, seemed pretty confident that everything would go well. I, on the other hand, was certain we would get hit by yet another bout of terrible news. I was so convinced that we would be advised to terminate that, while waiting for the lift in the maternity unit at UCLH the following afternoon, I had a full-blown panic attack. It's astonishing to realise how powerful our minds can be, and how they can rapidly turn our bodies into anxiety-producing machines.
However, this time I was wrong - and so happy to be. After spending nearly an hour checking our baby's heart as well as the rest of his tiny body, the fetal cardiologist and his team walked us to a nearby room where they sat us down and communicated the 'good' news. Our baby's heart condition seemed to have got slightly better, and they were pretty sure that they would have been able to successfully operate on him once he was born. The information took a while to sink in. It felt as though a part of me was still waiting for the 'but' to come, for the caveat, for the second round of news - the devastating one. Instead, the doctors were genuinely saying that our baby would be fine. The tricuspid regurgitation had almost entirely disappeared, which meant that our boy was now 'only' faced with a standard diagnosis of Tetralogy of Fallot, with a standard prognosis.
Once outside the hospital, Daniel and I hugged, in tears. God, every single day, every single appointment felt like a milestone. We went home and called everyone we needed to call. For the first time since the beginning of our nightmarish journey, we thought we could allow ourselves to relax, to take a deep breath, to feel relieved. It was only when Daniel, sitting on the sofa and examining the scan report, said: "Something doesn't seem quite right," that my heart collapsed once again. I sat next to him and looked at where he was pointing: after the heart scan, the doctors at UCLH had also conducted an anomaly scan, as I was already nearly 19 weeks. All the measurements seemed perfectly fine, except for the femur, which measured very, very small - it was just about in the 5th percentile. "I'm sure it's fine, the doctors didn't mention anything," Daniel concluded.
Except it wasn't fine, and I already knew it.
Daniel and I were supposed to fly to Italy again on 21st June for ten days, but we managed to fit in a last-minute scan with our consultant, Miss Paul. While she was gently pressing the probe on my belly, I spied Daniel's smile at the sight of our wriggly little one - I was almost 21 weeks already, and he was looking more and more like a baby. Miss Paul confirmed that the femur appeared pretty short - this time, it was in the 3rd percentile. However, she said that she couldn't spot anything else that might appear abnormal, and she booked us in for another scan in mid-July to check on the baby's growth.
I remember leaving the hospital with a very deep, unshakeable feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong, but that for some reason we needed to wait a bit longer to discover exactly what it was. I just sensed it - we wouldn't be taking this baby home. Daniel, inexplicably, managed to remain positive and supportive - he was genuinely convinced that ours was just a small baby, or that he would soon have a growth spurt and rapidly catch up with the standard measurements. I tried really hard to believe him, but every day I visited websites and online forums dealing with dwarfism - the issue I thought was affecting our son.
Our days in Italy at the end of June and beginning of July were our last joyful and hopeful moments with our baby - we started playing music to him, talking to him each day, poking him gently to see him poke back. We lulled ourselves into this fantasy of him, of the three of us, of our beautiful little family. I flaunted my growing bump everywhere we went - from Perugia to Ferrara, all the way to Venice. We took a tiny ferry to an even tinier island on a lake in Umbria to attend an acoustic concert at sunset, and treated ourselves to a last-minute, not-very-rock-n-roll taxi ride to the stadium in Padova, where my beloved Pearl Jam were playing. In Venice, we ate ice creams late in the evening, paced softly in the dimly lit Jewish quarter, admired the impossibly beautiful, pearl-white Piazza San Marco soaked in the sun, and walked hand in hand up and down crooked streets and bridges. Back in Piacenza, I let friends and family rub my belly and talk to my baby, loving every single minute of it. We sunbathed by the poolside in the middle of the countryside, Daniel gently applying layer upon layer of sun cream on my belly, my dad taking pictures and videos and asking me if the baby liked to be in the water. Those were truly the best, most carefree days of our entire pregnancy.