There was a time, before I hit 13 weeks into my twin pregnancy, when I loved the idea of ultrasounds. I looked forward to them and was anxious to experience them and see my babies move and grow, even if it was in black and white and they looked like aliens. Then, at my second ultrasound visit, everything changed. My doctor told me that there were "complications," and I was inundated with the things every mom thinks when she's told something's "wrong" during an ultrasound visit. Suddenly, this wasn't a happy occasion, it was a scary one. Suddenly, I didn't want to have another ultrasound again, because I knew what it was like to hear bad news and didn't want to chance ever hearing that news again.
Sadly, I would hear this news numerous times throughout my twin pregnancy. First, one of my sons was diagnosed with a "thick nuchal fold," or thick neck, which could be indicitive of either Down syndrome or severe heart defects. I was sent down on a path that included more tests (including a chorionic villus sampling, or CVS, which meant a long needle would be inserted into my stomach to test for chromosomal abnormalities) and more ultrasounds. Then, at 19 weeks, an ultrasound confirmed that my other twin son's heart had stopped beating, and he had died. My twin pregnancy was now a single, slightly complicated pregnancy, and I would eventually birth a baby that was alive (and healthy, as my son was misdiagnosed) and a baby that would never take a single breath.
So, yeah, I don't really like ultrasounds. My partner and I are trying and hoping for another pregnancy, and the mere thought of sitting (well, laying) through another ultrasound gives me anxiety. It's hard to hear horrible, sad, scary, debilitating news like that, and then subsequently put it out of my mind. That's why I've been, somewhat reluctantly, reminiscing on how those moments in the ultrasound room and doctor's office felt, and the thoughts I had when it all felt overwhelming. Here, in no particular order, are a few:
When I heard the doctor tell my partner and I that something was "wrong," I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I felt completely detached from myself and from reality; as if I was watching what was currently happening play out on some television show. I couldn't comprehend what was being said to me, and needed the doctor to repeat herself multiple times before I was able to really comprehend what was being explained.
"Are You Sure You're Looking At The Picture Correctly?"
I didn't mean to be rude, but I was definitely rude when the doctor told me that something might be wrong with my son. I actually questioned her abilities (she has been a doctor for over 20 years and leads her field) and asked if she was "sure." Like, I have a hard time deciphering what is what on an ultrasound picture, so why can't my doctor? People make mistakes. People read things wrong. Doctors misdiagnose. Perhaps that's exactly what's happening now, and before I allowed the panic to set in I was going to make sure my doctor was right.
"What Does That Long, Very Complicated Medical Word Mean?"
My doctor explained to my partner and I that our baby had a "thick nuchal fold," which could be indicitive of a few complications. Before I could even listen to the complications, I had to figure out what "nuchal" was. Then, when words like "down syndrome" (one I knew) and congenital heart defects (I needed more information) were thrown around, I started feeling confused. When she followed up with the suggestion that I get a chorionic villus sampling, I had to stop her and politely ask that she use smaller words with fewer syllables.
The medical jargon can be scary and confusing and, um, did I mention scary? I had no qualms with letting my doctor know that I have never attended medical school and, as a result, would need her to use "normal words" if I was going to understand anything she was saying.
"How Did This Happen?"
Depending on the recently diagnosed problem, there could be numerous reasons why there's something "wrong" with a baby in the womb. While the answer can be "genetics," many times there really is no answer at all. "These things happen," is an answer thrown around a lot in doctor's offices; an answer that doesn't really offer much comfort.
"Was It Something I Did?"
I can't presume to know every woman's unique situation, however, chances are it absolutely isn't your fault. Like, at all. However, that knowledge probably won't keep you from blaming yourself anyway. I know that I went through a period of spiraling self-hatred, convinced that I had done something, anything, that contributed to that moment when the doctor had to sympathetically tell me something was wrong. Of course, I didn't do anything wrong. Like my doctor said, "Sometimes, these things just happen."
"Is There Something I Could Have Done Differently?"
Perhaps the worst part about receiving bad news at an ultrasound visit, is the inevitable, all-consuming feeling of powerlessness that follows. I hated feeling like there was nothing I could do. I hated feeling like there was nothing I could have done. I hated feeling like this entire situation was something I couldn't have avoided from the very beginning. While blaming yourself is never a good way to go, sometimes taking responsibility (even when it's not your responsibility to take) gives you a sense of power that you feel you've lost. I wanted to get some control over my body back, even if it meant that I was the one to blame for something "wrong" happening.
"But, I Had Plans..."
I remember the look on the ultrasound tech's face when she realized that one of my twin son's heart was no longer beating. I knew something was wrong. I remember the sadness in the doctor's voice, when he told me that my son's heart wasn't beating. Then, almost immediately, I remembered all the plans I had made and how, in an instant, they vanished. There wouldn't be two babies in my arms when I left the hospital. There wouldn't be two babies to breastfeed. There wouldn't be two babies to hold when they inevitably cried. Every plan I had made for my family disappeared, and it was hard to even think about making news plans, at least for a while.
"OK, So What's Next?"
For me, it helped to look forward. When I received news that something was "wrong," I wanted to know what we had to do next. Like, what does this mean? What other tests do we need? What can I do? What can't I do? Tell me what I need to do so I can do something instead of sit here and feel sorry for myself and think about all the ways this particular situation is horrible and scary and painful.
"I Can't Handle This..."
I had my fair share of moments when I simply thought, "I can't handle this." When one of my son's was diagnosed with a thick neck and talk of Down syndrome or very serious heart problems became "normal," I didn't think I would be able to deal. When I was going to doctor visit after doctor visit, getting a needle inserted into my stomach so the doctor could test my son's chromosomes, I was ready to give up. When my other son inexplicably died in my womb, I felt like there was no way I could even get out of bed. Ever.
"...But I Can Definitely Handle This"
However, I could handle it and I did handle it and if you're in the same boat, you can handle it, too. It might not feel like it. In fact, it might feel completely overwhelming and absolutely impossible, but you can. Trust me, you can.