The moment the doctor entered the room I knew something was wrong. I was pregnant with twins at 19 weeks when one of our son's suddenly died in the womb, so I'd seen that look before. That, "something is wrong," look. Now, at 21 weeks, my partner and I were being told that our remaining son had a heart condition; one that would either kill him after he was born, or require numerous surgeries. I didn't know it then, but I was about to learn things about my relationship you can only learn after your baby has been misdiagnosed. Things that I have continued to carry with me now that my partner have a healthy, thriving 2-year-old toddler (who is hell-bent on defying the laws of gravity).
During an ultrasound, it was discovered that our son had a "thick neck." When a baby's nuchal translucency comes back "thick" — essentially, when the collection of fluid behind a fetus' neck is measuring too great — it's usually a sign of either Down Syndrome or a heart defect. Additional testing ruled out Down Syndrome, but another ultrasound showed (according to our doctors and specialists) a problem with our son's heart. Initially, we were told he either didn't have the necessary number of chambers, or his heart chambers were deformed. Our son would either die moments after he was born (possibly days, if we wanted to focus on the "best case scenario") or he would require numerous surgeries from the moment he entered the world, in an attempt to prepare the damage. My partner and I were devastated. We had just experienced the loss of one of our twins; I was already preparing to birth a baby that was alive and a baby that wasn't; we had already told our friends and family that our twin pregnancy was no more. Now, in addition to the already unbelievable, we were being asked to prepare ourselves for the possibility that our remaining son wouldn't survive, too? It was too much, and I could feel the foundation of our relationship faltering.
However, in those moments of uncertainty and fear and stress, we learned things about ourselves and our relationship that only strengthened our resolve as a couple, and as individuals. We relied on another when we needed to; we gave one another space when it was necessary; we learned how to communication when we didn't feel like speaking. We prepared ourselves for the worse case scenario and, in the process, we became a stronger, more resilient couple. Thankfully, additional testing (and I mean more testing than a freakin' human being should ever be forced to endure) revealed that our son was misdiagnosed. A poorly read ultrasound set in motion thousands of dollars worth of tests and an untold number of horrific, stressful hours. But, in the end, we had a healthy baby boy, born with a healthy, normal. heart. The initial diagnoses was no more, but the lessons my partner and I learned, remained.
How To Comfort Your Partner When You Can Barely Comfort Yourself
It was difficult to tell my partner everything was going to be OK, because I could barely tell myself the same. However, we leaned on one another and comforted one another and, in a way, we were comforting ourselves, too. I didn't necessarily need to believe the words I was saying in order to realize how important it was that they were said, anyway. Plus, the more my partner and I held one another and told one another that whatever happened, we would get through it, the more we both started to believe it.
How To Sit In Uncomfortable Silence
I will never forget the moment the doctor came into her office, sullen and stone-faced, after that ultrasound. I knew something was wrong. To be told that our son had a heart condition that would either make it impossible for him to survive outside the womb, or would require numerous surgeries starting the moment he was born (that he was unlikely to survive), thickened the air around us. I felt like I couldn't breath, and I could see my partner's body sink into his chair. We both sat in silence, holding one another's hands as tears streamed down our faces. That silence was astounding, but one we were forced to share as we collected our individual thoughts and processed what was being said.
Now, after a long day of work or school or both, we don't mind sitting next to one another without saying a word. If we could both share the silence in that doctor's office, a few serene moments of mindful speechlessness is absolutely nothing.
How You'll Both React To Unfathomable Stress
Make no mistake, my partner and I had been in stressful situations before. I mean, finding out you're pregnant is stressful. Moving in together can be stressful. Paying bills in a city that continues to grow more and more expensive, is stressful. However, nothing compares to the stress that is attempting to prepare yourself for the possibility that your baby will either be taken from you immediately after their born and whisked away to surgery, or your baby will die the moment they're born. It was unfathomable to comprehend, let alone make any concrete "plans" for. That level of stress can take a toll on a relationship, so you quickly learn how to deal with it collectively, and individually.
How Quickly You Both Can Change Your Plans
I'm not much of a planner, but (thanks to eight years in the military) my partner is. He loves plans, and then he loves sticking to those plans. So, when our plans of having a healthy baby boy shifted (or at least seemed to shift) we both had to learn how to react in a way that was healthy and beneficial. We couldn't break down; we couldn't take our frustration and fear out one another; we couldn't refuse to make any plans ever again, because being a parent relies on your ability to at least attempt to prepare for the future.
Thankfully, the combination of my "go with the flow" attitude and my partner's regimented past, helped us adjust. We thought of worse case scenarios, but we held onto hope that we would have a healthy baby after all. We became flexible in a way I don't think we have ever been as a couple before, and it helped us go through the rollercoaster that is misdiagnosis.
How Much Time You Truly Need Apart...
I understand the urge to tell couples to "lean on one another" in times of stress. I agree with it, but only to a point. I think it's a romanticized notion, really. Yes, you should be able to turn to your partner and ask for their help and support. However, you also need to be self-sufficient. You need to take care of yourself, so that you can take care of your partner, too. After all, they're going to be leaning on you, also.
So, my partner and I learned how much we truly needed some independent time apart, too. Yes, we relied on one another and talked to one another and supported and comforted one another, but we also spent time alone or with friends. We did "our own thing" when we needed to; we took a break from being there for each other so we could be there for ourselves. Honestly, I think that healthy, realistic way of dealing with the possibility that our son was going to die right after he was born, made all the difference.
...And How Much Time You Need Together
Of course, the flip side of figuring out how much space you need, is figuring out how much space you cannot handle. I knew that while I needed some moments alone to collect my thoughts, feel sorry for myself, and truly focus on me and only me, I also needed to be around my partner. I needed to feel like I mattered in some way; that I could take care of him as much as he was taking care of me; that I could do something positive in the face of so much fear and uncertainty. He gave that to me by allowing me to comfort him when he needed it the most.
How Your Communication Skills React To Stress
Communication can be difficult regardless of the circumstance, but I think when you're under a ridiculous amount of stress it's easy for communication to go out the proverbial window.
My partner and I learned how to really talk to one another when we didn't really feel like talking at all. We learned how to channel our anger, regarding the entire situation, into fully-formed sentences that helped us better understand one another and what we were feeling. Those moments of high-stress communication essentially laid the foundation for every other fight or argument or disagreement we ever had. If we could learn to truly talk and listen to one another when it was hard to form words or comprehend the world around us, we could communication under any set of circumstances.
How Much You're Both Willing To Go Through, Together
My partner and I aren't married, but we are as committed as any married couple. And, like a married couple, we have made promises to one another. In our almost four years together, very few things have tested those promises like my difficult pregnancy and that horrible misdiagnoses. I realized, in those terrifying moments, how much my partner meant those promises. We could have folded; we could have attacked one another; we could have allowed a loss and the looming possibility of another to tear us apart, but we didn't. We stayed together and actually grew stronger in our relationship, and I realized that ring or not; vows or not; a "white wedding" or not, we truly meant what we promised one another long ago. We were committed, through the good times and the bad and every other time in between.
How Truly Lucky You Are
When the additional tests came back negative and our doctor let us know (while simultaneously apologizing) that they had misdiagnosed our son, my partner and I were forced to stop and appreciate all that we had and were going to have. Not every couple receives the same news. Not every couple has their late-night hopes and prayers and wishes, answered. We knew that there were couples, probably at that very same time in that very same hospital, with their babies in surgery or painfully silent. We were lucky, and we have never forgotten that feeling of thankfulness.
Now that our son is a healthy, happy, thriving 2-year-old toddler with a perfectly functioning heart, we cannot help but look at him, then look at one another, and become overwhelmed with gratitude.