Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July 1998: Riding the rollercoaster (long)

On the morning of Friday, July 3rd, I had another ultrasound (my third) at the hospital where Dr. Geneticist practiced. Dh came along but was told he couldn't come into the room with me. "He can come in at the end," the u/s tech said. At the end of the examination, he told me to clean up & wait outside. What? What about my husband? (What about my picture??) I joined dh in the waiting room with a "I dunno either" roll of my eyes.

After the ultrasound, we went to Dr. Geneticist's office. The baby was still small -- measuring at 15.6 weeks (I was then on day 146 of my pregnancy) -- and had not grown much since my last ultrasound 10 days earlier. But the baby was active & kicking (although I couldn't always feel it). We were told there was really nothing we could do at this point except wait for the amnio results.

Dh's family came over on Sunday, July 5th. The previous day, they had been at SIL's company picnic. Our nephews, then aged 9 & not quite 6, had received small stuffed toys -- which they handed to me with shining faces, saying they were for the baby. No doubt this gesture was prompted by their parents ; ) but they took obvious pleasure in giving something to their little cousin-to-be, & to say I was touched is an understatement. They are in Katie's keepsake box, along with our other few treasures.

Monday, July 6th: our 13th wedding anniversary. Yep, lucky 13. Right. I went shopping that day at lunchtime with the other pg woman in the office (due a month before me in October) at an upscale maternity wear shop near our office (I came away with a pretty dress and one of my favourite maternity blouses). I remember it as a fun outing, & I enjoyed having another pregnant woman to compare notes with.

But I was not feeling at all well that day, and worse as the day progressed. I had an upset stomach, made several trips to the bathroom, & noted a touch of diarrhea in the afternoon. I had a headache for most of the day, & my left eye was twitching on & off.

Dh & I had planned to go out for Chinese food for supper that night to celebrate our anniversary. He met me downstairs as usual around 4:30 with a big smile, but his expression changed when he saw me. I asked whether he'd mind waiting to go out for dinner another night, as I really wasn't feeling well.

By the time we got home, my headache had developed into a full-blown, pounding migraine. I've only ever had a few in my lifetime, thank God. For me, getting a migraine means I have to lay down in our bedroom, very still, in complete darkness. Normally I would take some Tylenol, but being pregnant, didn't want to do that.

Dh called Dr. Ob-gyn's number & got the number for the dr on call, who turned out to be a member of the high-risk pregnancy team. He described my migraine symptoms & added that we were having a difficult pregnancy. I believe the dr said I could take a Tylenol, but I don't remember if I did. My notes say I eventually threw up twice (the only time I vomited during the entire pregnancy), after which I finally started feeling better.

I called in sick the next morning (cancelled a meeting I had with a VP in HR) & so did dh, determined not to leave me alone. I also called Dr. Ob-gyn's office, & went to see him the next morning for my scheduled five-month checkup (Wednesday, July 8). He had a little trouble finding the baby's heartbeat at first, but eventually found it. He was off on vacation the following week, & said that Dr. Geneticist would be our contact while he was gone. My next appointment with him would be for my regular six-month checkup on Wednesday, August 5th.

Friday, July 10th, I called our travel agent to cancel our flights. We were supposed to have left on vacation to see my family the following day. Dh went golfing with some of his cousins instead. What a weird feeling to spend the whole day thinking "We should be going to the airport right now... we should be on the plane right now... right now, we'd be home and having one of Dad's delicious steak dinners." (We went to the Chinese restaurant on Saturday night for a belated anniversary dinner instead.)

My parents decided that if we couldn't come to them, they would come to see us. Monday, July 13th, I asked my boss about taking two weeks of my holidays during the weeks of Aug. 10th & 17th, & she agreed. I was looking forward to having my parents come. My mom had come to visit us just about every year during her spring break, but my dad hadn't come since we moved into our house 8 years earlier. I had only one photo of myself pregnant (taken just after we found out, so no tummy visible), & I planned to ask my mom to take some photos of me modelling my maternity clothes. She could then take the photos home with her to show my grandparents.

Later that day, we were back at the hospital across the street where Dr. Geneticist had his office, having another ultrasound (#4, 10 days after the last one). Once again, dh came along; once again, they never called him into the room, and once again, no pictures. I realized this was serious business & not a photo shoot, but how much more effort would it have taken to freeze one frame & print it off for me??

The baby was still measuring small, although there had been some growth (now measuring 17 weeks). The head was measuring larger than the body. As in previous ultrasounds, the amniotic fluid was still on the low side, there was particulate matter in it, and there was still an echogenic bowel. The technician noted that the baby was growing in the left horn of my bicornuate uterus, the placenta was in the right, and the umbilical cord was running in between.

The tech kept saying she thought the heart looked "large in the chest" & had "thick walls." She called in a radiologist to have a look. This sounded frightening. I emerged from the room without dh being called in & without pictures, but with a sheet of notes for Dr. Geneticist. Of course I read what it said, & while I didn't understand all the medical terminology, the words "suspected trisomy 13" and "anencephaly" leaped off the page & burned themselves into my brain.

Dr. Geneticist was reassuring as always. Our bloodwork was back, & ruled out infections & cystic fibrosis. The amnio results might be back as soon as the next day. He explained that head/brain always developed faster than the rest of the body -- it was the body's way of protecting the brain. Although the clot on the placenta might be obstructing the baby's growth, any nutrients the baby was getting would be directed to the brain first. That made sense.

As for the heart, he arranged for us to get a fetal echocardiogram done the following day at the world-famous Hospital for Sick Children, just down the street (yet another hospital, yet another hospital card to add to my collection...!). We had left the office at noon for a 12:45 ultrasound; by the time we left Dr. Geneticist's office, it was 4 p.m., & we headed straight for the train station.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 14th, I had my rescheduled meeting the the VP from HR -- a very lovely woman who asked me how I was feeling & congratulated me on my pregnancy and asked when I was due, etc.

That afternoon was our fetal echocardiogram at "Sick Kids," as it's known locally. The appointment was for 12:30; we left the office at noon, went to Dr. Geneticist's office again after our appointment, & left at 5 (another long day). The echocardiogram was in an older part of the hospital that was a rabbit warren of dark, dingy hallways, with some very sick-looking young patients in the waiting areas. Dh said it broke his heart to see them.

The echocardiogram was more or less like a regular ultrasound. The nurse said the baby was turned in such a way that she wasn't able to get a clear picture of everything she needed, so after awhile, I was sent out to walk the hallways, jiggling my tummy in an effort to get the baby to change position. After she was done, the head cardiologist arrived to have a look. The two of them gazed at the screen intensely & kept watching one segment of tape over & over again. I tried to figure out what they were looking at & what they were talking about, but it was over my head. Eventually, the dr spoke briefly with us. All I remember him saying was that the structure of the heart looked fine, but the circulation was "very poor," likely because of the placental problems. (I seized on the part about the structure of the heart looking fine.)

The next day, I called Dr. Geneticist's office again & spoke to his secretary. It was now 19 days -- 19 days!! -- since I'd had the amniocentisis, & the stress of not knowing was killing me. Sorry, she told me, nothing yet. Dr. Geneticist himself called me the following day (Thursday, July 16th). He said the lab technicians were having trouble cultivating the necessary cells, and said there wouldn't be anything to report until at least Monday now (!). He was going to be away next week, until the 29th; however, I could call his office to see if the results had come in, and Dr. Ob-gyn would be back Monday to oversee my care again.

It had been a horribly hot, hazy & smoggy week. That afternoon, we had a torrential downpour downtown, with black skies, violent thunder & lightning, & reports of tornado sightings north of the city. When we arrived home that night, there were leaves & branches strewn all over the roads.

We walked into the house. I'm not sure exactly what caught my eye, but I found myself looking down the stairs in the entryway that led into the basement. There was a landing partway down, & a side door to a sunken entrance to the outside. The mat in front of the door was dark. With water. There were pools of water. Everywhere.

"Oh my gosh!" I said. I headed down the stairs & into our partially finished basement. We'd had minor leaks in the walls & around the windows before, little trickles of water after a particularly heavy rain -- but there was water, EVERYWHERE. Not deep water (thank God for that!), but puddles & rivers of it all over the place. From the path the water seemed to have taken, I figured that it had rained so hard in such a short period of time (a mini-tornado, or microburst, we later heard) that the water had overflowed the door jamb to the sunken side entrance & cascaded down the basement stairs. The usual leaky spots in the walls were also leaking. Some of the boxes sitting on the floor were soaked.

Dh totally lost it & started yelling (his usual response to stress). I started crying (my usual response to stress). Then he started crying too. A perfect end to a perfect day. :( He forbade me to touch anything. I don't think he'd ever touched a mop in his life before, but he started trying to mop up all the water, while I pointed out the spots he'd missed. It was just too, too much stress to handle, all of it. (Not counting the very end of it) this was the absolute low spot of my rollercoaster pregnancy. We went to bed, totally exhausted.

Sunday, July 19th, we went to see "The Mask of Zorro" with Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, & a stunningly beautiful young woman in one of her first major film roles, named Catherine Zeta-Jones. I remember having to go to the washroom in the middle of the movie. That hadn't happened since I was a little kid. Every time I see that movie now on TV (and I do love it!), I think about being pregnant.

Monday, July 20th, I called & left a message at Dr. Geneticist's office -- any news from the amnio yet? I could not focus on my work. I jumped every time the phone rang that day. I kept checking my voice mail at home every hour too, to see if they'd left a message there instead. It was now 24 days -- 3.5 weeks -- since I'd had the test done. I decided to call back around 4 p.m. & left another message, saying they could reach me at the office until 4:30 p.m.

Shortly afterward, I got a call from a woman in his office. "The chromosomes are normal," she said.

What? Normal?? Normal??? "Oh my God," I said, starting to cry. I remember saying to her, "Not that it matters... but can you tell me if it's a boy or a girl?"

"It's a girl," she said. A girl!! Dh & I had always wanted a little girl. Of course, the official line was "anything so long as it's healthy," but we had secretly wanted a little girl for as long as we had talked about having a family.

She added that they would still want to follow me closely, and that there would be more ultrasounds to come, but since Dr. Ob-gyn was back in his office next week, he'd take things from here.

I sobbed. I thanked her tearfully. I got off the phone. My officemate/best friend was there, witness to the whole scene in our shared office space. She gave me a huge hug & wiped her own eyes. "Call your dh & tell him the good news," she whispered. I did. He was ecstatic. When we got home that night, he called his dad & brother. Then I called cousin/neighbour's wife, my mom, & my sister. When I told my cynical, childless-by-choice & not easily excited sister that she was going to have a niece, she started chanting exuberantly: "Pink! Pink! Pink!" I got a huge kick out of that.

Everything was going to be all right. My baby was normal, normal!! And she was the little GIRL I'd always dreamed about. Oh sure, she was on the small side. From what I had been reading about IUGR, I might have to be delivered early. But that was OK -- wasn't that what NICUs were for? The doctors would take care of her -- they were performing miracles with preemies these days, & I was at one of the best (perhaps the very best) high-risk maternity hospitals in the country. I had such faith that all was going to be well after all.

We had had her name picked out for almost as long as we'd been married: Katie. For some reason, even though we'd postponed pregnancy for the first 10 years of our marriage, dh & I always knew we wanted a little girl, and her name had always been Katie. We'd talked about "Katie" & "when Katie is here" for so long. She was a real person to us, long before we ever actually started trying to conceive.

We picked Katie because we just liked the name for a little girl (it had also been my paternal grandmother's name). Dh had wanted Kaitlyn, with Katie for short, but I said no way -- Kaitlyn (in all its various spellings) was a hugely popular name and I didn't want her to be one of 20 in the schoolyard. Katherine seemed a little severe for a little girl. I suggested Kathleen, which was a little less common, as well as a family name on my maternal grandfather's side of the family (I knew he'd get a kick out of that).

I actually told dh that if he really wanted, we could call her Maria, after his mother. That would have been within Italian tradition. It certainly would have tickled his father to no end. And I liked the name (albeit not as much as Katie). Dh said no, she had always been Katie, & Katie she would stay. We agreed that Maria would be her middle name. So Kathleen Maria it was. (For awhile, she was actually Kathleen Maria Amanda, another family name I liked, but after she was born, we decided to "save" Amanda for a possible future daughter.) (Had she been a boy, her name would have been Michael Vincent Neill -- Michael because I liked the name, Vincent for FIL & Neill for my beloved grandfather.)

I figured (optimistic me) that was probably the last we'd be seeing of Dr. Geneticist, so I sent him a card, thanking him for everything he'd done for us. He was a fabulous dr & a huge comfort to us during an enormously stressful time. (I've since met other women who consulted with him during their own turbulent pregnancies, & they agree!)

Saturday, July 25th, dh went golfing with a few of his cousins early in the morning. In the afternoon, we went out shopping. Specifically, we went to look at stuff for the baby. It felt like such a monumental step but, having gotten the all-clear with the amnio, we now felt more confident about tackling such matters. It was hard to believe that the baby was going to be here in just three months, and we'd done very little in the way of preparations. I made a mental note to ask Dr. Ob-gyn about prenatal classes at my next visit.

I believe this was the day we went to Sears at the local mall. I had been mulling over nursery theme choices in my mind -- thought about Beatrix Potter, but it was hard to find. Classic Pooh (NOT the cartoony Disney Pooh) was also high on the list. When we went to Sears & found the Classic Pooh bedding set on sale, that clinched it -- we bought the whole thing, & ordered the matching wallpaper border (which did not arrive until after the funeral).

We drove to an area of the city which had several baby furniture outlets within several blocks, & checked them all out. We weren't intending to buy anything that day, just get a feel for costs & what we liked, etc. We planned to return in another week or two with BIL & SIL. FIL had announced he was going to pay for the crib, & BIL & SIL wanted to buy the matching chest of drawers/change table of whatever set of furniture we picked out. It was fun to finally be doing some of these things that we'd waited so long to do, just like every other expectant couple.

Later that evening, we went over to cousin/neighbour's house, where another cousin & her husband were visiting. We all sat on the deck, enjoying the summer weather. I remember I was wearing white maternity shorts & a simple red maternity T-shirt, very summery. She hadn't seen me in months, & exclaimed about how good I looked & how big I was.

At some point around this time, cousin/neighbour's wife told me that she & her sister-in-law (dh's cousin) wanted to give me a baby shower -- just the aunts & cousins on dh's mom's side of the family. Was I going to register somewhere? Did I have a nursery theme in mind? Yikes! I hadn't given any of these matters much thought (being otherwise preoccupied). Once the amnio came back clear, I gave the go-ahead for the shower. I decided not to register, but told her that night that we'd selected the Classic Pooh theme & told her what we'd already bought. She showed me the new, colourful plastic patio plates & glassware she'd bought & planned to use for the shower, which was scheduled for Saturday, September 5th, on the Labour Day long weekend. She asked me for my mother & sister's addresses -- even though they wouldn't be able to come, she thought they should get invitations, & I told her they would appreciate that. A copy of the invitation arrived in the mail for me on Monday, July 27th. On the back, she'd attached a sticky note with a message that read, "We love you, Baby Katie! We can't wait to meet you!" signed with a smiley face.

I have notes in my datebook that indicate I was feeling very tired & crampy that day, but feeling the baby move, especially after meals. I hadn't noted movement too much in my notes before this, but I have lots of jottings that week about "baby very active after dinner," etc. I never felt anything resembling a kick, and nothing that dh could feel, but delicate little flutters. I reasoned that because she was smaller than most babies her gestational age, she couldn't kick as hard, & was not too concerned.

I remember this as a happy time in the pregnancy -- the calm after the storm (& before the next storm). I had heard that you should read aloud to your baby in utero, that they could recognize the sound of your voice & the cadence of the story. I started sitting on the couch or propped up with pillows in bed, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods" aloud. (I had the entire boxed set of the series, which I had loved as a child & purchased with my own children in mind. I got about 1/3 of the way into the book. I recently checked to see if the bookmark was still there, but it wasn't.) One night, dh heard my voice & came upstairs & stood in the bedroom doorway. I smiled up at him but continued reading, with my hand on my belly, & he smiled back at me. He generally describes my pregnancy as "six months of hell," but says that's one of his favourite memories of that time.

Friday, July 31st, I noted that we were very busy at work, & I was very tired. The baby was somewhat active, & my stomach was feeling sore for some reason. I said goodbye to my officemate/coworker, who was off on vacation for the next week. The next time I saw her would not be at the office.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this.
    I am glad you could enjoy sometime with Katie. That's very important.

  2. I'm glad you had some time to enjoy Katie. what a lovely memory of reading to her, and seeing DH watch you do so.

    Big hugs,


  3. ((hugs)) This warms my heart to read, and breaks it at the same time.

  4. This is the first time I've ever read your blog. What a powerful introduction.

  5. I, too, am glad that you found moments in all the anxiety to enjoy your pregnancy -- I do love the Little House books and have always dreamed of sharing them with my child.

  6. I am so glad you have notes of this. I hope your good memories of pregnancy give you some tiny comfort. I know the ending was a nightmare, but it's nice to remember the happy times we had with our babies.

  7. I have to admit, I really admire that you have so much detail recorded about your pregnancy.

    It's been so long, that I have to admit I have trouble remembering little things like that.

    Interestingly, that was the same summer I lost Matthew, and we saw a lot of Dr.Geneticist as well and we went for a fetal echo at Sick Kids. I'll bet we met the same cardiologist as well.

    The more I read about your story, the more I think that you have the same kind of clotting issues that I have and that heparin just might have been the magic bullet. Of course, back then, very few women took it, and they didn't test for all the clotting disorders and things that they do now, so yeah, it might not have changed anything.

    And btw, they have to keep some photos for US for 10 years min. and some people at PBSO have gone back to hospitals years later and gotten copies from their records. If you still want some of those US photos, you might be able to get them.

  8. I am so happy to read that you were able to have those moments of joy and bliss with Katie and your husband.

    Thank you so much for sharing this Loribeth.

  9. It's so bittersweet to read these posts. Thank you for writing them.

  10. Thank you for sharing these vivid memories. Holding your hand.

  11. And here you are!

    Sending you much love.


  12. I agree with Mel, bittersweet. thanks for sharing your story, loribeth.

    and happy early anniversary!

  13. What an apt title for this post.
    And I am so glad you had those moments reading, and that DH had a chance to see you and imprint that picture for himself too.