I don't think I will ever forget those first few moments after the doctor spoke to us about what he saw on the ultrasound.
The fetus has a severe abnormality in the heart ...
As he continued in this impersonal vein of speech I wanted to sit up, put my hand up to stop the stream of words, and ask him: Are you sure you have the right couple? I mean, this is us. We're young and healthy and did all the right things; severe heart abnormalities just don't happen to people like us.
When I later spoke with the midwife about her conversation with this doctor, she asked him how we handled the news. He reported back to her that he thought we took it quite well, all things considered.
Took it well? If you count being shocked, dumbfounded, and rendered unable to speak "well", then I suppose you could say that. He left the room before I burst into tears, before I sat there shaking and rocking in my chair, wondering how any of this could be happening. To say it was surreal is a terrible understatement.
Was he looking at the right ultrasound? Was he really talking about our baby?
But you know how the rest of it goes, at least to date. We cried, we waited to see a pediatric cardiologist. And he confirmed the same thing. Though we were prepared for it this time, hearing the news again and accompanied by greater detail and even more gravity really didn't hurt any less.
And I saw all that we had prepared and planned for vanishing before my eyes. It was all evaporating. No more midwives, no more birth center. Instead: hospital gowns and white coats, monitors and machines, electrodes and IVs. No more holding and adoring our baby after his birth. Instead: doctor catching him and taking him away, more IVs and ultrasounds, ambulance transfers and surgical knives. Wondering. And waiting. And more waiting. No happy homecoming right after he's born. Instead: coming home not pregnant and baby-less, walking into an empty and too-silent nursery, drives to the hospital to see him hooked up to monitors and tubes, wondering at his scars.
This is not what I had in mind at all. The prospect of parenthood was daunting enough for me with the "healthy and normal" baby every parent hopes for. But now I knew much, much more was being demanded of my heart. We would still have our baby, but in a way that required giving up everything about his arrival and how we prepared for it.
I had spoken to a friend of mine (before all this news about Ewan's heart) how in being pregnant, I was already learning tremendous lessons about dying to self. This little person forming in my womb demanded much of those resources that only I could provide for him. Pregnancy made me fatigued and sick, and I threw up nearly every day until I was more than eighteen weeks along. As I loved watching my belly beginning to swell with his growth, even then I was aware how I was giving something up: sharing my body with another resident, relinquishing some customs and comforts, from giving up certain foods to waking up with aching hips every morning.
And now this.
I confess, this is letting go of more than I prepared to give up. I have mentioned it before, but I will say again that I continue to grieve the loss of the type of birth I wanted: with midwives and in the birth center. Perhaps it is because most women in this country (I've heard figures around 85-90%) give birth in hospitals or perhaps yet because people know that as Ewan's mother I will, of course, do what I must and what is best for him. But there are those who would make light of this loss. I know they are well-meaning and intend us no harm, but I have to say it. This is a loss for us, and it is one I must grieve. We chose this route not merely as a reaction against doctors and hospitals and a screwed up medical system, nor even yet because we wanted to be different, but because there are so many positive reasons to choose it: highly personalized and minimally invasive care, having the freedom to move and eat and labor in different positions, not being subject to policies made by hospital boards or health insurance companies, and so on.
And while I am thankful for the technology that affords us an early diagnosis and the advances in medicine that will give Ewan the chance to live and thrive, I have to surrender that picture of bringing our baby home. We won't get to bring him home right after he's born. In all likelihood, he won't fit into the adorable newborn clothing we've already been receiving as gifts by the time he finally comes home. He will be hooked up to IVs, his heart will be extensively scanned, and he will be chiefly under the care of doctors and nurses. He will need surgery. I will give birth to this precious baby boy and, barring a miracle (to which we will always remain open, and for which we will continue to pray), he will have surgery in the first days of life. Even in the hands of the most skilled and compassionate physicians, the thought of catheters and knives invading my baby's body sends a chill through my blood.
I have to let go of this, too.
Before the ultrasound, James and I each quietly suspected that we would not have the "healthy and normal" baby that truly, we hoped for. Somehow we both knew and each had the feeling without telling one another (until after the diagnosis) that we would find ourselves in circumstances where many parents might be tempted toward abortion, and in a place that would stretch our hearts as new parents beyond what we could imagine.
In my worst moments, I hate that these suspicions were right. But lately I am able to give thanks for all of this. I thank God for Ewan and his broken heart. I thank God for how He will redeem our grief and our tears, and for how He will weave out of this sad thread a beautiful and redemptive story like only He can. I thank Him that through this, He will form us and humble us, and tell a story to others that could not be told any other way. And while I cannot even imagine what will be demanded of us in the weeks and months following his birth, I am confident that we will be supplied all the necessary grace to face what we must.
I thank Him that we can know even in the midst of all this: God is good. This is our heart not only when babies are born healthy and whole, but when they like Ewan are born with holes in the heart and narrow arteries, when there are malformations that would, without surgery, spell certain death. God is good when jobs are lost, when homes are burned, when cancer strikes, and when sorrow threatens to swallow us whole. God is good even then. And so we thank Him.
God is good, and that is something I can keep. God is good, and of that there will be no letting go.