Since early July, I’ve been avoiding writing on this blog about a subject that has most been on my mind.
In July I found out that I’m pregnant again. Today I hit 22 weeks, which means I’m more than halfway there. If all goes well, please God, sometime in early March I’m due to have another baby, 18 months after Eli’s birth.
Though my husband and I are thrilled to be having another child, there are many reasons why I’ve been reluctant to write about it. First, there’s the hurdle of the difficult first-trimester, when extreme exhaustion and nausea are at their peak, but you’re not supposed to inform the immediate world because it’s “too early” and the risk of miscarriage is high. (The vast majority of miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.) Second, I’m a slightly superstitious character. (In which case, is it okay to announce you’re pregnant at all?)
But third – and this is a biggie – almost as soon as I got pregnant, and especially after I heard the fetus’ heartbeat at around eight weeks, I found myself wondering if I would do “it” this time. It is an amniocentesis, that famous test where the doctor sticks a needle as large as Libya through your belly and into your womb, to withdraw amniotic fluid and examine it for genetic abnormalities.
I went through the same dilemma about whether to do an amnio exactly a year and-a-half ago. It was 39 at the time, and any woman over 35 is encouraged to do the test. In Israel, the doctors virtually insist on it – so much so that they make it free. But the more that my husband and I thought about it, the more we felt the that risks were not justifiable. More specifically, the point of the test is to check for Down’s Syndrome. The chances of a woman at 40 having a child with this chromosomal deviation is about 1 in a 112, as opposed to about 1 in 910 at age 30, or 1 in 1,520 at age 20.
Presumably, the whole point of the test is to consider aborting the fetus, should it be found to have Down’s. Terminating the pregnancy – a euphemistic term – didn’t seem like something either of us could fathom. So why do the test, which also carries a small risk of miscarriage? We did some serious soul-searching before deciding that the risk wasn’t worth it, and that the battery of other, non-invasive tests had shown – albeit with only 94 percent certainty – that our baby-to-be looked perfectly normal.
This time around, I was a year-and-a-half older, meaning the risk had gone up. Two doctors we had seen had strongly recommended doing the amnio, dismissing the miscarriage risk as miniscule. By now I had spoken to more than a dozen women friends who’d done the test, most of them adding that it was no big deal and that they were glad they did it. Finally, there was the fact that having a baby was no longer just a romantic ideal, a dream we had. It was now reality, and my husband suggested I consider closely what it would mean to have a child with Down’s Syndrome.
And so I worried. About doing the test, about not doing the test. Finally, I bit the bullet and did it. I was convinced that it would hurt no more than the prick of a needle during a blood test. Instead, the procedure was surprisingly painful. But what was really torturous was the two weeks following the test. What would I do if the results came back as positive for Down’s Syndrome? I had already seen my baby (yeah, I know I’m supposed to say fetus) bouncing around in utero on the ultrasound screen, and I’d already succumbed to curiosity and learned that she is a well, a she. I’d seen her tiny fingers. I was dreaming of names. I was moved at the thought of having a daughter and envisioned the many complexities of mother-daughter relationships I might face over the next 40 years.
And I concluded that whatever the test results, I was keeping this baby, as long as the universe was amenable to her staying in my belly until next March. How could I do otherwise? Or was I going crazy?
One night, when I couldn’t sleep at 2 a.m., my husband suggested I gently rub circles around my rounding abdomen. He provided a mantra, and I took it up: “My fetus is happy and healthy, and so am I.”
Yes, it sounds corny and Californian, but it helped. And maybe it worked. The results came in two days later, letting us know that things are perfectly fine. And so I am allowed to feel relieved and stop worrying – until the next test.
There are other reasons why I’ve been quiet until now – though anyone who sees me regularly long has been aware that I’m pregnant, because as with many second pregnancies, I started “showing” much earlier this time. Most significant of these reasons is my feeling of longing on behalf of friends near and far who are trying to conceive. There is probably no way to convey the extent to which I wish I could be pregnant alongside them. I realize that being pregnant again is a blessing. I wish I could spread it around as easily as the children in my son’s playgroups spread their germs, which is to say, widely and quickly.