It's a long one, this story. But in a nutshell, it's one with a happier ending than any of us dared to expect: The babe came out in grand, bloody style and screamed. And all was good with the world.
We already knew she had Down Syndrome, but that was the least of our worries in that operating room.
Still is, in our life.
The babe's now a little more than four months old and as parents I and the Viking (that's the Danish husband of a longish duration to this one, a slightly off-kilter Finn, who has been out of her depth for quite some time and kind of likes it that way, all in one mother of a tangle) are still counting seconds. And we know it.
But before we were counting seconds of parenthood we were desperately counting days and weeks. Of the pregnancy, that is. And here's how it all went down.
The Birth Story (do not dare to imagine anything cutesy here, since that's not how this bunch rolls. Like at all):
Ever since puberty, I had been told that getting pregnant for me was going to be the discreet affair between I, the Viking (at that point referred to as the generic husband, since the Viking himself wasn't even in the country when I hit puberty), the doctor, some powerful medications, hormones, possible surgical intervention, and several visits to the hospital. I had severe PCOS, you see. Something that the medical establishment had decided meant that I was going to be on the pill (as a way of regulating my menstrual cycle) until one day I'd decide it was time and make a series of appointments at the gynecologist's to score some hormonal injections and maybe a petri dish or a few, have Viking ejaculate in a number of cups, and go about my day scheduling in the creation of life (if we were to be one of the few lucky ones), or something in that vein.
We'd always said we'd adopt when the time was right. We'd be the perfect multicultural family for any child, from any background.
But then I took charge. I changed the way I was living - I trimmed away the meds and brought in nutrition and natural supplements - and a year later emerged victorious with a regular menstrual cycle and ovaries clean of the previously ubiquitous cysts. But the doctors were doubtful.
What the hell. We decided to give it a shot anyway. Au natural. And it took. 16 store-bought pregnancy tests and one blood test later we dared to be certain.
I was with child. (Again, don't you dare ooh, or even aah, we're cooler than that...)
Then my last remaining grandfather died, and off I went, by myself, all the way to Europe, with a terminal-change at joy of all joys Heathrow, to his funeral, to the cold and dark (at that time of year) Finland. And promptly had a threatened miscarriage. Hospital instead of funeral.
But she stuck it out. We decided on a Finnish name for her and breathed a sigh of relief.
Until I returned home to Mexico and fainted while I was brushing my teeth.
Which was when they discovered the hematoma and the tear in the placenta. Right after they diagnosed me with neurocardiogenic syncope driven completely out of whack by the pregnancy hormones.
Gatorade and bed rest. We began to search for a Danish and a Mexican name for her.
We just knew we were expecting a little girl.
The night before the 12-week scan we had prepared for the worst. What if there was no heartbeat. What if the development had stalled. What if the hematoma and the tear had been too severe.
It was an indescribable joy to see our baby dancing around on the ultrasound screen. And dancing she was. Twisting and turning. There was no question there was a heartbeat, her size was right. Everything was good. My doctor asked in another doctor to look at the screen. "Mexico?" was all I thought of that.
We sat in the doctor's office. The doctor took out some of the pictures he had printed out during the scan.
"So this is the fetus. This is the face and this is the neck," he said and we nodded. I thought he was being a weeee bit patronizing.
"Here is a little too much fluid in the neck," he continued, "and there's a fluid filled... a cyst on the neck of the fetus, which we can operate later on, of course."
The doctor stared at us.
"What exactly are you telling us," I said, "Is something wrong?"
"This could be nothing," he said in his accented English, "I am going to send you to the clinica materno fetal to do a better ultrasound. To do a better test. To calculate your risks."
And there it was.
Within a span of two weeks we went from doubting whether we were pregnant, to our chances of having a baby with Down syndrome being 1 in 2 and only slightly less for other chromosomal abnormalities as calculated from the results of the level II ultrasound, to receiving the preliminary results of the transvaginal CVS test, which clearly indicated that I had been right all along.
We were expecting a girl.
This little life had Down Syndrome, which made the pregnancy more risky. But she'd already dug her heels in when my uterus attempted to extricate her, held on tighter when the placenta tore and bled into the uterine lining, and she'd avoided the needle they stuck in through my vagina, right next to her tiny skull in order to harvest some of the placental cells for the CVS.
She wouldn't be dissuaded from experiencing the world.
"Like mother, like daughter," said the Viking and smiled (only he said it in Danish, which makes it much less of a horrifying cliche).
Even when the placenta began to measure off the maturation charts, and we, as well as the doctor, started referring to it as the 'Zombie-placenta (it just kept chugging on even when it should by all accounts have been completely lifeless), our babe just kept on growing. And kicking. And one particular Saturday undertaking something that felt like she had hired a work crew to demolish a particularly uncomfortable corner of her habitation.
There was constant monitoring and countless scares, when the umbilical flows weren't quite right, or the bones of the scull looked a little too attached, or the cerebral artery measurement took a dive, or the bowels started showing calcifications, or when the edema wouldn't clear, or when all of a sudden I could't feel her kicking.
Every week was going to be the last week I was pregnant.
The Viking gave me shots of steroids to mature Babe's lungs.
week by week.
When she reached a kilo in the womb, we were elated.
Day by day.
When we made it to 30 weeks, we could do nothing but cry in the hospital elevator.
When my pregnancy reached the magical 34 weeks, we didn't know which rooftop to shout it from and decided on the phone, the internet, and the hospital parking lot.
By week 35 she wasn't significantly growing anymore and the doctor recommended what he described as a normal course of action in Down Syndrome pregnancies: I would attempt to eek out as many days as possible until we reached week 37 and then he would induce labor. To diminish the risk of stillbirth.
We agreed. We were so close.
And then the oxygen in her brain started slipping. Inducing labor would no longer be an option. We began to plan for a c-section.
On a Tuesday, during the 36th week of my pregnancy, I got up early, took a shower, moisturized, put on make-up, blow-dried my hair and went for a brunch at my friends house, preceding an appointment at the clinica materno fetal for yet another level II ultra.
I chatted with the people at the brunch and found myself telling them that I was maybe going to have my baby that day.
So I did.
At exactly 7pm that night I heard that precious scream and finally took that breath I felt I had been holding for the past seven months.
For a few seconds all was well with the world. Our daughter was alive and well. In the NICU, but not in any real danger. I'd had my baby, we were out of the woods, right?
And then it hit me. I. Had. A. Baby.
Right then and there I realized one thing: It wasn't ever ' Fuck, I have a child with Down Syndrome', instead it was 'Fuck, I have a child.'
And it kind of still is.
I had never understood what responsibility felt like before that day.