Did you go through a difficult pregnancy? Cathy did! With health scares for her and bub along the way (including Trisomy 13 and a hole in the heart), Cathy shares her story of a difficult pregnancy for other mums to find hope.
I was at the park playing with my 3-year-old son when the phone rang. It was the clinic number for my ob-gyn and I knew it would be the blood results of my nuchal scan for my unborn baby which had been done earlier in the week. The appointment had been very routine – baby looked perfect on the scan, the sonographer had even said there was a high chance we’d be having a girl which we were super excited about. I answered the call without too much thought as I pushed my son higher on the swing. I can’t remember the exact words now but all that registered was the nurse saying the blood results had come back showing a high risk of Trisomy 13, and that I had to come in as ASAP to talk to my doctor. I remember the sudden fear that coursed through me and the confusion about what Trisomy 13 even was.
When things don’t go according to plan
Later that night at home, my husband and I sat in worried disbelief after an intensive Google search on Trisomy 13. Severe intellectual disabilities. Physical abnormailites. Finding out that many infants with Trisomy 13 die within the first few days or weeks of life, if they managed to survive in the womb at all. Suddenly we were back to the intensely fearful place we’d been in during my first pregnancy, which had taken 3 years of battling unexplained infertility to achieve after a traumatizing missed miscarriage. We’d been thrilled to be pregnant but each day I’d worried about miscarrying again. The joy of falling pregnant so easily this time around was suddenly gone.
We met with our doctor the next afternoon and thankfully my husband was able to ask objective questions while I sat in mostly stunned silence. We had decisions to make – should we undergo an amniocentesis? What decision would we make if we did indeed test positive? Should we share this with our family and friends? I was all for doing the amnio and finding out ASAP, whereas my husband disagreed after weighing up the statistics. He pointed out I had a greater chance of miscarrying from the amnio than actually being positive for Trisomy 13. It was statistics over emotions, and in the end, we decided to wait until our next detailed anomaly scan at 18 weeks.
The waiting game
The next few weeks dragged and it was all I could do to get through them without bursting into tears at any given moment. I decided to share with my closest girlfriends, but to wait until the scan before worrying any of my family as I knew that would stress me out even more. Emotionally, I tried to surrender my worry to the universe and detach a little from what was happening, and things that seemed so important in my first pregnancy, like avoiding certain foods, suddenly didn’t matter.
Finally, we reached 18 weeks and the day of our scan had arrived. I was a ball of nerves and felt my first trimester nausea return. Emotionally I felt wrecked, no longer able to detach from the pregnancy as our little one had started to move about in my belly. I was no clearer on what we would do if the test turned out positive.
When I remember the first scan I’d had years ago, back when we found out about our missed miscarriage, it plays back in my head in slow motion. This scan was the same. The doctor prefaced the scan by saying it should be obvious if Trisomy 13 was a factor as we would now be able to see physical abnormalities. The scan seemed to take hours and the doctor was focused and quiet. After it ended we had to wait for our results. My husband whispered to me that all looked good to him, but that it seemed like the doctor had been taking a long time to scan baby’s heart.
Receiving the results
The doctor sat down with us and straight away told us that the baby did NOT have Trisomy 13. What a relief! But I could tell it wasn’t as straightforward as that. He went on to say that they had also found a hole in our daughter’s (yes she was a girl!) heart, and coupled with the previous nuchal blood results this indicated a high chance of Down’s Syndrome. The pit in my stomach reopened. Again, we had more decisions to make. Should we do the genetic testing? Was this the time to share with our families? How would we deal with a child that had Down’s and how would it affect our family and most importantly, our son?
We decided quite quickly that no matter what, we would be keeping our daughter. If she had Down’s then so be it. We arranged to do the genetic testing ASAP so we would know, and my husband was pleased it didn’t involve any risky procedures, just a blood test. Our families were supportive and encouraging and it was a huge relief to share with them, although we still didn’t tell them about the Trisomy 13 scare.
By the time we received our results, our little girl was becoming more active in my tummy, and my intuition told me that no matter what, she would be a force to be reckoned with. The results came back negative which was a huge weight off our shoulders – but we still weren’t in the clear as we had to keep an eye on the hole in case it didn’t close, which could mean complications at birth.
At 33 weeks we were thrilled to find out the hole had closed. But I still wasn’t able to fully enjoy the pregnancy. A few weeks prior I’d also found out my fasting sugar levels were drastically high and I’d been put on a regimen of insulin shots each morning. I had to monitor my diet and sugars through the day which were completely fine, but the fasting levels that I couldn’t control continued to climb.
Our beautiful and healthy daughter, Halle Cleo, was born at 38 weeks by planned c-section. It had to be planned due to my increasing sugar levels. The section was straightforward and easy and she was placed straight on my chest. After a short cry she looked at us both with big brown eyes as if to say, I am here, all is well now and even the midwife commented that she looked like she’d been here before.
It turned out my earlier intuition had been right. Our daughter is absolutely a force to be reckoned with. She walked at 10 months, is vivacious and bright as a button, and at 3 years of age rules the roost and never lets anything get in her way. She’s feisty and strong and it’s hard to believe we’d ever worried she might have been born with a disability, or had a hole in her heart.
Managing a difficult pregnancy
I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy the pregnancy much at all. What got me through was the love and support of my husband, my family and friends, and being able to focus my attention on my little boy. However, what we went through did give me a different perspective, which I have carried into how I’ve parented my daughter compared to how I was as a first-time mum. And that was a gift in itself. It taught me to let go of being in control, and I realised that certain things that seemed so important the first time around really weren’t important at all. That each day of motherhood brings challenges but that we can overcome each one.
To any mama who might be experiencing a difficult pregnancy, it’s not your fault. It’s ok not to enjoy your pregnancy. You’ve got this and believe me, you are stronger than you think.
Catherine Nelson-Williams is the author of this article and founder at The Nursery Collective. She is a mum of two and juggles being a WAHM with blogging and running The Nursery Collective – a haven for mamas navigating the early years of motherhood, where you can find blog articles, unique boutiques and services for Mum, Baby & Kids all in the one place. You can visit her Facebook Page or Instagram, or join her Facebook Group, Find Your Village.