Expecting the Unexpected: One Man's Journey Through a Most Eventful Pregnancy (Excerpts)
It is fair to say that I never really believed I'd ever publish a book about my first foray into fatherhood. Indeed, my only motivation for putting pen to paper at all was simply to keep a written account of this most special time for posterity. However, it is also fair to say that I (and my partner Sally) never thought our 'go' at pregnancy would be quite so tumultuous and eventful. Infertility fears, ectopic scares, relationship wobbles and anxiety-ridden relatives all conspired to make our nine-month journey a more difficult one than most. And as if that wasn't enough, we also had to contend with the life-changing results of a 20-week Anomaly Scan which more than lived up to its name.
The purpose of publishing this book isn't to make money (it won't, believe me), or to get my name 'out there' (I write under a pseudonym anyhow). The purpose of this book is simply to reassure expectant parents who are being forced to go through really tough times that they're not alone. Sal and I felt like our world had fallen in when we left our 20-week scan knowing our baby was going to be born 'different', and all we wanted at that time was to read something - anything - that would reassure us. More than anything we just wanted to know that someone, somewhere understood what we were going through and perhaps even had some reassuring words of wisdom that might help us get through our darker days.
If what I've written can provide even a little bit of solace or comfort to just one couple in a similar situation then I will consider the three-and-a-half years it's taken me to get this book published completely worthwhile.
The First Trimester: Chapter 1
‘I think I’m pregnant!’
It’s 4.45am on Sunday morning and my girlfriend Sally is standing by my side of our bed in her winter pyjamas, waving what looks like a novelty pen under my nose and grinning from ear-to-ear.
She passes it to me, her eyes blazing with excitement: ‘If there are two lines then it means I’m pregnant.’ I focus my tired eyes on the sleek little home testing device’s monochrome readout and see one bold line and one very faint line.
‘Are you sure this is accurate?’
Sal, bouncing uncontrollably from one foot to the other, tells me that her pregnant sister’s “wee-pen” looked exactly the same eight-and-a-half months ago. We can find out for sure, she informs me, by braving the late-November chill and getting a digital tester from the supermarket up the road – when it eventually opens.
I start to smile: ‘So you really could be pregnant?’
She beams even more broadly, gives me a massive hug and proudly confirms what she’s been trying to tell me for the last two minutes:
My initial reaction is one of genuine joy, as we have been trying for a baby for nearly two years. My second reaction is one of achievement as multiple tests had indicated my sperm count to be less than half what it should be.
Indeed, I felt very joyous and extremely proud. And nowhere near as tired as I did five minutes ago.
‘So we’ll know for sure when Tesco opens?’
It’s now nearly 5am. Tesco won’t open its doors for another four hours yet so Sal climbs back into bed to keep the early morning cold at bay. We snuggle up and try to take in the enormity of it all.
‘Doesn’t feel real, does it?’ she eventually says.
I agree, and after what seems like an eternity, we both drift back off to sleep.
I sleep fitfully as all manner of predominantly selfish worries and concerns slip and slide around my sub-conscious. To my surprise, my initial feelings of joy and pride are made to give way pretty quickly for a very particular kind of anxiety, namely the type you get before you’re about to take a driving test or make some kind of a speech in public.
Not fear as such; but not far off.
Doubts begin to enter my head: Is this what I truly want? Am I really ready to take on such a huge responsibility? Does this mean that my life as a ‘young’ (ish) man is effectively over?
Suffice to say, the second home testing device Sal bought from Tesco seconds after it opened for trading confirmed the news we had been waiting so long to hear. We really are going to have a baby.
This time we treat ourselves to a joyous extended hug and get back in bed to share the realisation properly. I tell Sal about the anxiety I am now feeling and she agrees that the whole thing is “very scary”.
With that, my own selfish concerns take a back seat. Sally is one of the kindest, most caring people you could ever hope to meet, and she has waited a long time to be in this position. Working as a nursery nurse and nanny for much of her life, and now as a primary school teacher, she has spent many years looking after other people’s children. She even cared for her elder sister’s son and daughter full-time when they were both toddlers.
To know that she will now, all being well, have the chance to care for a baby all of her own makes me feel incredibly happy for her.
But then - not much later it has to be said – the warm feelings subsided and the selfish doubts returned...
UK Paperback/Kindle Edition
The First Trimester: Chapter 9
Sally and I went for the Nuchal Fold Scan on Tuesday afternoon and thankfully had a far more straightforward experience than the last time we went for a scan. After a bit of a prolonged wait, we eventually went into the Antenatal Ultrasound Room and assumed our respective positions (Sally on the bed, me on the chair next to her) without waiting to be prompted. Unlike the ultrasound room of the Early Pregnancy Unit, there was a monitor hanging from the ceiling at the end of the bed so we’d both be able to see what was happening this time without trying to second guess the operators. There was just one scanner person (I don’t know their official title) for this appointment; a very chilled-out lady whose whole persona simply exuded confidence and competence.
As before, a large wad of gel was deposited on Sal’s belly and as before my hand reached up automatically to stroke her head. The monitor at the end of the bed (which looked to me like the ideal solution for playing video games when you’re unwell) sparked into life and immediately began to relay images that looked like they should be more familiar than they were.
Mrs Scanner gave us a peppered commentary:
‘There’s the head; there’s the legs; there’s an arm – look baby’s waving!’
‘Now baby’s turned his back and rolled over.’
I looked at Sal and she was smiling.
‘It’s weird isn’t it?’, she said. ‘It’s really in there!’
It’s true; it did feel a bit weird. The flashing little blip we had seen five weeks ago was now a recognisable human form, with legs, arms and hands – alive and well. It also seemed quite unsociable and keen to be left alone. I took this as a sign that it was definitely a boy (although I kept this to myself).
‘I’m just going to take a few measurements now,’ said Mrs Scanner as she simultaneously moved the scanning wand around Sally’s abdomen with one hand and clicked a few buttons on her keyboard with the other. Little interchangeable vectors and squares flashed up on the monitor in much the same way as those lines do whenever you’re trying to make your documents look a little more arty-farty in MS Word. I looked at the image more closely to see if I could see any obvious abnormalities for myself. After a few strained sweeps however, it was clear that my untrained eyes weren’t going to give me any kind of advanced warning as to whether or not the kid was out of proportion in any way. In truth, he could have had a nose like Pinocchio and I would have been none the wiser.
During this hiatus, I gave Sal a reassuring stroke and asked if she was OK. ‘Fine,’ she said; and she was. I think the fact we had already experienced our first visual encounter with Bump made this scan a far less emotional affair than the one before. Although I was genuinely amazed to see the images on the screen, the experience didn’t have the same ‘Oh my God’ resonance that was so evident during the first scan. Sally clearly felt the same way. After a bit of deliberating, Mrs Scanner eventually said:
‘Well, everything seems normal... Sal and I looked at each other yet said nothing. All was well.
‘Of course, we won’t be able to give you any estimates regarding Down’s Syndrome until the blood work comes back,’ she continued, ‘but nothing I’ve seen today has given me cause for concern’.
I liked Mrs Scanner. She was brief, articulate and to the point. I imagined Mr Scanner was probably a very happy man. ‘Here are your scans’ she said as she put two photos into two separate presentation wallets and deposited them into Sal’s already bulging maternity file/MI6 dossier. This was then put into her even more cavernous ‘Bounty Pack’/Al-Qaeda case file.
‘You’ll need to pay for them at the machine in the corridor.’ I immediately went off Mrs Scanner. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask.
A few days later we got a letter in the post which contained the results of the blood tests Sal had done straight after the scan. Sally opened the envelope and read aloud:
I am sure you will be pleased to hear that your recent maternal screening test has shown that your baby is not at high risk for Down’s Syndrome.
She looked up at me and inhaled.
We have combined the results of your blood test with the result of your nuchal scan to calculate the chance of Down’s Syndrome in your pregnancy. The results show that your chance of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome is:
1 in 2000
This means that out of every 2000 women with the same result as you, one will have a baby with Down’s Syndrome, and 1999 will have unaffected babies.
‘One in 2,000,’ repeated Sal. ‘I’m sure Clare's odds were higher than that!’
Sal re-read the letter. ‘Yes. I’m positive Clare had something like 1 in 10,000 when she got her letter.’ I knew what was coming next.
‘I’m going to phone Clare.’
1 in 2,000 sounded pretty good to me, after all the odds of dying from a slip in the bathroom are about the same and I don’t know of anyone who’s kicked the bucket by taking a tumble in the shower. Moreover, 1 in 2,000 equates to 0.05% when it is translated to a percentage – pretty good odds, I thought..
I could hear Sal on the phone ‘...That’s what I thought. No, I think Leanne’s was 1 in 600. I don’t get it; you’re older than me..?’ And so it went on for another five or ten minutes.
The way I saw it, there was nothing we could do about the odds we had been given. Sal however, being one of three sisters growing up in a household of five children, needed to process these statistics by scrutinising them with good old-fashioned sibling rivalry rather than opting for the highly overrated merits of logic and reason.
‘...What was Tina’s? Really? I’m going to phone Mum...’
After a little while, my patience ran out so I sat Sally down and gave her the Brian Clough treatment. Namely, we talked about it for 20 minutes and then we decided I was right. Amazingly, this seemed to work. The truth is, nature doesn’t abide by odds so it really didn’t matter if our chances of having a baby with Down’s were better than Leanne’s or worse than Clare’s – what would be, would be. And, the fact that the letter had stated our pregnancy was not regarded as ‘high risk’ was surely enough to be going on with.
After a few hours of me working in the spare room and Sally milling about on the laptop in the living room, she eventually popped her head round the door. ‘Shall we invite your mum and dad up tomorrow?’, she asked. ‘Now would be a good time to tell them, don’t you think?’
I leaned back in my chair and thought about it. The scan revealed nothing worrying and Sally had not experienced any bleeding or associated pains in weeks.
‘If we wait much longer to tell them, they’ll see I’m pregnant before we get the chance to announce it nicely.’
I considered this and weighed it all up. My mum and dad would want to receive this news in person and now did feel like the right time to do it. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll give her a call’.
Sally beamed a smile: ‘This news will make her year.’ I smiled back: ‘It’ll make her decade’.
The next day, Sal and I were playing a game of Risk (the classic PC version) while we waited for my mum and dad to arrive. There aren’t many girls who are into Risk, and it is one of the many idiosyncrasies that Sal does like it which makes me love her. For some reason, everything seemed better again between the two of us. Here we were, kicking back on the sofa, playing games on the laptop and listening to some tunes, just like we’d done a thousand times before – and it felt just as nice as ever.
In fact, we were enjoying our game of world domination so much that we were actually a bit gutted when we saw my dad’s car pull onto the drive (Sal was more gutted – she was winning). Within 90 seconds of parking on the drive, my mum was already in the front door (she knocks yet doesn’t wait for anyone to answer). ‘Hellooo?’, she sang. Sal and I took turns to give her a hug. She looked happy and well.
A minute later, my dad came bounding in like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. He has angina as well as a whole host of other health problems but they all seem to fade away when he comes up to visit us. He greeted me and Sal with a big smile and an infectious chuckle.
‘Cup of tea?’, I ventured. ‘Took the words right out of my mouth’, he replied, laughing.
So we sat down in the living room with our cuppas and chewed the fat for a bit. They had arranged to come up and visit around this time anyway so neither of them had any inkling of what was to come.
Rather than simply tell them the news, I instead opted to put two enlarged photos of the most recent scan pictures into an envelope with an accompanying piece of paper with ‘See you in August’ written on it. I left this on the fireplace in full view and waited for an opportune moment to present it to them. After a good 45 minutes of making cheerful small talk, the conversation reached a natural hiatus. This was it. This was the moment! I stood up, grabbed the envelope and told my mum and dad that Sal and I had a present for them.
‘Ooohh,’ Mum said ‘A present? For me?’
‘For both of you,’ I corrected, ‘so you’ll both need to sit next to each other when you open it’. Dad moved from the sofa he was sharing with me across to the bigger sofa Mum was sitting on with Sally (who duly moved to come and stand next to me). My mum opened the envelope, tugged at the paper she found and leaned forward to read what she saw: ‘See. You. In. August’
‘Ooohhh, is it tickets to see Paul McCartney?’ she quizzed.
Dad joined in: ‘Is it a holiday?’
I shook my head. She pulled the paper out and turned the contents over to get a better view.
Dad leaned across for a better view and started laughing. ‘Yaaaaaayyyyyyy!!!’ my mum continued as she flicked from one image to the other: ‘Oh he’s beautiful. Beautiful! Look David: he’s beautiful.’
‘Yeah! YEAH!!’, Dad said, laughing almost uncontrollably now.
My mum got to her feet and started crying as she gave me a big hug. Gently weeping, she grasped me tightly and told me how everything was brilliant. After giving Sally a big cuddle, she returned to me and sobbed as she hugged me even tighter. ‘I... I feel... so...so happy,’ she eventually said. My dad was misty eyed as he finally got the opportunity to congratulate me properly. He wanted to be a grandparent just as much as Mum and I could see in his eyes that this news was just as amazing for him as it was for her. It was a magic moment, one which I wish I could have frozen so that I could enjoy it over and over again. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen my mum looking so thrilled about anything.
I felt unbelievably happy myself.
I was sharing a genuinely life-affirming moment with the three (soon to be four) most important people in my life. Everything felt perfect.
US Paperback/Kindle Edition
The Second Trimester: Chapter 4
Oh where to begin.
Sally and I went for Bump’s 20 week scan (also known as the Anomaly Scan) on Wednesday. Although we were back in the same room, we had a different sonographer (that’s what they’re called) this time; a very pleasant lady called Laura.
Anyway, we went through the now usual rigmarole of lying Sally down, slapping the gel on and looking transfixed at the ceiling-hung monitor as Laura prodded and poked Sally’s belly with her ultrasound wand.
Laura was very methodical and talked us through what she was checking at each stage of the scan. It was really quite amazing. We could see Bump’s spine, kidneys, bladder and brain. We could even see the blood as it entered and exited the various chambers of the heart. Truly, it was absolutely mind-blowing. I really was genuinely thrilled to see our little one in so much detail, and of course, so was Sal. We even got to see the lower part of the face up close at one point - truly, truly amazing.
Anyway, Laura kept on making her checks and measuring various lengths and circumferences by way of her battle-planning software. She seemed satisfied about what she had seen up until then so she offered to give us her opinion on what she thought the sex might be.
I looked at Sal, smiled a silly grin and took a breath.
‘Well,’ Laura said, and inhaled a breath of her own: ‘I think this baby is a little girl.’
Within the space of two seconds the image on the screen in front of us went from being a 20-week-old foetus to being our little girl. Sally looked over at me, knowing that I would be a little disappointed at it not being a boy. I smiled back at her knowing how thrilled she would be about it being a girl.
Right then and there, I didn’t care that my kid probably wouldn’t want to play football with me on PlayStation. I didn’t care that I would spend most of her teenage years tearing my hair out worrying about predatory boys. I didn’t even care that she would probably end up sharing her mother’s enthusiasm for crappy Saturday night TV singing contests.
I just felt elated – completely and utterly elated. My little girl. Daddy’s little girl. I felt like crying but I didn’t do so. Sally was beaming too. I kissed her hand and stroked her head as Laura went about the business of double-checking her findings.
‘I just want to double-check something I noticed earlier...’ she said, her voice trailing off as Sal and I looked at the screen, both of us in our own little world. A little girl. Although I had made no secret of my desire to have a boy, I must admit that the idea of having a little girl had grown on me over the previous few weeks. Little girls always look so sweet and – as far as I can tell – they seem to be better behaved than little boys.
Yeah, having a little girl was going to be just fine.
And then Laura’s voice trailed back into my daydreams.
‘...No: that doesn’t seem quite right...’ She was frowning and making an ‘upside-down smile’ face as she leaned in as close as she could get to her workstation monitor. I looked up at Sal. She was looking at Laura.
‘Not quite right?’ I asked.
She pointed at the monitor and affected a sympathetic look.
‘I noticed it earlier. You see the hand there - the left hand,’ she paused; ‘there seems to be an... an absence of fingers.’
I felt an immediate sensation in my stomach, like it had been violently kicked in.
‘Maybe she’s just clenching her hand?’ Sally volunteered.
‘No, I don’t think so,’ countered Laura; ‘It’s been like that since we started: look -’ she pointed to the screen once more; ‘You can see the thumb and palm clearly, but there are no fingers where you would expect them to be.’ I looked at the screen and felt another sensation in my stomach; this time it was like I was on the world’s fastest rollercoaster. At that moment there was a knock on the door and a young guy – a medical student - came in to get some supplies for the room he was working in next door.
Laura called him over to her workstation and asked him to give her a second opinion. ‘Are you seeing what I’m seeing,’ she asked him. ‘Hmm. Yes,’ he replied.
I looked at Sal and held her hand tighter. She seemed remarkably composed. Laura and her colleague talked in semi-hushed tones for a brief moment longer and then he left as quickly as he had come in.
‘Right; well - I’m just going to pop out and speak to one of the consultants so why don’t you clean yourself up and take a seat for a few minutes,’ Laura said as she handed Sally some tissues and made for the door. Sally did as she was asked and eventually slumped down into the chair next to mine. I tried to hug her as best I could but she seemed almost rigid. I practically had to pull her toward me but eventually her posture yielded enough to let me embrace her.
And so we just sat there, hugging – no tears, no answers, no clues – just looking at a fuzzy, echo-like image of our little girl and her seemingly incomplete hand on the ceiling-hung monitor.
Laura returned a couple of minutes later and gave us her brief. She told us that, although it was by no means certain, the scan appeared to show our little girl had four fingers missing from her left hand. Because of this, she had arranged for us to come back and have a repeat scan with a consultant next week - to confirm the findings.
By now I was starting to feel a little dizzy. Sally appeared to be holding it together although I could sense that she just wanted to get the hell out of there now. At the end of the brief, we asked Laura whether having no fingers might be indicative of anything else, a larger condition perhaps. She said that all of the other findings were fine and that there was nothing to suggest it wasn’t an isolated event. However, she reiterated that the follow-up scan next week would be more conclusive. Her professional tone was cracking just a little bit at this point and she dropped a few pens when she was collecting our scan photos from the printer. As we left the ultrasound room, Laura looked at me and asked if I was alright. I don’t even remember what I said.
As soon as we walked through the double doors of the waiting area and into an empty corridor Sally folded into the wall next to her and erupted into tears. I held her as tight as I possibly could and encouraged her to let it all out. I felt like doing the same but I didn’t. Years of being a stoic bastard will do that. After a few moments, Sally took refuge in a nearby toilet and asked me to give her a few minutes. Standing there in the corridor listening to Sal sob her heart out through the door was without doubt one of the worst feelings I have ever had in my life. This day of joy had turned into something else entirely within the space of five minutes and there was fuck all I could do or say to make it better.
Again, I felt dizzy. After a few minutes, Sally emerged looking slightly more composed - but quite incredulous.
‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol or eaten anything that I shouldn’t have. Why? Why?’
Of course, I didn’t have the answers.
After what seemed like an absolute age, we booked our repeat scan at reception, paid for our parking and drove away from the hospital.
To go and share our news with Sal’s family.
I had left my car at Clare’s house as that is where I had met up with Sal to drive onto the hospital earlier; therefore there was no way we could go back home without telling Clare what had happened. Clare could tell from our faces that something wasn’t right as soon as we walked into her living room. Sally couldn’t say anything so I gave Clare a rundown on what had transpired. Sally again collapsed into tears and this time it was Clare who held her tight and told her that everything would be OK. I sat down on the sofa, feeling just as numb as I had back in the ultrasound room.
Finley was lying in his chair fast asleep, oblivious to it all. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but stare at the fingers on his little hands. How often do you even think about fingers? Until now I had never even considered what it would be like to live without fingers. But now, with the ultrasound images still fresh in my mind, all I could think about was how disadvantaged our little girl would be without them. Clare, herself in tears, gave me a hug and reassured me that everything would be alright.
We stayed at Clare’s for a little bit and to be honest I’m glad we did. Sally idolises Clare and I think having us both there made it just a tiny bit easier for her. After about an hour, we decided to go home. Sally asked Clare if she would phone their mum and explain the situation as she would undoubtedly be waiting for the ‘good news’ at home with baited breath. Sally thinks the world of her mum but it was clear she didn’t want to be re-telling this tale more than once today. Clare said she would phone her as soon as we left.
As Sal and I pulled into our road in our separate cars, I noticed a vehicle sat outside our bungalow with the headlights on. As I got further up the road I recognised the car – it belonged to Jan – Sally’s mum.
After pulling into the drive, Jan came inside with us and got the story which Clare had shared with her on the phone five minutes earlier. I knew she would be here - Sally is Jan’s little girl and nothing would stop her from wanting to put her arm round her youngest daughter at such a time. Sal was far more composed now and managed to tell her mum everything without getting so upset. Jan comforted her in a way that only mothers can and I’m sure Sally felt better for it.
Jan didn’t stick around for too long as I think she sensed Sally just wasn’t up for chatting about things in detail. As she gave me a little hug on her way out, I thought about my own mum. She knew the scan was this week. What would I say to her? Should I tell her at all? Would she be able to handle it? But that would have to wait for now.
After Jan had gone, Sal and I sat on a sofa each in the quiet of our living room. For a while we just sat there, making non-descript noises and shaking our heads.
‘I couldn’t help but stare at Finley’s fingers,’ Sally eventually said, stroking her forehead. ‘You just don’t even think about them, do you?’
I shook my head. After a little while of talking things through with Sal, I felt as though my mind was getting back to a more logical way of thinking. That being so, I fired up my netbook and started to look for answers. Within moments Sally was on her school laptop doing the same. When the Google search bar came up, I paused for a couple of seconds and thought about what my query should be. Eventually I typed ‘20 WEEK SCAN NO FINGERS’ and hit ENTER.
Most of the results were from forums; I clicked on every one and read through them at speed. Before I knew it, the best part of an hour had passed and I had read countless forum posts, replies and articles about parents who had found out their babies were missing fingers when they had gone for their Anomaly Scan. In the main, everything I read was very positive. Indeed, almost all of the parents who’d posted their accounts online had told how their initial fears and disappointment evaporated when their son or daughter was finally born. Apparently, not having fingers on one hand is something which most children can adapt themselves to quite easily.
I wanted this positivity to make me feel better; make me look at things from a slightly different angle – but it didn’t. I didn’t want my little girl to have to adapt. I didn’t want her to start off her life being disadvantaged. All I wanted was to have a little girl who would be able to do things which all kids do.
I wanted my child to be able cut up her own food, tie her own laces, and ride a bike. I wanted her to be able to hold a skipping rope, do gymnastics and play guitar. To go on fairground rides, ride a horse, drive a car...
HOW CAN SHE DO THESE THINGS – AND A HUNDRED OTHER BLOODY THINGS BESIDES - IF SHE’S ONLY GOT ONE FUCKING HAND THAT WORKS PROPERLY!!!
I turned off the netbook and laid on the sofa for a while. Sally had turned her laptop off five or ten minutes earlier and put the telly on to distract her thoughts. I suddenly felt stifled, angry even. It was a good time to go for a walk. I strolled the same ten-minute route as I did most days; round the block, through the local park and back down the other end of our road.
As I walked through the large, tree-fringed park of mostly open fields, I looked across the bumps and moguls of the BMX track to the kiddies play park beyond. On previous walks, I had imagined my child playing happily on the swings, slides, trim-trail and other bits of play apparatus. When I looked at the equipment on this walk though, abandoned at this time of the evening, I thought only about which of the swings and climbing frames my little girl would actually be able to use.
And it made me cry.
An hour or so later the phone rang. My mum. I hesitated as Sally held it out for me. Reluctantly I took it and answered.
‘Helloooo,’ she cooed; ‘It’s meeee!’
I really, really wasn’t in the mood for this.
‘Hello Mum,’ I said. ‘How are you?’
And so she went on to tell me about her weekend and asked me irreverent questions about holidays and the weather. She had forgotten. Thank God. Whilst walking in the park I had decided that I would tell my mum the news – but only if she asked. I had concluded that telling her after the next scan would be the better option as I would be armed with more information then. And so she rambled on, telling me about her trip to the cinema and asking what our plans were for Easter. The conversation was coming to its natural end and I was glad to be doing everything I could to help it on its way.
‘Oh; but what about your scan? When is that? Tomorrow? Next week?’ I went to speak but nothing came out. I took a deep breath and tried again.
‘Today, Mum. The scan was today.’
‘Oooo – did you find out what it is? Did you find out?’
‘Yeah, we found out Mum; it’s a girl.’
‘Yaaaayyyyyy...!!!!’ I moved the phone away from my ear a little as she went through every note in the scale a pensioner can hit and stamped her feet in utter delight. After about 15 seconds, I eventually returned the phone to my ear and resumed the conversation.
‘Oh, I’ll have to go out and buy some girls clothes now! Is that alright? Can I get some more bits for her?’
Given that my mum and dad bought two full bags of baby clothes and soft toys up with them the last time they came, I wanted to tell her to hold fire for a little while. But I didn’t. I just wanted this phone call to end before it got to the point where I would be forced to tell her what had happened.
‘OK Mum,’ I said; ‘But don’t go mad, alright.’
‘Ooooo! A girl. A girl!’
It was nice to hear her so happy. I really, really didn’t want to spoil her moment so I endeavoured to get out while the going was good. ‘Yeah. It’s been a bit of a big day though so I’m actually quite...’
‘What could you see on the scan,’ she said, cutting me off before I could even tell her how tired I was.
‘Well. You could see everything. Her spine, her brain, her heart. You could even see the bottom of her face.’
I enjoyed telling her this. It already felt like an eon ago for me but it felt good to give her a taste of the happiness Sal and I had experienced just a few short hours ago. ‘Oh, it sounds wonderful,’ she purred ‘And you could see everything?’
‘Everything,’ I replied, now resigned to the fact that this conversation was destined not to end on a high.
‘So everything was alright, was it?’
And there it was. Just six little words, but right there and then they seemed to have the destructive power of Krakatau and Hiroshima rolled into one. There was no way out, I had to tell her.
‘Actually Mum, they think there may be a little problem with one of her hands.’
I knew this would worry my mum so I tried to make it seem less dramatic to her than it did to me and Sal less than four hours ago. I gave her an abridged version of what had happened at the hospital and reassured her that the scan we are due to have next week might yet yield some good news. I also told her that not developing fingers on one hand is actually quite a common occurrence (1 in every 30,000 – 40,000 babies in actual fact) and that there are of course plenty of worse things that can happen to an unborn child.
‘Oh, bless her little heart,’ she said.
I went on to tell her that we live in a world where things like grafting and transplants are commonplace so it’s not like she would be short of options. ‘Yes,’ Mum agreed; ‘they can do wonders these days’.
At that moment I heard my dad come into the room. My mum again got a little excited; ’It’s a girl David!’
‘But she might have something wrong with her hand.’
I had now reached my limit. I really did feel tired now and all I wanted was to make this day end so that a new one could begin. And so I wrapped things up as gently as I could, told my mum I would phone her when I knew more and told her not to worry. I ended the call by saying; ‘It’s not the end of the world, Mum – it’s just a little unexpected, that’s all.’
And that seemed to sum things up nicely at that point
Fatigue had got the better of me and Sal by now so we decided to get an early night. To say it had been a long day would be a massive understatement. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get much sleep that night. Although I felt physically drained when I went to bed, my mind was awash with thoughts about what my little girl would and wouldn’t be able to do with her left hand.
The most upsetting thought of all was knowing she would almost certainly get teased when she reached a certain age. It is human nature for children to mock or fear what they don’t understand so it would eventually transpire that my little girl would have to put up with other kids calling her names. I tormented myself with this thought – and many other similar ones – for most of the night. How would she deal with this kind of teasing? What would she do when a teacher asked her class to count on their fingers? How would she feel if she was given a task to do that she wouldn’t be able to complete because she didn’t have the necessary digits or dexterity to do so? And what about when she gets to that age when appearance is everything to a girl? How will she feel when her teenage friends are wearing rings and imitating those crap party dances on MTV? How would she deal with it all?
I concluded that it probably wouldn’t be a problem for her at all when she was young. Indeed, I reckoned other children wouldn’t even look twice at her hand until she got to at least primary school age. Of course, things would change when she got to about 5, 6 or 7 as this is when kids generally become aware of the differences amongst their peers. Surely being teased would make her self-conscious; make her withdrawn – wouldn’t it?
I thought that this situation would probably be a little easier to deal with if we were having a boy. After all, he could at least make a decent fist with his good hand! It made me angry and sad at the same time. Knowing that other people – even if they were just young kids – would deliberately upset my little girl made me want to just give her a big cuddle right there and then. I really did just want to have her with me then so I could hug her and tell her everything would be OK.
And then I got around to wondering how Sally and I would deal with it? How would we be able to stop ourselves from over-compensating; being over-protective? Should we even try to stop ourselves? Would we feel self-conscious? The last thing I remember thinking before I eventually fell asleep was that I wished – more than anything – that the repeat scan with the consultant would come round very quickly.
After I woke the next day, I got straight on the computer and started researching the topic of fingerless hands in greater detail. After a while, I noticed one word popping up more and more often - ‘symbrachydactyly’.
Wikipedia describes symbrachydactyly as: “... A congenital abnormality, characterized by limb anomalies consisting of brachydactyly, cutaneous syndactyly and global hypoplasia of the hand or, rarely, foot. In many cases, bones will be missing from the fingers and some fingers may be missing altogether.”
It also went on to say:
“The cause of symbrachydactyly is unknown. One possible cause might be an interruption of the blood supply to the developing arm at four to six weeks of pregnancy. There is no link to anything the mother did or did not do during pregnancy.”
This was consistent with the bleeding Sal experienced when we feared she was about to have an ectopic pregnancy back in December. However, the best was left for last:
“In most cases, children born with symbrachydactyly are able to adapt to their physical limitations and experience a fully functional life with no treatment. Possible treatment includes surgery or a routine of regularly stretching the fingers.”
For the first time in what seemed like an age, I felt a pang of positivity run through me. I spent the next hour or so looking through a plethora of articles and information about possible treatments for symbrachydactyly. In fact, there were a number of things that could be done, procedures that might help ensure my little girl was at the very least, slightly less disadvantaged. These procedures ranged from grafting toes onto the hand, to extending existing fingers over a period of time with a specialist device. Moreover, there were also prosthetics available which could help to give an afflicted hand a more normal appearance.
There were options. I suddenly felt quite optimistic; quite happy even. Armed with this, I called Sally away from her half-term slumber in front of This Morning to join me in the spare room.
She liked what she saw and was particularly impressed by a newspaper article I had shown her, entitled Hope For Children Born Without Fingers. This well-written piece described (in somewhat painful detail it must be said) a ‘stretching’ treatment which has been pioneered by doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. After reading this twice, Sally turned to me and said: ‘That’s exactly what I needed to see’.
There were options.
Over the next few days, Sally and I did our best to ‘get on with getting on’. We had more or less come to terms with the idea our little girl would enter the world with a ‘disadvantaged’ hand; however, the fact that there were things which could be done seemed to mitigate the darker thoughts we had initially been besieged by.
And so we kept ourselves busy. I worked every day and found solace in writing bland articles and blogs about fountain pens, HGV driver training courses and drug rehabilitation clinics. Sally cleaned the bungalow from top to bottom and found things to do out and about with Clare and Finley. Although we felt better than we had on Tuesday it is fair to say we really couldn’t wait for the next scan appointment to come round.
To me, the scan with the consultant could go one of two ways. The best case scenario was that it would reveal Laura had made an error at the initial scan and that in actual fact the fingers had been there all along. Unlikely; but possible.
The other scenario was that the second scan would confirm the findings of the first and tell us that our child – more likely than not – had symbrachydactyly.
This is what I was expecting.
Sally on the other hand, had a third scenario – a worst-case scenario. She had conducted her own research and had found that anomalies with hands can – in some cases - be evidence of anomalous chromosome-based conditions like Trisomy 18. Her greatest fear was that the forthcoming scan would reveal our baby girl had significantly more wrong with her than a few missing fingers. In fact, she said that she now viewed symbrachydactyly as being “almost a good thing”.
Although I tried to reassure Sal that nothing I had read about and nothing we had been told by Laura supported this; I couldn’t rule out the possibility of something more convoluted being wrong. After all, I’m not an impartial, professionally trained doctor – I’m just someone who wants my little girl to be happy and healthy. Sally confided in me that she found the idea of having a child with something like Trisomy 18 very upsetting. She asked me what my thoughts were; what I thought we should do if the consultant turned round and presented us with this worst-case scenario. I thought about it for a while and then I hugged her close to me.
‘Whatever happens,’ I said, ‘we’ll deal with it’.
Selected Amazon reviews
A touching and funny account from a point of view you rarely get to hear from during a pregnancy; that of the daddy to be! I think expectant fathers would find this a really good read, going through all the trials and tribulations of finding out your partner is pregnant with all the pleasures and paranoias of scans, ante-natal classes, well-meaning parents and grumpy mums to me :) However I'm neither a parent nor a man and I throughly enjoyed it too and finished it over just a couple of nights; so if you just love a good story that easy-to-read, full of character and warmth, with some genuinely funny parts as well then you'd be harder pressed to find a better book than 'Expecting The Unexpected'. I read this on my Kindle and the format was perfectly suited to an e-book. G. Emmerson
'Expecting the Unexpected' in the press
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