(Snow Globe: because sometimes your life gets shaken and turned upside down.)
Danny and I decided that “Jonathan” would be the perfect name for baby boy #4. Actually, it was more or less the Lord who directed us to the name. Days after deciding on a name we attended our routine, mid-pregnancy anatomy scan. Typically this is when we find out if the new baby is a boy or girl but we already knew we were having a boy from our non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT). This screening helps to determine the baby’s risk for certain genetic/chromosomal issues as well as gender. Our screening had come back all clear.
The first thing we saw during the ultrasound was Jonathan’s little button nose that looked exactly like his brothers’ noses had looked in their ultrasounds. During the ultrasound D grew uncharacteristically quiet. I commented on it then assumed he was having a moment. What I didn’t know was that while I could only see the ultrasound tech’s hand moving the wand over my belly, he could see her face and what he saw in her face unsettled him. Our ultrasound concluded with a specialist coming to the room to speak with us. I thought this was odd but chalked it up to the fact that they had pre-warned me this u/s would be more in-depth due to the fact that I am 35 years old and technically considered “high-risk”
Our excitement over seeing the baby quickly turned to shock and sorrow. The specialist sat down on the bench next to me with tears in her eyes and broke the news that our precious baby’s heart had not fully formed. His heart only had three chambers instead of four. His left ventricle was missing. Then we were ushered next door for an urgent, unscheduled appointment with our OB/GYN.
My ob/gyn has been the perfect doctor for us because of his ever-present, calm and laid-back manner. It was reassuring to me for us to see him. His calm demeanor was present as always yet, the seriousness with which he addressed us in that moment, conveyed the devastating reality of our baby’s situation. Within twenty-four hours we saw the fetal cardiology specialists at the Children’s Hospital over an hour away from our home.
The drive to the appointment felt like it took an eternity. We spent what felt like another eternity in the waiting room. All of the staff greeted us warmly but we couldn’t muster much response back. I kept thinking how horrible it would be to work there. It’s not just a few families here and there you are dealing with who have difficult situations. Every single family who walks through the door has a baby with a serious cardiac issue.
A fetal echocardiogram was performed. Now that I knew what the medical staff were looking at, I could so clearly see the three chambered heart on the ultrasound monitor. I couldn’t bear to watch. I squeezed my eyes shut and had no control over the hot tears that silently slipped out. We waited, then we waited some more. A nurse finally led us to a room where we were left to sit at a table with a box of tissues. You never want to be the people who get shown to the conference room with the box of tissues.
The doctor and nurse who met with us for over two hours were truly amazing in their patience and compassion. Our baby was officially diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS).We learned that without immediate and aggressive intervention upon birth, Jonathan can only survive hours, perhaps weeks. Aggressive intervention would include medication immediately after birth that will keep the heart functioning the same way it functions in utero (able to pump blood to the aorta without use of the left ventricle). The medication requires close monitoring in the NICU. After a couple of days of adjusting to life on the “outside,” the next step would be open heart surgery (eventually followed by two more surgeries).
Based on some things seen in the echo (diagnosis of Unbalanced AVSD Right Dominant a variant of HLHS) the doctor did have concerns that Jonathan may have a chromosome abnormality even though our NIPT had not indicated it. If any other such issues do exist then it removes the option for the life-saving surgery. Without surgery….
We left the appointment well past business hours, exhausted and overwhelmed. Even so, I didn’t feel hopeless because my ears had heard hope. I heard about the hope of surgery, hope for survival, and hope for quality of life. It wasn’t until later that I could in retrospect process the fears and concerns I didn’t realize I’d heard. It wasn’t until then that I heard the words of what had gone unspoken.
It was a surreal week that started oriented toward a goal with a name but ended it in feelings of loss and confusion.