Rays of Light

Tuesday 21 August 2007 at 00:55

Last Wednesday, Sarah had an ultrasound. We went in excited to learn the sex of our second child, though Sarah was apprehensive. She first felt Elliott move at 17 weeks. She was 21 weeks into this, our second pregnancy, and had not yet felt the baby move. I looked forward to confirming everything was fine. But our ultrasound technician was quiet.

Maybe a busy day, I thought.
Maybe just concentrating, I thought.

Then she had to leave the room for a minute.

Or two. Or five.

Sarah and I exchanged long silent glances: hers said "I told you" and mine failed to reply "everything will be fine". The technician came back in and scanned Sarah's belly again. What was she seeing as she looked increasingly uncomfortable? Silence revealed and concealed.

In Elliott's ultrasound three years ago, the technician was chatty, pointing to head and hands and stomach and heart. Did we want to know the sex? It had been fun and exciting. Now that memory contrasted starkly, sitting in silence guessing at a mash of unidentified images. Knowing nothing and yet something. The technician left again.

More silence. Sarah and I fought back fear of the unknown. The tech apologised. Forbidden to tell us. The perinatologist had to tell us. Awaited a phone call from the perinatologist. Still waiting. Gave up and called them.

On hold. On hold. On hold.

The technician's next client is was waiting. Still on old.

Finally an answer, but only to schedule an appointment in Denver. The sound at the end of the deafening tunnel was two hours away. The perinatologist was coming in on his day off.

To meet with us.

Still no idea why while we picked Elliott up. Poor kid had a horrible rash while we scrambled to find someone to watch him for another few hours.

No idea. No idea. What's the worst it could be? Something terminal? Something not terminal but debilitating? No idea. No idea. We sat mostly in stunned silence in the waiting room. The nurse who finally called us in acknowledged that we'd already had a very bad day. Still we awaited the details.

The perinatologist met us with another ultrasound. Higher resolution. "First I'm going to take a look around the fetus, then I'll explain everything I'm seeing in as much detail as you feel you need." More images swam over the monitor. "First, let me tell you this is very bad news."

Our unborn child has 1) a Dandy Walker malformation, and 2) severe hydrops fetalis. In English, that's 1) a malformation of the cerebellum, and 2) lots of fluid where it shouldn't be. Each condition is bad news, but the hydrops is easiest to explain. There's massive swelling in the skin, especially evident around the scull, chest, and abdomen. There's excess fluid in the brain around the malformation. There's fluid in the chest around the heart and lungs. There's especially large amounts of fluid around the intestines. The fluid around the heart and lungs will interfere with their development. The prognosis is miscarriage, most commonly in the second trimester, or if not that then in the third trimester. If the baby does survive to birth it will not have sufficiently developed heart and lungs and will die shortly after.

I talked to Dad about it on Thursday afternoon. "God never gives us anything we can't handle" he said. He died of a heart attack Friday morning around 2am. We found out around 5am. Passed the news on to my brother and drove out to Grand Junction. We spent the weekend visiting my aunts and uncles, making arrangements for Dad, and then sorting through his stuff.

A few rays of light

My relatives on the Western Slope were so incredibly supportive and kind. These are the folks I was talking about when I was wringing my hands about Colorado politics a few years ago. This weekend gave me a different glimpse into the "political divide" that's so very talked up in our media. For my family, the bonds that join us are much, much stronger than whatever political or ideological views divide us. I believe but cannot prove that to be the case for our country as a whole. We're essentially united, but that story doesn't move advertisements. We end up wringing our hands about mostly inconsequential divisions and worry unnecessarily that we might be torn apart by these conflicts of value.

On Friday morning as Sarah got Elliott up, he immediately squirmed out of her arms and ran to me in the living room. With his eyes gleaming and a broad smile he exclaimed "Your Daddy's here! Your Father's here!" I sat down on the floor right where I had been standing and laughed and cried and hugged my now-more-precious-than-ever little boy.

Early in the weekend I kept seeing an image of my Dad and a toddler walking hand-in-hand in a park. Later, as Greg and I went through Dad's stuff I kept imagining my Dad in the hours after our conversation on Thursday deciding it was his job to get started on making whatever arrangements were necessary for the baby. I heard Dad's take-charge voice saying "Somebody's gotta get up there to take care of that baby" ending almost twenty years of purposelessness.

Somehow grieving Dad and the coming loss of our baby at the same time seems easier than either would be alone. These deaths feel spiritually connected. It feels like Dad and his fourth grandchild will have each other to keep company and it's really hard to express how much that grounds things for me.