By Michelle Alexander
I can pick a time in my life when I felt as though the world had stopped turning. When time seemed to slow down to the point of hearing my own heart beat, loud and clear as if it were a base drum methodically beating inside of my ear. Then the feeling of panic as mentally I realized that the world had not stopped, however I was faced with the reality that it was not a nightmare but my life that had drastically and unexpectedly changed course.
In this moment of time, nothing else seemed to exist. My eyesight failed me as a full picture began to decrease to the size of a penny. I was looking through a long tunnel with no light except that which shined at the opposite end, luring me back to the reality I once knew.
This time came with my third child, my only daughter, and the most exhausting challenge to everything I thought I knew about being a mother. After having two healthy boys, I was looking forward to finding out if I was finally going to get a girl or if my husband was going to get a boy after having two healthy girls. Yes, this baby was the tiebreaker, our first child together. The most popular topic about this child was if the estrogen would outweigh the testosterone or vice versa. Our home was nearly in a constant state of wonder as to which sex would have majority.
The day had finally arrived for us to have the chance to find out; December 7th, 2000, a day that has burnt its memory into my mind like the branding of a cow with a red-hot iron. My husband and I arrived at the hospital for our ultrasound, the sneak peak at the life that was growing inside of me. I felt thrilled, anxious, and as if I was on top of the world. I had found my soul mate, the love of my life, and together we were having a child. My life could not have been more perfect.
I lay down on the hospital bed and revealed the home of my unborn child and smiled with confidence that I was ready to see this life. The technician squeezed warm gel onto my stomach, and as the computer mouse type device made contact with the gel and my skin, there she was–my daughter, my beautiful little girl.
We starred in awe at the fuzzy, abstract pictures of arms and legs and finally her head. The excitement increased one hundred fold as we fell more in love with each other and our child.
We were so lost in the incredible view that we were unaware of the amount of time and pictures that were taken. When our time of seeing our child was done, we were asked to return to the doctor’s office, and with not a worry in the world, we headed straight there.
Sitting in the room we passed light-hearted banter back and forth about how the females now “ruled” the house. As I sat on the end of the examining table, I can recall being able to look out the window to the rooftop of the adjacent building and feeling as though the world was my playground waiting for me.
While waiting I daydreamed of frilly pink dresses, finally the doctor came in. This doctor delivered both of my other children, so we had history together. As she came to the end of the table and stood next to the window, she asked how the ultrasound had gone. Now we had discussed the boy vs. girl dilemma in the house with her, so she was fully aware of our desire to know the sex. “It’s a girl!” I announced with every ounce of excitement that had been building up for the last twenty weeks. The doctor just smiled, sort of. It was more like one of those looks that someone gives you when they are not quite sure how to look at you.
“You didn’t notice that there was anything wrong?” she asked.
At that particular second in time is when my heart started beating in my head as though it had just moved from my chest and made itself at home in my ears. Gravity seemed to disappear along with the view of outside the window, and slowly but surely, the rooftops became mere specks.
My mind was not cooperating; in fact I believe it just stopped altogether. Mentally, I reviewed the pictures of my daughter, trying to pinpoint just what may have been wrong, reveling against what I had just heard. “The baby has hydrocephalus.” She went on to tell us, then informed us that we needed to see a specialist. We were set with an appointment exactly a week later with a prenatal specialist.
Hydrocephalus, what’s that? What does that mean? I had a lot of research to do and no brain willing to do it. I knew it was the same thing as “water on the brain”; however the severity or what that would mean for my daughter I did not know. Each day for that week all I could do was function. It was as if my body reacted and did things while my mind took turns between the task at hand and some faraway place. A whole week of anticipation like none other, this time it was finding out about the health of my little girl.
December 14, 2000 is another day that has been branded in my memory just like an unwanted tattoo. The specialist would be able to answer more questions, explain more, and put fears to rest. This visit started with the baring of my belly and subjecting it to warm gel and ultrasounds. There she was again, our daughter, abstract and fuzzy. My mind still yearned to hear the words, “All is fine, it was just a misreading of your first ultrasound, sorry to have worried you”. Those words never came; I am not even sure what words did come.
The doctor started to point out different things on the screen that revealed pictures of our baby. Too much fluid, brain not divided, beyond that I have no recollection. Probably somewhere deep down in the storage shed of my memories is a small folder with the specifics of this visit, although I have neither the desire nor intention of ever finding it.
After being escorted to another room, we sat down on a leather couch where we were informed of our worst fears. I am sure that the world had stopped rotating in that glimpse of eternity. The smell of the leather couch was like a life jacket to me as I bobbed in the sea of information that threatened to cut my oxygen supply off. I found myself welcoming that smell as a much needed distraction.
The fetus has a brain malformation called holoprosencephaly, the doctor stated in a matter-of-fact, void-of-emotion way. While I did my best to avoid the urge to scream, I tried to figure out what all of this was going to mean. My thoughts would not slow down long enough to remember my own name, let alone process anything else. Catching approximately every other sentence, I could only hope that my husband was getting the ones that I was missing.
In that lifetime of sitting on that couch, we listened to fact after statistic, and suggestions to terminate the pregnancy to save ourselves from years of suffering. Physical, financial, and emotional suffering, as this fetus would more than likely never be able to roll over, sit up, feed itself, or even recognize us as parents. Survival rate of this diagnosis is not much past six months of age, we were told. Anger welled up inside of me like a volcano before eruption. This was not fair! My baby had done nothing to deserve this, why me? WHY HER?
The world as I knew it had ceased to exist. No longer would I ever look at anything the same way. Every time I looked at my children, I couldn’t stop thinking of the one who got the short stick in the draw of life.
For days, I forced myself to do basic things, such as getting out of bed and eating. In an effort to be strong and take care of the family, I had to develop a way to cope. One could allow such tragedy to control and demolish any hint of life that is left. The mornings always brought new grief, anger, and self-pity. Therefore with each morning I allowed myself to grieve as if I had just lost my daughter, be angry because she did not deserve this, and wallow in self-pity. When I had no more strength left, I went on with my day. I was an employee, a wife, and a mother who did not have time to indulge in my feelings.
As time went on we had our daughter, who today is a modern miracle. At eleven years old she is walking, talking, writing, reading, and is a social butterfly. All of her doctors are just amazed at the milestones she has accomplished. I have learned what it is like to be a “specially challenged” mother, and that God knew what He was doing when He put her in my life.
Those long weeks, that at the time seemed to take forever, now feel like blimps on a radar screen, mere pieces to a puzzle. To go back to that time in my life, those days that lasted a lifetime, when my world stopped turning still brings the response of a quickened heartbeat, one that beats in my ears.