A few weeks ago, we went for our 12 week scan. As we waited, my eyes were drawn to one door in the corner. The sonographer called my name and led us in the direction of that door. Please not that one, I thought, but she headed towards it with a smile and invited me to get up on the couch inside for my scan.
As she showed me pictures of our baby and took the measurements she needed, hubby and I were both acutely aware of how many times she remeasured the nuchal fold. The room fell silent for a moment and in that instant it all came flooding back. The fear, the worry that something was wrong, that it wasn’t just a case of her double-checking measurements but there was a cause for concern. Thankfully, all seemed to be okay.
Seven years earlier, we’d been in this very scan room; the last time a scan had been something exciting to anticipate. Seven years earlier, the room had fallen silent as a sonographer had taken repeated measurements and looked more closely at the scan. Seven years earlier we’d been told that something was wrong with our baby’s heart. The day that we became heart parents.
For the rest of the pregnancy we were told not to get our hopes up. We knew that the prognosis for our baby was poor. There were many more scans to check her heart plus the in-utero surgery at 28 weeks’ that gave her a chance to survive. It was a rollercoaster ride – there were many scary and anxious moments but there were also many joyful ones. Jessica was – and is – a fighter. She is now six and doing well after having her fourth open-heart surgery a couple of months’ ago.
Second time around was very different. Having had one child with a congenital heart defect (CHD) meant I had (and still have) an increased risk of having another child with a CHD. We had extra heart scans to check Sophie’s heart and thankfully all seemed well. It was wonderful to be able to experience a fairly normal pregnancy without the worries and the rollercoaster ride we’d had before. I had a wonderful home waterbirth and it seemed that everything would be a much smoother ride second time around.
Postnatally, things weren’t quite so easy. The transition from one to two children was much harder than I’d thought it would be and I struggled to bond with Sophie. I hated myself for being unable to cope. I had stayed strong throughout Jessica’s surgeries and the rollercoaster ride that came with it. Yet it seemed I couldn’t cope with normal. My GP wasn’t surprised though. She thought I’d coped almost too well before and that some of the emotions and fears I’d pushed aside were now coming out. I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. Thankfully I had good support from my health visitor and having some telephone counselling also helped.
In spite of the struggles after having Sophie, I knew that I wanted to have a third child. It was something that we have talked about for quite a while. We probably would have tried sooner had we not know that Jessica would need surgery when she reached school age. We already had Sophie to consider when it came to that point. Juggling the needs of two children was a much easier prospect than trying to juggle the needs of three. And so we agreed that we would wait until after Jessica’s surgery before having a third baby. I just hadn’t planned on already being pregnant when that surgery took place! Having to deal with morning sickness and first trimester fatigue whilst also dealing with the post-surgery rollercoaster ride was challenging to say the least!
“Will Peanut have a special heart like me?” Jessica asked me one day while she was still in hospital.
“Maybe,” I replied. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
I hope not, I thought. How could I say that to Jessica though without making her feel that her having a special heart makes her any less perfect to me? Her special heart is part of who she is. If I’ve ever wished for a magic wand to make her heart whole, it’s only because I would want her to be able to have as full and healthy a life as possible. Not because I would want to change her and the wonderful little person she is. And yet, of course, I hope that Peanut will be heart-healthy, like Sophie is. As much as I would walk that road again if I had to, I wouldn’t wish it on myself or my family.
So far, this pregnancy has not been quite so straightforward. While all looked well at the 12 week scan, my blood tests showed that I have low PAPP-A levels. This means that I have an increased risk of pre-eclampsia and pre-term labour. As well as the extra heart scans, I will also have growth scans throughout the third trimester. Going for a scan always makes me feel anxious. I am always acutely aware that the reason is to check for signs of concern. I just hope and pray that all will be well this time around.
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