“Down’s Syndrome”

At my next prenatal appointment, my doctor rolls in the clunky ultrasound machine with that wonderfully uncomfortable internal probe. The first time they used it on me, I tried not to laugh as the nurse covered the probe with what definitely looked like a condom. Too late for that, I thought.

This time, the probe is even more uncomfortable because I haven’t been able to completely empty my bladder whenever I pee.

“It’s because of the position of your uterus,” my doctor tells me. “You have a tilted uterus, so it’s pointed toward your back.”

“How do we fix that?” I ask.

Wahn-wahn. Wahn-wahn. Wahn-wahn. The sound is unmistakable.

My doctor turns toward me and smiles. “Do you hear that?”

“Oh my God!” I turn to Doug. “That’s the heartbeat.”

This time, we can hear life. That once distant, tiny, silent star has drawn closer. It speaks to us in heartbeats. It has taken shape. Tiny arm buds. Tiny leg buds. A large head. It floats slightly from side to side as my doctor pivots the wand.

“Everything is normal here,” the doctor is still smiling. “And your uterus is fine. It will fix itself as the baby grows, so you should be able to empty your bladder more comfortably soon.”

She flips off the ultrasound machine and sinks her hands into the pockets of her white coat, her smile still wide.

“So we should talk about whether or not you want to do any screening for Down’s syndrome,” she says.

“Okay,” I say. “Um, well, I don’t know. What’s your advice?”

“It depends on how you would feel about the results. If it would change your mind about this pregnancy… then, you might want to do it. But I will say that I’ve had women do it, get a positive result, and then when they did the follow up amniocentesis, they found out the baby didn’t have it. So they had all that anxiety for weeks when they thought the baby had Down’s.”

“Oh… Wow.”

“Right. But if you know that you wouldn’t change your mind if the test came back positive, I say, why have the screening? The screening doesn’t carry any risks, but it could falsely flag you. And the follow-up tests do carry the possibility of miscarriage. So…”

We’re talking about abortion, but the word is so heavy, neither one of us can say it. For a brief moment, I ask myself if I truly would want to keep this pregnancy if the child has Down’s. The truth is, I don’t want to have a child with Down’s syndrome. But I also know that having an abortion and starting over with a clean slate isn’t really what would happen.

It’s not that I think I wouldn’t be able to carry another baby to term. It’s the fact that I would always know that I looked at that tiny person on the screen, that little life that was now depending on me and said, “No.” The combination of guilt and grief would never come off me.

“So I guess we’ll skip the screening then,” I say.