A mother's measure Bundle of joy outweighs burden of sorrow

October 11, 1992|By Maryalice Yakutchik

Sweet Caroline,

In your baby book, I dutifully record your emerging personality as I discover it. You hate being swaddled but think it's neat to be blown with the hair dryer after bathing. You laugh when we dance to rock and roll and calm to a tape of nature sounds.

I also joyfully note your firsts as I witness them: toothless grin, May 2; long-awaited sleep through the night, May 13; much-dreaded shots, May 29; turn over from stomach to back, July 8.

And I'm prompted to add the following footnotes, because nowhere in the book are spaces to mark milestones such as your first (let alone fifth) prenatal photo session with ultrasound or a dramatic flip-turn in utero. Nowhere is there room to record memories of your stillborn sister, of a young friend whose viewing you attended before you were 2 months old, or of a new friend you made at your first party.

Addendum No. 1

(A bit of history)

Perhaps the tension and mayhem were good omens. After all, my experience was that an easy pregnancy had produced tragic results. So I rationalized that a difficult pregnancy could have a happy ending. My logic was comforting, if skewed.

In December 1990, after seven months of seemingly idyllic pregnancy and two days of labor, I had produced a baby girl who was, according to doctors, incompatible with life. A stillborn. Your father and I went home from the hospital with empty arms, hurting hearts and unspoken hopes for you.

My pregnancy with you, confirmed in August 1991, is anything but idyllic. Even though the specialists assure me that what happened to your sister was a "sporadic occurrence," they meticulously chart and evaluate your every move -- or lack thereof -- with a battery of high-tech screenings and diagnostic tests. Their scrutiny sends me reeling.

In October, an ultrasonologist detects two minuscule cysts on your developing brain. And, he adds, you seem small for your age. I panic even before I hear him suggest the possibility of a horrific genetic disorder. Although amniocentesis has inherent risks, your father and I elect to allow a long hollow needle to be inserted through my abdomen and invade your private world of water. A seed of doubt has been planted. In less than a moment, its roots insidiously wrap around my heart, claim my imagination, squeeze my spirit. Even after I learn that your chromosomes are all present and accounted for and lined up in the proper order, I still am wary -- convinced almost -- that we will lose you, too.

In December, a doctor punching the keys of a calculator says the numbers charting your progress don't quite add up right; he mumbles something about the possibility of intrauterine growth retardation. After spanning the curve of my protruding belly with a ragged measuring tape, he tries to persuade me to disregard results from months of high-tech tests and trust his primitive method instead. He's betting you will be healthy but tiny; 6 pounds, max.

In January, two full months before our due date, steady contractions persuade me to stop working. These days, I pay little attention to anything but your presence within me. Even at birthing class I am distracted enough to confuse the deep breaths of early labor with the "oohm-pah-pah" pants that allegedly help when things get fast and furious. The nurse/instructor takes pity and interrupts her lesson to ask each mother-to-be what frightens her most. A teen-ager sitting next to me says, "Dying." I say, "My baby dying." We look at one another perplexed and surprised, one's fear having never occurred to the other.

In February, a geneticist interpreting our entire series of black and white ultrasound images notices shadows under my eyes. He is apologetic when he declares me a victim of technology. The cysts have since resolved themselves and you've caught up in your growth. But "nothing seems wrong" is not the same as "all is well," and neither he nor anyone else will venture that.

In mid-March, you still remain breech, head-up, bottom down. The doctor wants to try to turn you to avoid surgical delivery. The rate of success is 50-50. And there are risks.

I play the odds and stare at a machine that monitors your vital signs while several people in scrubs debate the direction to which you will most likely turn -- if encouraged by brute force. Then, in one synchronized motion, they place their hands on my swollen belly and begin to press, prod, poke and push with all their might. In less than a minute, they proclaim success. I laugh with relief. You've flipped!

Two weeks later, I feel you signaling me. Your father always wondered how I would know when it's time. It's pouring rain and the middle of the night. It's time.

On March 31, after a day of labor and three hours of pushing, the doctor is worried less about my exhaustion than yours. Suddenly, he wants you out. Quick. As I am moved from the homey birthing quarters to a sterile delivery room, people with masks materialize. With forceps, the doctor extracts from me a blue, silent being.

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