Monday, November 14, 2011

Unexpected Results

I've recently started going back in my writing to fill in the gaps from the early parts of our journey.The following captures the time during my pregnancy when we first discovered that our child may have Down syndrome... 

January 7, 2009:

I’m a few weeks into my second trimester. The queasiness of the first trimester has disappeared, and the early fatigue is beginning to lessen. I feel so relieved that I never experienced full blown morning sickness. I’m delighted with my growing “baby bump,” and  I’m enjoying my new wardrobe of maternity clothes. The faint flutters I occassionally feel in my womb are thrilling evidence of the life growing inside of me. I love being pregnant!

I have an appointment scheduled with Dr. Cook today, and I can’t wait for another chance to hear our baby’s heartbeat. I’m disappointed when I find out they will be drawing more blood today. I’ve never liked needles (who does?), but I remind myself it’s for the baby. The anticipated joy of our coming child is worth all necessary discomfort. After the nurse draws my blood, Dr. Cook explains to Shawn and me that this test is called a quad-screen test, which screens for potential birth defects or genetic abnormalities. I politely listen as he explains the details, though I am confident that none of this could possibly apply to us. He explains that an abnormal result on this blood test does not diagnose a condition, but rather verifies the increased likelihood of a possible condition. For curiosity sake, I ask what would be done in the case of an abnormal test result. He mentions amniocentisis or specialized ultrasounds as the means for obtaining an actual diagnosis. I tell him that I would not be comfortable with an amniocentisis because of the potential risk of miscarriage connected with the procedure. He already knows our stance on abortion; nothing could ever convince us to take our baby’s life. I feel a bit funny that we are even having this discussion. I know that our baby will be healthy and whole, and I don’t see much use in discussing the “what-ifs?” Dr. Cook assures us that if for any reason my test comes back abnormal, he will call us personally; otherwise he will discuss my test with me at the following visit. “I know everything will be fine,” I say, and he smiles as we wrap up the appointment. Though I didn’t feel like all the information was necessary, I am thankful for a doctor who takes the time to explain things to us.

January 12, 2009:

I am sitting at my desk at The Salvation Army where I am currently employed as an overseer for the small Christian Education department. While working, I chat on and off with my friend and co-worker Mandy who shares the office with me. We are interrupted when my cellphone rings.


“Dana, this is Dr. Cook.”

I feel like my heart stops beating. There’s only one reason he would be calling me this week.

“I’m sorry to tell you that while most of your test results came back normal, there was a positive result that you run a heightened risk of carrying a child with Down syndrome.”

How do I begin to process what he’s saying? I feel so numb.

Dr. Cook gently goes on to explain that a woman my age typically runs a risk rate of 1 in 956 to give birth to a child with Down syndrome. My test results increase my risk factor to 1 in 270. He says he will refer me to a specialist to schedule an ultrasound in which they will measure my baby’s bone growth and look for any “markers” for Down syndrome. He assures me again that the blood test is not diagnostic and often further testing yields normal results. He encourages me that I can feel free to call if I have any additional questions and that I should be expecting to hear from the specialist soon. Fighting to contain my composure, I thank Dr. Cook for calling and hang up the phone.

“Is everything ok?” Mandy inquires. Her face is full of concern from what little she heard from my end of the conversation. I’m sure my expression gives it away as well. With a shaky voice I relay back to her my conversation with the doctor, saying periodically to comfort myself, “I’m sure everything will turn out ok.” My friend doesn’t know what to say and tries her best to offer some word of encouragement. I quickly excuse myself to go find Shawn.

I find my husband at the other end of the building, alone with his laptop and a book. The moment I walk into the room he asks, “What’s wrong?” The tears begin to flow as I blurt out with a sob, “Everything’s going to be ok!” It hurts me to tell him, knowing the pain he will feel as well. We sit together in shock, silent tears running down our faces. How could this possibly be happening? We wanted a baby for so long. We pray over my womb every day. We envision the perfect, healthy baby boy scheduled to arrive in the summer. Surely the test is wrong!

We make our way up to Captain Gargis’ office. He is our current supervisor and pastor, but he and his family will soon be transferred to another Salvation Army Corps. Over the last year and half, he has mentored us in his fatherly way, and he has always willingly offered a listening ear. In his wisdom, he doesn’t try to find a quick answer to make us feel better. He listens to us, cries with us, and shares in our shock and pain. He assures us of the love we will have for our child regardless of his or her condition and takes the time to pray with us. He also gives us the option of taking the afternoon off so that we can have some time to process the news we just received. Shawn tells me he will take an extended lunch break with me, but he will have to return in the afternoon to do school pick-ups for the after school program he directs. He will come home again as soon as he can get away.

Our drive home is marked by tears and prayers, but surprisingly, by the time we pull into our driveway, an unexpected peace has descended on our hearts, and we know others are praying for us. Once inside I quickly grab my pregnancy book to see if there is any information on Down syndrome and the testing I just received. As Shawn and I read about some of the common traits of a child with Down syndrome, it feels so surreal to think that this could be our child. We don’t feel at all ready to accept that reality and are encouraged to read that things such as a miscalculated due date or even the presence of twins can result in a false-positive reading. Surely this is the case with us. As I take time to read and pray, I receive strength from Psalm 138:3, 7-8….

In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul…Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands.

After supper we head out to meet up with some friends from Nightwatch, a weekly prayer and worship gathering we have been a part of for the last few years. Tonight we will be carpooling to a neighboring town to listen to a guest minister at a church whom we have gone to see before. On the way Shawn and I ask the Lord to speak to us specifically tonight about our unborn baby.

The service is good, but it’s hard to fully focus with this unanswered question hanging over my mind. There is still a peace guarding my heart, but there is the presence of pain as well. Near the end, the guest minister is walking through the congregation, quietly asking the Holy Spirit to highlight people to him and give him words of encouragement to share with them. As he does this, he continues to share some and tell stories. He is a delight to listen to—very funny at times, but when he speaks, our hearts are so stirred for Jesus. The Word of God continually flows out from him because he has taken the time to really get it inside of him, and he walks very closely with the Lord and hears His voice. When he is close to our section, I silently pray again, “Lord, please speak to us tonight about our baby.” Within moments, he stops in front of Shawn and I and begins to engage us briefly in conversation. He then points to my pregnant belly and declares, “I speak John the Baptist over your baby. He will be full of the Holy Spirit from the womb.” (Incidentally, this same thing was spoken over Benjamin on three more occassions during my pregnancy by three different ministers, none of whom were connected to one another!)

Shawn and I are thrilled! John the Baptist was born in seemingly impossible circumstances and was set apart for God before he was even conceived. He walked closely with God and prepared the way for an entire generation to recognize and receive Jesus when He came. How exciting to think that our baby will be one set apart from the womb, whose life will prepare the way for many to meet Jesus. (How easily we forgot that with every calling, there is a cost).

More encouragement comes before the night is over. A layman in the church is a close friend to the guest minister and has travelled with him before. He is invited up at the end to share anything that he feels the Holy Spirit has been speaking to him. Without hesitation he points me out of the crowd and says, “I’m supposed to tell you that God is going to put a lot of vitamins and nutrients in your blood, making it rich with iron.” I almost fall out of my chair! This feels so incredibly personal after lamenting all day over my abnormal blood test! He shares words of encouragement with two more people and then asks for Shawn and I to come over to where he and his wife are so that they can pray for us. We tell them all about the test and the call that day. They encourage us, pray for us, and promise to be praying for us regularly. He asks us to bring the baby back to meet them after he’s born. Our hearts are soaring!

Before leaving, we purchase a book from the guest minister and ask him to sign it. He does so and jots down the scripture reference Isaiah 44:3-4…

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendents. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.

We feel like we are floating out of the church. With so much personal encouragement tonight, how could our baby possibly have Down syndrome?!

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