The 12 week scan is a big deal in a pregnancy, it’s the time when chances of miscarriage drastically decrease, you get the first in-depth analysis of how the potato is growing and accompanied by a thorough blood test is likely to be the first indication of any potentially serious problems.
In Switzerland we have been lucky in that before we were sent for our formal 1st ultrasound we had already had 3 scans with the gynaecologist. Although his equipment isn’t as advanced as that at the ultrasound centre we were referred to, we could see that the potato was developing as it was supposed to and could check its heart was beating.
I was talking with the beard about this recently and he felt that having more regular scans made us more likely to feel more paranoid than if we only had the 12 week and 20 week scans we’d have been entitled to in the UK. But I think the regular scans means that at least we get to alleviate our paranoia each time we see the doctor.
I still dislike the action of having to go our gynaecologist (lovely man though he is) and my blood pressure is still highly elevated every time we do (but is fine whenever I have recorded this at home, so clearly I have a distinct touch of ‘white coat syndrome’). I used to bemoan the fact that the doctor kept asking us to come back at three week intervals, but when travel circumstances dictated that we had a four-week gap between appointments I found myself increasingly anxious as week three passed and we had to wait a whole extra seven days to check on the potato’s progress. But maybe the bearded one is right, perhaps if we didn’t expect such frequent scans we’d find a way to be a bit calmer in-between times or perhaps not.
At any rate, had we been in the UK, the 12-week scan would be the first visual encounter we’d have had with the baby. So I can imagine the wave of emotions this first encounter provokes in UK-based parents would be very different to that which we felt awaiting our premier echo in Switzerland but this didn’t mean we weren’t on our own emotional rollercoaster as the scan took place. Certainly the official ultrasound felt like a very different experience than our regular consultations.
It’s quite hard to know how you are supposed to react when viewing the grainy black and white images of your growing child, probably there is no set way to respond but certainly some kind of response is required as the technician points out various body parts, organs, etc. on the screen. It felt a bit like at Christmas when you are being handed so many nice presents that as you say thank you time and again the effect of the words start to sound hollow. You start to panic that the gift givers will sense a lack of enthusiasm in the repetition of your words, so try to overcompensate with effusive acknowledgement but then worry that earlier, more simple, iterations of gratitude suggest a lack of interest in these initial gifts.
And so it was in the ultrasound room as they point out the head, arms, legs, organs, etc. and I’m politely responding with a vague ‘mmm, yes’ as though I understood that one blob here is a lung and another blob there is a bladder. I became increasingly self-conscious that perhaps I’m not responding correctly. The technicians must see so many expectant parents, that in comparison my ‘mmm, yeses’ might sound like someone who isn’t interested and shouldn’t be trusted with a child. Oh god, I thought, I’m doing this wrong, and started trying desperately to think of something, anything else to say with the next image they showed me.
Unfortunately that was the moment they decided to switch to the 3D imaging technology, which is supposed to give you a glimpse of your baby’s actual facial features and therefore be rather exciting but instead struck me as some kind of mud monster creating itself out of the dirt to suck away all humanity. On the plus side I managed to say something other than ‘mmm, yes’ on the downside what I blurted out was ‘oh, it’s weird’ in a genuine state of shock at the thought of this nightmarish creation shaping itself so crudely out of my own flesh!
It may be naïve to think there is a right way to respond to ultrasound images of your child but I’m am now fairly confident that there is an incorrect way as seemed evident from the doctor’s somewhat stunned response as she quickly corrected me ‘no, not weird, beautiful’. I’m a bit embarrassed by my patently non-maternal response but still find myself thinking ‘that’s easy for her to say, she’s not the one with some slime demon growing inside’. At least she switched back to the traditional ultrasound images pretty quickly.
Initially we told the immediate family that we’d give them the all-clear to start spreading the news at the 12-week point, but as we were still awaiting the results of the blood test, we made them hold off for another week. Fortunately, a week later, the results came back positively and Down’s Syndrome was assessed as very low risk so we didn’t have to confront the issue of how we’d act had the risk been otherwise.
I thought I’d feel elated as soon as we reached this marker and could sound the sirens announcing the pregnancy but we both felt strangely flat after leaving the doctor’s that afternoon, and decided to communicate the news to family members by text rather than having to talk to anyone.
However, the next day I started to tell people at work. I had a new boss starting in a few months who happened to be in Geneva that week preparing for his handover (he was already internal to the organization) and I wanted to let him know as soon as possible and to reassure him the timing wasn’t a deliberate attempt to abandon him as he took on his new role. I was also keen to share the news with office-mates to be able to justify the constant state of exhaustion and permanent green tinge I’d been exhibiting for the last 6 weeks or so.
As an added bonus, in the act of telling I provided a source of amusement for one colleague amused by that variety of methods I went about spreading the news from slipping it into conversation, firing it at people as they came in the office and a dozen ways in between. And I found the more people I told, the more I felt their enthusiasm catch within me.
This shit just got real and finally I was excited!