Babe: 2 years and 10 months outside
Babeling: 20 weeks inside

Had my routine 20 week scan last Wednesday. I treat these events like going to the cinema. I all but had my popcorn out. Even better when you get a friendly sonographer who doesn’t mind a constant stream of ‘what’s that?’ questions. I suspected nothing when she suddenly stopped chatting and asked me my age, which didn’t seem to have any relevance to our conversation, while taking a very long look at the babeling’s brain.

‘All the measurements are absolutely fine,’ she said at the end.

‘Great,’ I answered, starting to sit up, and stopping short of ‘and thanks for the show.’

‘But,’ she said.

The ‘but’ was the small matter that the babeling has a chance, a very small chance, of a chromosome disorder called Edward’s Syndrome or Trisomy 18. (The other name for Downs Syndrome is Trisomy 21.)

‘It’s nasty,’ she said about it briefly. ‘You don’t want that one.’ (I looked it up on Google. I agree.)

There are four or five cysts in the babeling’s brain – they look enormous, but apparently they disappear on their own in a few weeks and are not harmful in themselves – which can sometimes indicate Edward’s Syndrome. The sonographer was painstakingly reassuring about it all. On its own, without any other abnormality, it means very little; if they see one single cyst, it’s of such little concern that they don’t mention it. She’s seen hundreds of these, in babies which turn out to be normal at delivery. They still decided to send me to University College Hospital for an expert scan and she wouldn’t take any money for the scan pictures, which was probably the most worrying moment. (The hospital got my money via its extortionate car parking charge, so that’s alright.)

The referral was all done very speedily by a less tactful midwife who said, ‘You should have done your blood tests earlier, in case you need to fix anything.’ What she meant, of course, was in case I wanted to terminate the pregnancy.

So we’ve had the scan at UCH. I’ve now seen the babeling from every conceivable angle, including cross-section. I’ve become familiar with his head, his fingers, his toes, his heart, his cerebellum, his vertebrae, his habit of lying with his hand on top of his face. Not anything between his legs, admittedly. They measured everything, again, including the exact rate of blood flow from my body into his and out again. They said that everything bar the cysts was completely normal and put his chance of Edward’s Syndrome at 2 to 3 percent. Only an amniocentesis would give a definite answer and that carries too high a risk of miscarriage for my liking.

London is now full of disabled children and their parents. We had a somewhat sleepless night after the first scan. At one low point at 2am I allowed myself to imagine I was carrying a seriously disabled baby. I know, of course, that I would love my child however disabled, but it was a knee-jerk, gut reaction of horror, failure, and despair – of life imprisonment shackled to a child who never reaches independence, who never charms strangers or looks heartbreakingly beautiful, who cannot hold a conversation or an intelligent thought. Cerebral palsy, which does terrible things to your movements but leaves your intellect untouched, seemed an attractive alternative.

That was one night. Since then we’ve both felt reassured. The risk is so low, and I just can’t believe there is anything wrong with this baby: whether that’s a blind attitude of ‘something that bad can’t possibly happen to me’, or an instinctive or spiritual knowledge, I don’t know; but I do know there’s no point in wasting the rest of the pregnancy living in fear. I love being pregnant. I love the whole miracle of growth and seeing those little chubby legs and hands and upturned button nose on the scan picture (which I returned to again and again for the peace it gave me) and I don’t want to let anything rob me of that joy.

If the child is disabled, that could be another whole journey of unexpected joy if we allow it to be. One of my favourite writers, Henri Nouwen, reached a turning point in his life through his experiences in a community of adults with severe learning disabilities. I’ve seen a young woman with learning disabilities worship God with a passion that put me to shame. Two of the married couples we most respect from our previous church have children with Down Syndrome, and despite the difficulties they face they are happy families.

We would be devastated. Then I reckon that life would go on, and we might learn a thing or two about what really matters, and what doesn’t.

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