I was sitting in the waiting room of my OB’s office in my 24th week of pregnancy reeling from the eight ounces of pure sugar they’d made me guzzle for the glucose test, when the doctor called me back to her exam room. There were anomalies, she said, in the ultrasound that day. “Impossible,” my mind said back while my mouth stayed put. We’d just had our anatomy scan a month ago. All was well with my son, the boy who would finally make me a mom after years of infertility. She continued to speak a great deal of words, calmly and steadily, that I did not hear. She fetched me a wheelchair and an appointment with the maternal fetal specialist down the hall.
After all the tests had been done and the Mayo clinic had exercised all its collective knowledge, our son was diagnosed with a rare disorder. We got the call hours before I went into labor at 30 weeks. I am so grateful for that knowledge that directed us to the university hospital, that summoned all the specialists into our extra-large birthing suite with hands and equipment at the ready. They caught and carried our Charlie into the first months of life, forming a cocoon in the NICU for him to grow and learn to be the kid who would one day make the world smile with a look.
Charlie is five now. His twin brother and sister are three. We heard many words of worry as friends and family wondered aloud if more children was wise after Charlie’s traumatic and epic infancy. But we never heard those words from our doctor. She never, to her credit, used Charlie as a cautionary tale against having more children. She never suggested that these two little people might do better if they were not brought into existence. She never said, with either Charlie or his siblings, that they were not perfect.
Which is why, when I read Courtney Baker’s letter to her doctor who had encouraged her to terminate the pregnancy when her daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome, I picked up a pen and wrote a letter of my own.
My doctor deserves a thank you for operating with both mind and soul. Because there are doctors out there who function under the assumption, as Baker’s doctor did, that quality of life is determined by a diagnosis. In her letter, Baker writes, “But instead of support and encouragement, you suggested we terminate our child. I told you her name, and you asked us again if we understood how low our quality of life would be with a child with Down syndrome. You suggested we reconsider our decision to continue the pregnancy.” All she wanted was for her doctor to see a child instead of a condition.
I fight this now, getting physicians and specialists to see Charlie for who he is rather than where he lands on the developmental chart. He’s a boy with a name. He is left-handed and stubborn like his mother. He has her dimples and his father’s interest in all things tech-y. His hair is blonder at the crown and falls in curls in a haloed circle at the back. He’s perfect. And so I’m writing to my doctor to thank her for seeing and saying that before anyone else dared say otherwise. And I’m praying along with Courtney Baker, despite all my inclinations to do otherwise, that her doctor “will now see true beauty and pure love with every sonogram.” Because my doctor did. And because if I can change my attitude towards this one person, perhaps there’s hope yet.