The sonographer’s job was not to make small talk. I knew that. But I realized how important such chitchat suddenly became to me as a blind mother—and therefore how ominous her silence–as I lay there for an hour, while she took pictures of my baby. All I could hear was clicking and clicking and more clicking, while the weight of mid-pregnancy pressed on an aching lower back. After her initial demonstration of the baby’s heartbeat and her question about whether we wanted to know the gender of our child or not—we did—she had nothing more to say. James, my partner and the father of my baby, sat in a chair a few feet away, close enough for us to talk if we wanted to but too far away to touch me. We didn’t speak—maybe the computer would be kinder to us if we didn’t. Because he is also blind, James could not offer any description to alleviate the silence, whose walls closed in upon us.
The Gender Reveal
Suddenly the sonographer asked if I had to go to the bathroom.“You have a full bladder, so the baby can’t move for me to see its gender.” I had been trying to be helpful by keeping silent about the need to relieve myself, since there seemed to be no place during which it was ok to interrupt her endless clicking, but now, she was accusing me of holding her up. I was too simultaneously relieved and nervous to be angry. I rose on shaking legs, and she helped me maneuver to the bathroom and then helped me back to the chair. She put some more cold goop on the mound my belly had become and went back to work.
“It’s a boy!” she sang out without any preamble.
James, who had only daughters and granddaughters said, “What?!”
“Yeah, I knew it,” I said matter-of-factly. There would be time and space to worry about his maleness later. For now, I just had to know whether my baby was ok.
An Unexpected Detour
We moved to another room to wait for followup confirmation from the doctor. I was relieved just to sit up. The doctor entered in a flood of cheer, which did nothing to calm me down. “How are you?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said, forgetting to return the pleasantry. “How’s the baby?”
“We’re going to send you to the hospital,” she said, “because there is a small mark on the heart, which one study in Europe indicates can have a weak correlation with Down’s Syndrome. The baby is probably fine, but we just want to check.” Then as an afterthought, she added, “Did you find out the gender?”
“Yes,” I said numbly, “it’s a boy.”
“Aha,” she said, “there’s a penis among us.”
And off we went to the hospital. This sonographer was much friendlier, talking about what she could see, confirming the gender, filling the void with her soothing voice.
Then a loud male doctor came in. The first thing he asked was if my guide dog, whose collar my husband was holding, would bite him.
“No,” we both answered.
Recommendation For Termination:
“You might want to consider terminating the pregnancy,” the doctor told us,“given that the baby could have heart complications–given your life issues. I’m going to get a colleague” And he walked out.
He brought in a female pediatric cardiologist, whose speech seemed particularly gentle and lilting against his brusqueness. By this time, our baby boy was not in a position which allowed them to see the heart, and no nudging on their part could get him to cooperate. He needed a nap. “I don’t see anything,” the male doctor said, but he was not talking to us. “And she is young, but with that mark, I just don’t want to rest.”
“Look,” said the cardiologist, pointing to me and the tears which came silently, despite all of my effort. I needed a nap myself.
“Look,” he told me defensively, “all I said was that I needed to get a colleague. I didn’t say anything.” Nothing, I thought, except that you want to kill my half-developed baby.
I am pro-choice, but a doctor whom I had literally never met was telling me to end my son’s life. He told us that the baby was not in a good position to see much, so we could rule out Down’s Syndrome in one of two ways: an amnio that day or else a visit in two weeks to look at the heart again via ultrasound.
“And … would the two weeks affect … the possibility of abortion?” I asked. I told myself while asking the question that I was trying to get all of the necessary information, but later I would curse myself for temporarily falling into his trap by admitting that I was considering his idea, the “You can’t be a mother, because you’re blind, especially of a baby with a disability, and I have so little faith that this will work, that I will brooch abortion in a Catholic hospital” trap. But I did.
“Physically, you mean?” he asked, and I nodded. “No, it won’t make a difference.”
Ultrasound Waiting Games
They left us alone for a minute to make our decision.Fortunately, James was not ruled by hormones then. He convinced me to wait two weeks, that an amnio was painful and probably unnecessary. And all through those long nights and days, he kept saying he knew the baby would be ok. He just knew it.
The two weeks were helpful, ultimately, even though they were torture. They gave me time to cry, to feel guilty that I had let my son down in front of a man who didn’t know blind people. Then I pulled myself together enough to ask my friends who had experience teaching children with Down’s Syndrome more about the condition. “They’re so sweet, so happy!” I kept hearing. “And it’s a disability which will still let them be verbal.”
The possibility of understanding my child’s words was important to know. Later, I would learn more about the complexity of emotions among kids with Down’s Syndrome, which, as one mother explained, had the same range as the rest of us, but the highs were higher, and the lows could be much lower.
Once I could lie down at night without crying, my son kicked, danced on my bladder. I decided he must really be a very gifted baby, and one of my pregnant friends said, “Yes, bladder-pushing is a sign of obvious brilliance.”
Two weeks later, we were back with the same cardiologist but fortunately a different obstetrician. They told us not to try to interpret their silences or their conversations with each other and kept asking if we were comfortable. And at the end, we got our reprieve: our baby did not have any heart issues at all or any physical indications of Down’s Syndrome.
“How must it be,” I wondered, “for parents who don’t get that reprieve?” And I realized how little extensive exposure to one disability prepares us for the possibility of others. There was still a penis among us, his maleness was still alien to me, but my baby and I had both been in the same place—we had both not been wanted by a doctor—and that drew me closer to him.
Editor’s Note: It is imperative for every expectant mother, blind or sighted, to have confidence in her medical team. Never feel pressured to make a medical decision that could potentially impact your life, or the life of someone you love, without seeking another opinion. Each of us must be our own advocates. Summon the strength to find your voice.