11 weeks, NIPT, and Outlander spoilers

Sorry it’s been awhile since I’ve checked in. Last week was finals week, and the weeks leading up to it were a bit hectic, as usual.

A week ago, we hit the 10 week mark, which meant I could do a phone consult with the genetic counselor and have my blood drawn for the Non-Invasive Pregnancy Test (NIPT, which I’ve written about on this blog before, here).

I scheduled my appointment for the earliest slot they would let me, on Monday afternoon, and drove to the hospital for my blood draw the same day. As we have in each pregnancy, we checked the box to learn the gender of the baby at the same time. Then, we anxiously awaited the results. (The genetic counselor had said it would be “about a week”, but since I knew I had made it in time for Monday’s FedEx pickup, I was hopeful for a result on Thursday or Friday.) More so than with our previous pregnancies, I worried that this baby might have a chromosomal abnormality, both because of my age (my baseline risk now – at age 38 – is 1 in 50), and because after losing Jane, we no longer feel immune to even improbable adversity…

Thankfully, I had a full week of to distract me from thinking too much about it, with a speaking gig at a chemistry symposium at a nearby university Tuesday, and tickets to Hamilton (!) in San Francisco on Wednesday night. C had accrued enough points on his Ritz Carlton business card for an overnight stay, so we spent Wednesday night in style in the city before returning to reality. While away, I checked my email every 10 minutes for the message from Kaiser, which I finally got on Friday morning in the airport bathroom…

The subject line was “Good News!”, which came as no small relief. I waited until I was sitting with C to open the email and learn the gender of our little peanut.

If you had asked us before Friday what our preference was, we would have told you we preferred a girl – not as a replacement for Jane, but maybe as another chance at the imagined future we felt that we had lost with her: mother-daughter mani-pedis and father-daughter dances, a trip to England to visit Jane Austen’s house, C walking her down the aisle… On the practical side, a baby girl would also be able to make use of all the never-worn, adorable pink outfits and dresses still hanging in Jane’s closet.

The letter showed that we have a chromosomally-normal boy! And we are honestly so excited. We love the idea of a brother for C. Samuel (I actually had wished that Jane was a boy before I knew!), and I feel very comfortable cementing my identity as a “boy mom”, which seems easier in many ways. And while we aren’t totally ruling out the possibility of a third child, I have to admit that there is something romantic about the idea that Jane was our girl, and that we won’t have another.

***

In other news, in between late nights grading, I’ve been making my way through the Outlander series on Starz. It’s my guilty pleasure on nights when C isn’t home or goes to bed early. I really like the main characters (especially Sam Heoghan’s Jamie Fraser, sigh!) and the sets and costumes. The story isn’t as compelling or the dialog as clever as, say, Game of Thrones, but I enjoy it enough to have purchased the first two seasons on Amazon. That said, if you are easily disturbed by violence, you’d probably want to take a hard pass. Continuing with the GoT comparison, Outlander is not nearly as skull-crushingly gory as GoT…but I found several violent scenes to be at least as emotionally disturbing as anything I’ve seen on GoT.

heughan

I just had to add a photo of Heoghan (source and more photos)

At this point, I should give a SPOILER ALERT. If you think you might want to watch Outlander, or you are watching and haven’t yet made it into Season 2, Episode 7, then for heaven’s sake, don’t read further!

***

So, for those of you still here, the reason I bring up Outlander is that a) I just watched S2 E7 Friday night, and b) stillbirth figured prominently in the episode. It’s actually not the first time I’ve seen a stillbirth on TV since losing Jane. The first was in the series premier of This is Us. (I don’t even feel bad about spoiling that one, since it’s like halfway through the SERIES PREMIER and is not even the big surprise of the episode!)

I felt both portrayals were well done, and yet, neither initially felt like our experience.

In This is Us, the expecting couple goes in to deliver their babies (like us), who are triplets (not like us), and then have complications during delivery that result in the loss of one of the babies. We never see the baby that was stillborn, nor do we see the mother’s initial reaction to the news until a later episode. What we do see is a touching conversation between the obstetrician who delivered the babies and the young father. We see the father’s initial confusion and denial, and learn that the obstetrician had a stillborn child that motivated him into choosing to pursue obstetrics. The moment felt very real; the message, about making lemonade out of “the sourest lemon life can give you”, while undoubtedly hokey, feels honest and welcome, especially coming from someone who has been there.

In Outlander, the expecting mother is subjected to an intense situation that spurs early labor (not like us), then she is semi-unconscious, confused during delivery (not like us), and only learns that her child is stillborn after the delivery is over (not like us). The whole sequence took place in the first few minutes of the episode, and left me feeling very little. I felt guilty for eating chips and salsa through what I felt should have been a very emotional scene for me, but I didn’t feel much empathy for the character (who I really like and am generally very invested in). Another variable that undoubtedly affected my experience was the inclusion of a flash-forward at the start of the episode, that shows the same character with her future child. So we know from the beginning that she will eventually go on to have another child.

Then, as she is retelling the story to her husband (who wasn’t present for the birth), we see in a flashback that she in fact did get to see and hold her baby…

And there it was – the ‘real’ moment that got me. I cried as she lovingly and carefully examined her baby daughter’s hands and feet, remarking on the color and texture of her hair. I cried as she cradled her, and sang to her. And I cried especially hard when, after holding her daughter for hours, she reluctantly handed her over to be prepared for burial. It was heartbreaking, and beautiful, and exactly how I remember feeling.

Is there a sudden spate of authentic stillbirth story lines in television these days, or were they always there and I just wasn’t paying attention? Either way, I’m grateful to see elements of our experience portrayed for a wide audience. In both cases, the friends and loved ones of the grieving parents responded so well – never minimizing the loss (even in This is Us, when the couple had two healthy babies to take home); in the case of Outlander, they gave the baby a name, commented on how beautiful she was, and asked to hold her – like our loved ones did for Jane. ❤

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12 Comments

  1. Shantuck

     /  May 8, 2017

    Congrats on the gender news! So relieved to hear things are still going well!

    Reply
  2. Jane Allen

     /  May 8, 2017

    So happy for your good news! Please let me know the next time you’re in the Bay Area! My Husband was also at the ACS meeting

    Reply
    • Will do! We’re in San Jose a lot to visit the in-laws… SF a bit less often.

      Reply
      • p.s. What kind of chemistry does your hubby do? (Sorry if you’ve told me before!)

  3. Hooray for a chromosomally normal little boy! I love how you’ve processed the news of your little one’s sex. A brother for C. Samuel sounds wonderful.

    Reply
  4. Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
  5. Congratulations!! Great news!

    Reply
  6. Yes! I’m so glad it’s going along well and I hope you and the baby will continue in good health!

    Reply
  7. Congrats on your little man. Glad to hear things are going well.

    As for the show addressing stillbirth, I cannot imagine how that would make me feel. It is great (not sure if that’s the right word but I can’t figure out a better one at the moment) that they don’t minimize the losses and are doing their best to be realistic. Seeing others go through difficult times, even in pop culture and in fiction, really helps normalize the experience.

    Reply
  8. Karen

     /  May 14, 2017

    Congratulations! Such wonderful news. I love reading your journey. Much love to you and your family.

    Reply

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