The worst word

by Rachel Ladd

There are lots of words you don’t want to hear: card declined, sold out, no, code brown (for those nappies), you’re fired.

Yet there is one word that is worse than them all and that word is but.

You see, I recently had some news that made my heart sing – two little lines (on several pregnancy tests) and a phone call from a happy nurse that confirmed I was pregnant. This tiny soul is a much longed-for and much tried-for addition to our little family and my husband and I are overjoyed.

But – and there is that little word again, so small and seemingly inoffensive yet fraught with potential danger. But… there may be a problem with our baby.

At my nuchal scan everything looked fine. My beautiful baby, the size of an orange, was wriggling and swallowing and waving tiny limbs in what looked a lot like glee. My husband, daughter and I heard that wonderful heartbeat and my eyes filled with happy tears - s/he was okay! I have had scans in the past at which there was no heartbeat, just the sonographer’s silence, followed by a deep breath and the information that our baby hadn’t made it. Scans remain nerve-wracking for me; the fear that something has gone wrong never leaves you.

Yet here we were at 13 weeks with a heartbeat and a nose and little arms and legs and everything in the right place, my joy was palpable, my heart soared. But, but, my nuchal translucency score puts me in the ‘high-risk’ category for having a baby with Down Syndrome.

When the doctor uttered these words I was shocked, I knew my result would be lowered by my age, every year has a big impact on the risk score and at 38; I'm no spring chicken in reproduction terms. Still the news floored me, a 1:190 chance of Downs and a recommendation for Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) or an amniocentesis (amnio) test.

There is silence in this room too as I attempt to formulate a sentence while my voice breaks.

I turn to the facts to try and get a handle on my emotions and learn that both the CVS and amnio tests carry a risk of causing miscarriage – one in 100 for CVS and one in 200 for amnio. The benefit of the CVS is that you can find out straight away while you must be 16 weeks pregnant before you can have the amnio. Although every fibre in my being wanted to find out immediately, previous miscarriages mean I just can’t bring myself to risk it and I opt for the latter. In doing so I accept that I have signed up for the most stressful, awful weeks of my life to date.

My husband and I talked and through many tears decide that there is no question of termination for us – a personal choice that is right for our family – but we agree that we need to know. To be able to get our heads around it and to prepare, possibly to change some things about our lives to accommodate a special-needs child. I am ashamed to admit it but my dreams for our family did not include room for the addition of a child with physical and intellectual disabilities and yet, confronted with the very real possibility, I discovered that my heart does.

Rationally, I know that odds of one in 190 aren’t too scary when taken at face value, Hell you’d even say they were good.

But apply them to this situation, with the weight of love and fear and hope that’s behind them and couple them with the words: “the scan was fine but...” and they take on a different significance.

I feel weighted down by years of longing and the associated grief, I place a hand on my growing stomach and whisper alternately “please baby, be okay” and “it doesn’t matter baby, you are loved.”

The words and the worry don’t change a thing for ‘high-risk’ is what it is and the anxiety of the following weeks literally takes my breath away at times as panic rises in my chest and clutches at my throat.

The day of the amnio dawns and it is surprising in its ordinariness. We take our daughter to a friend’s place and make our way, locked in a shared solitude with our thoughts to the ultrasound clinic. My husband is distressed by the sight of the huge needle the doctor slides into my pregnant belly, I keep my eyes on the screen, thrilled to see our baby again, even under these circumstances.

Afterwards I am told to rest and to wait for a phone call with the results in two days time. I am buoyed by my encounter with our unborn child though two more days of waiting feels almost unbearable.

But – and here's a nice but, the nicest in fact – no matter the fear, no matter the outcome, this baby is ADORED. Beloved, cherished, valued and welcomed.

And there is more happiness in that than any word can express.


PS: There was indeed a happy outcome to this story – a beautiful, bouncing, perfectly healthy little boy.


© Rachel Ladd

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem