It began at the beginning. As we went for our weekly ultrasounds, I was delighted by the tiny arms and legs that began growing out of his little bean-shaped body. As his legs began to grow, we could see little feet emerging. I would day dream about nuzzling and kissing my baby's tiny toes. I would tell my husband that I just couldn't wait until February to hug and squeeze and cuddle with our baby. We would just have to be patient, we would say.
Time passed and we graduated from needing to have weekly ultrasounds. Our baby was doing well and we would now go to the perinatal testing center for further ultrasounds like every other "normal" pregnancy. When we arrived at our ultrasound in August, we looked at the screen with excitement as William kicked his legs and moved his little feet around. We didn't know it was a boy yet, but I knew that my little girl or little boy had the most wonderful feet I'd ever seen. As the technician scanned across my stomach, she was so quiet.
Scan. Click. Scan. Click.
She seemed to be taking a lot of pictures of the baby. I was hopeful that she'd print some out for us to take home. She got up to leave without telling me to clean up. The doctor walked in. Why is the doctor here? I don't remember them saying we'd see a doctor? He introduced himself and then began to scan across my stomach.
Scan. Click. Scan. Click.
He told me to clean up and use the bathroom if I needed. He would meet us in his office. Why are we going into his office? Is this what everyone does?
I began to feel nervous, but my husband said he was sure everything was fine. We sat down in his office and he shut the door.
Everything wasn't fine.
As we walked to our car, I felt as though I was wading through water. The world had looked so different before we went into the office. Everything had changed. Instead of ultrasound pictures, I had a piece of paper clutched in my hand that had the doctor's words scribbled across the front. Cystic Hygroma...later fetal demise...chromosomal abnormalities. What did it all mean?
Before our ultrasound in September, I had prayed to never hear the word "hydrops". A Cystic Hygroma was bad enough, but hydrops would mean the worst. I knew that Cystic Hygromas sometimes develop into hydrops, a condition where fluid begins to accumulate inside the baby's body around his major organs. Please God, no hydrops.
As she began scanning, I immediately saw the dark areas in his chest. I didn't even need to ask. He has hydrops. I lay silently, letting her scan every section of his body knowing that at the end they would tell us he wouldn't survive. Don't fall apart, Ali. Just keep watching her scan William's body. Look at his feet. Just look at his precious feet kicking back and forth.
We asked for pictures this time, but she said he wasn't positioned well for pictures...and he was too swollen. With sadness, she handed us one picture before leaving. It was a picture of his foot. Oh, my darling boy. Your feet are so beautiful.
The same doctor as before came back and quietly began scanning.
Scan. Click. Scan. Click.
He asked me to clean up and for us to come back to his office. There's a lot going on, he said.
I wiped the once-warm gel off my stomach and shivered. I walked into the bathroom that was shared between my room and the room next door. As I locked each door, I heard people laughing in the next room. I wanted to burst in and make them stop. How can you laugh? Don't you know my baby is dying?
I looked around the bathroom at the cartoon strips hanging on the walls. They depicted women making cleverly snide remarks during labor or lamenting about midnight feedings and sleepless nights. I am going to go through labor. I am going to have sleepless nights. But I won't be taking home my baby.
As I washed my hands, I stared at myself in the mirror. I've never seen myself look so sad. Who are you? How has this happened? Will you ever be happy again? I looked away...it's hard to see yourself that way.
As we sat in his office, he began listing things of concern about William. The Cystic Hygroma was worse. He had hydrops around his lungs. There were other anomalies such as his feet. The doctor said with certainty that our baby wasn't going to survive. I asked more about his feet. He said they were "club" meaning they weren't growing correctly and were facing inward. This is a benign condition but could indicate more serious underlying causes. He moved on to other things, but my mind couldn't focus on anything but William's feet.
Why, God? Why his feet? Could you not have spared his feet? Must everything be taken from me?
As we went through the next week, we grieved and cried over William's new prognosis. We were scheduled to go to CHOP to get more information. There's much to say about our CHOP visit, but that can be for another day. They were so kind to us and spent so much time explaining everything they know about William's condition. After a long meeting with the doctor, I realized she hadn't said a word about William's feet. I don't remember whether it was my husband or I who asked about his feet first. We knew he had a fatal diagnosis. We knew his feet were the least of his issues. But what about his feet? Just tell me about his precious feet?
She said that he didn't have club feet. Club feet are fixed into position and William moves his feet around freely. The diagnosis of club feet was not an accurate finding in the previous ultrasound. With a smile she said that he does move his feet in a funny way, but his feet are totally fine.
Thank you, God. Thank you for his feet.
I've found myself pulling out the beautiful ultrasound pictures they gave us at CHOP and searching for the one of his foot. I love every single part of William, but there is just something so special about his feet.
Keep kicking your legs, baby boy. Move your feet however you like.