Hear my voice | Guest blog, Gemma’s story

Gemma is our guest blogger this month and is sharing her maternity story and experiences below in the hope that others will learn something from her story.

Mike and I decided 2019 was the year we’d start trying for a baby. We had a bit of luck, conceiving almost immediately! I didn’t get super excited straight away as I’m 33 and wanted to make sure everything would be okay first. I joked about this being “my first pancake” – because sometimes the first pancake is a dud and you have to throw it out. This is how I deal with my fear and anxiety – I make jokes.

I had a few holidays and thankfully didn’t suffer any nausea; I would pat my stomach and tell the little growing embryo not to ever tell me I don’t take it places. It seemed to be making me crave crunchy fruit and veg, to the point I actually lost weight on my Italian holiday which is honestly unheard of for me. I joked to Mike that this kid was clearly taking after him.

We told my Mum pretty early, in fact the same day that we went to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who were about to give birth to their daughter (the first grandchild!). I told Mum that for this small amount of time, she had two grandchildren in utero – she was very excited! I pretended I didn’t like champagne at dinner. We met the new baby – I was so happy and thought about the baby growing inside of me, and how in 8 months I’d be the one having family visiting and cooing over the next grandchild.

We got to our 12 week scan. I was excited to see if we’d got the due date right (we’d guessed January 2nd, it ended up being January 1st!). We saw the baby wriggling and its heart beating. I also saw something I’d learned about in my extensive reading – I have to look up all possible scenarios – a thick nuchal translucency measurement. Babies have this bit of skin behind their neck, and it will have fluid in it. If the ‘bulge’ measurement is below 2.5mm, they consider you low risk for chromosomal abnormalities. Ours was 3.9mm.

The nurses told me this wasn’t a diagnostic test, just a soft marker, so not to worry yet. The heart looked healthy and the brain was developing. We saw the baby raise its hand to its mouth, it was very cute! I had to have a blood test to determine how high risk I was. I tried to keep calm as we had a chat with a counsellor in the ‘sad tea room’ as I dubbed it, and I thought I was holding myself together until I got home and realised that I’d somehow left my maternity folder somewhere on the way home.

I called the bus company and the hospital, but nobody had handed it in. I burst into tears that I’d come home with what felt like nothing. I wanted those pictures of my baby. I also ended up leaving our car at the shops (after I’d driven back to the hospital to check the bus stop) and walked home forgetting I’d even taken the car. Mike got home and asked where it was – I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten an entire car. I was more shaken up than I’d let myself realise!

The next day, after calling the hospital again, I spoke to a woman named Leticia who was amazing. She arranged to send me new copies of my scans and all of the information that had been in the folder. Actual hero. As was a lady called Jo, who called to tell me that my blood results had come back and I’d been given a 1 in 14 chance that my baby had Trisomy 21 – Down’s Syndrome. Ok, that wasn’t the heroic part, but she was such a voice of comfort without any kind of patronisation that I just felt so much more at ease. She also managed to get us in for a Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) within about 5 days.

A CVS is a procedure where they use a rather large needle to extract a bit of baby’s placenta, going through either the abdomen or the cervix, depending on the hospital’s preference and baby’s position. I had mine through my abdomen and got to watch on the ultrasound how the needle went in and collected the sample. It was super interesting, and the needle part only took 1 minute and felt like somebody was tugging on my insides with a piece of cotton. It didn’t hurt and I was able to relax enough because of the kind staff around me.

I chose to have CVS rather than amniocentesis (which is where they extract a bit of the amniotic fluid) because it can be done a few weeks sooner. I wanted to get things done as quickly as possible. The doctor had a good look at the baby’s anatomy and told me that the nuchal measurement had grown to 5mm. He also told us that we had a boy.

A little boy. I had joked before about wanting a girl so much, and how I didn’t get it when people said, ‘I just want it to be healthy’. I thought they always secretly had a preference. But at this point, I understood it. I wanted this boy more than anything! I hoped he would be okay.

We got the results from the test on Monday 8th July 2019. There was a 93% chance that our boy would be okay, so we were trying to stay positive, but I felt like I was standing on a balance beam trying not to think about it too much, just trying to move forward. The result was delivered – our baby had Down’s Syndrome. We had already decided that if this was the case, we would not continue the pregnancy. It’s not something we’re ready for, that had been our decision from the beginning. We didn’t actually think it was a decision we’d need to make. That really sucked.

It’s not the ending I wanted for this pregnancy. Going back to the hospital to begin the process of medical termination, I took a pill that effectively stops the pregnancy from continuing. Next, I’ll go in and take another pill which will make my body deliver the baby. It will be 15 weeks at that point, the size of an apple. HE will be 15 weeks. I’m allowed to see him and hold him if I want to, I think I do.

I’m not okay right now, but we’ll try again and hopefully have a happier ending. I have a great support system, a wonderful husband who has been amazing throughout all of this, and I know I will be okay. So many people have been through similar things and we just don’t talk about it publicly enough, so if people can learn something from this, then it doesn’t feel like such a complete waste.