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My OB’s Misdiagnosis Changed Me as a Mother

OB and patient
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I tried to hide it from my mom when she asked how my first OB appointment went. I tried to say they needed to do some more tests because there was some extra fluid. I tried to lie.

She knew.

Why me? I was embarrassed. I didn’t feel blessed to be having a baby. I felt completely alone, even though I was surrounded by people checking on me, family members driving me to my doctor’s appointments, and a partner trying to support me even though I pushed him away.

The way my OB handled my first pregnancy altered my entire pregnancy, along with the first several months of my son’s life. It changed the way I would have loved my now ex-partner and father of my children.

At my 12 week pregnancy appointment, my partner and I went to the doctor thinking it was going to be sort of exciting. My OB came in and said, “Your baby has some extra fluid around his neck, which indicates he likely will have a chromosomal abnormality like Down syndrome.”

I just stared at her — fixating on her face, so I didn’t have to fixate on her words. I was angry, asking what I did to deserve this. I silently hoped for a miscarriage.

“You two are a young couple, and I encourage you to think about your options. In the meantime, I am setting up an appointment for you with the high risk specialists.”

I knew my baby boy was going to suffer from this experience — from having a frightened mother who did not want him and wished he wasn’t mine.
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I never imagined how that moment would define my whole life. How I would not bond at birth with my perfectly healthy son, or how I would punish my partner because I felt so angry and alone. I couldn’t hide from myself, but I could hide from him. And I did. I didn’t want to resent my own baby, so I resented him instead.

I went to my specialist appointment where they explained the high possibility of false positives with the testing available. I know 2009 doesn’t seem like long ago, but this was testing for the probability of chromosomal abnormalities. The only way to get accurate results was through an invasive procedure, such as a CVS or amniocentesis, which carried a risk of miscarriage. The amount of false positives with their current method of testing was tremendous. Did my OB explain this to me? No, she did not. But the specialist did.

Unfortunately, it was too late. It didn’t matter that I had a two-hour ultrasound of my baby’s heart and face that didn’t show markers for Down syndrome; I didn’t believe them. I had a cruise planned before I got pregnant and decided to go. The entire trip was plagued by impending blood test results that told me nothing, even though I thought they’d tell me everything.

I was not yet 21 years old, but I bought a drink in Mexico. I only took a few sips, but I drank while pregnant because, why not? What could a few sips possibly do at this point? That is really shameful to admit, but it was how I felt at the time.

When I gave birth to my son, I did not squeeze him to my chest and bask in the amount of love I had for him. The first thing I did was look at the doctor and say, “Does he have Down syndrome?” It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have loved him if he did; I’d just waited nine long months to imagine what our future together would look like.

It turns out, he did not have Down syndrome. But I knew my baby boy was going to suffer from this experience — from having a frightened mother who did not want him and wished he wasn’t mine.

Whenever my son pulls away a little when I go in for a hug, I wonder if I did this.
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I could feel it when I held him in my arms that I was going to rob him of the connection a little baby craves from his mother. I could hear it during the silence of my craved alone time away from him. I could see it the darkness during his late night feedings. I could feel it in the emotion that was absent from my heart those first few months.

Today there is cell-free fetal DNA testing, a blood test available to test for chromosomal abnormalities that separates the fetus’s DNA from the mother’s. But I would have given anything at the time for my doctor to present comprehensive information to me in a sensitive manner.

I now look at my 7-year-old and am filled with love instead of anxiety. I’m impressed by how smart and quick-witted he is and wonder how I didn’t experience these feelings of adoration the instant he was brought into this world. That guilt will never go away.

Whenever my son pulls away a little when I go in for a hug, I wonder if I did this. When I tell him I love him and he looks uncomfortable saying it back, I wonder if I caused this because of my lack of affection in the very beginning. I get down for not pulling myself out of it and just feeling lucky that I had him. I’m disappointed these things tore my family apart. I let these experiences defeat me for a long time.

But I still tell him I love him and hug him every night. He is more comfortable my affection now than he was when he was younger, so I am happy for that. I’ve been able to realize why I was so unloving towards his father for so long and have even apologized for making him feel unworthy.

My son will never be as affectionate as his 3-year-old brother, but he is everything I have ever wanted in a son. I have come to realize that all the things I did wrong may not mean more than all the things I’ve done right to make him into the amazing little person he is today. And for that I am proud.

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