I’ve always liked tests, for the most part. The academic kind, especially, because I’ve always liked to get gold stars, but I’ve also always appreciated other kinds of tests, like medical tests, diagnostic tests (not so much those involving needles, but that’s a separate issue), too, because they provide information. I like information. I like knowing things. I especially like knowing good things, like that my lungs are healthy or that my reading ability in French is very good or that I’m qualified to teach political philosophy at the university level or that I have good blood pressure. Tests can tell you those sorts of things, or officially confirm them if you know them already. And until this week, I’d never failed a test in my life. This week, for the very first time in my life, I got a test result that I did not expect, and that I did not want. And I didn’t like it.
It has occurred to me many times since this past Monday morning, since I got the phone call summoning me to the doctor’s office to discuss what I knew would be bad news, that I might have been better off had I never taken any of those prenatal-got-a-healthy-baby? tests that seemed so compelling back when I was convinced that a perfectly healthy baby was a sure thing in this pregnancy. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t fully aware of my conviction, but it was there. I might have thought twice about the tests otherwise. Had I known – had I really believed – that I might hear something that I didn’t want to hear, I might have given this whole process a lot more thought. I might have thought twice about what would constitute a failure of these tests, and about what I would do if I ‘failed.’ As it was, I only toyed with thinking about it, and found the thinking about it to be too stressful, and so abandoned the thinking about it, telling myself that I could think about it if or when I needed to, and that in any case I probably wouldn’t have to think about it at all, because, hey! the beauty of these tests is that they more often than not tell you that everything is perfectly fine and you get to spend the rest of your pregnancy secure in the knowledge that the odds are all in your favor, that you’re probably going to get that perfect baby that you so deserve.
But then I failed the test – ironic that they call the results “positive,” isn’t it, when one’s response is largely so negative? – and had to think about it. I had to think about what I was going to do. Which in turn meant thinking about why, exactly, and to what extent I regarded the test results as a failure. And what it would mean to regard the pregnancy as a possible failure. I had to think thoughts that made my head, and heart, sore. But the conclusion that I came to was this: that this pregnancy cannot be a failure, in the sense that no wanted pregnancy is ever a failure, because no effort to bring life and love into this world is ever a failure, even if it doesn’t turn out the way that you expect, or want.
I know – I was and I am treading on dangerous ground here. There’s a danger of getting maudlin and unpleasantly sentimental with this line of reasoning, and, more worryingly, of painting conceptionpregnancybirthlife with too romantic a brush, a brush that can all too easily get co-opted into other, more problematic arguments. But I’ll stumble on with it, because I’m desperate to make my thinking clear, if only to myself, for my own peace of mind.
I want this baby. We want this baby. And we want it no matter what. I can understand, well understand, why some people are not able to embrace that nomatterwhat. I’ve seen, close-up, too close-up, a family shatter – cruelly, painfully shatter – because there was a what that mattered, and that what mattered with too much difficulty, and the difficulty of that mattering drove them apart. One can say “no matter what” with all of the optimism of Gilbert Grape wandering into Forrest Gump’s neighborhood, but it doesn’t change the fact that in real life, this shit is hard, and there’s no heart-lifting orchestral score, and nobody gets any Oscars for being an audience-friendly special-needs person with a goofy-but-heartwarming smile, nor for raising one, and not every family would survive it.
I don’t know, for hundred-percent certain, that we could survive it. But I know that the odds would be on our side, and that all of the love and the laughter that carries us through the hard times now could probably carry us through some even harder times. And I know that – I believe that – in some important way we have an obligation – because we have been so, so fortunate with that love and that laughter and that family heart that we have so painstakingly built, together – to not withhold that love because of fear. So we’re going to have this baby, no matter what, and love this baby, no matter what – because we love him/her already and quote-unquote failures of genes or chromosomes or whatever shouldn’t stop that.
This isn’t an exercise in nobility; we didn’t arrive at this conclusion because of some moral or ethical imperative. This isn’t about what we need to do to be good people. It’s about what we – us, my husband and I – need to do in order to keep our hearts intact. My heart intact. I already have ghosts; I do not want more ghosts, not of my own making. I am, in other words, too scared for the fate of my heart to make any other decision. And so I cannot regard any of this as a failure. No matter what, there will be a child, and that child will be perfect for us, under whatever terms that god or nature imposes, and there is no failure in that, never, no matter what.
I’m still terrified, though. I don’t know what further steps to take, or whether I should just stop taking steps and simply follow the current, whatever direction it takes me. Do I take further tests, knowing how badly they’ve already upset me? Will I have a happier pregnancy knowing or not knowing? If I am carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome, is it better to have that information so that we can prepare in all the ways that we might need to prepare? Or is it better to just enjoy the pregnancy without thinking or worrying – if that’s even possible – about how it’s going to turn out. If I am committed to believing in the success of this pregnancy, no matter what that success looks like, do the tests matter?
I’ve already said, I tend to be happiest when I have information, the more the better. But I’ve never really meaningfully grappled with having information – conclusive information – that I might prefer not to have. I don’t want this baby to have Down’s Syndrome or any other quote-unquote abnormality – but I will love that baby no matter what. Where does that leave me? Do I want to know more, or do I just proceed on faith in lovenomatterwhat?
I think that I want to know, but truth be told – I am now terrified of the tests. TERRIFIED. Especially of amniocentesis (about which I have to make a decision). I’m terrified of the risk of miscarriage and the needle (oh god) and the pain (they call it discomfort but I don’t believe them) and the fear that I will almost certainly feel while waiting for results (because, despite everything I have said here, I am incapable of summoning enough zen to convince myself that the results don’t matter.)
Please, please tell me – what did you do? Did you do any tests? Did you have amnio? Why or why not? Were you terrified? Did it hurt? Are you glad that you did, or didn’t? I have no idea how to make this decision, and I need all of the help that I can get.