When I was 20 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound was scheduled for me as part of my prenatal care. My husband and three boys accompanied me as I thought this would be an excellent teaching opportunity for my children to see life within my womb. All five of us filled the small, dark room as the technician prepared the equipment to start the ultrasound. My children’s faces were alive with smiles and excitement to find out if the baby was a boy or a girl. The technician began to move the wand over my pregnant belly and as soon as I saw the baby, my eyes welled up with tears and I smiled with joy.
Almost immediately the technician was able to see the gender. He asked me to confirm whether we wanted to know the gender of the child and we all exclaimed, “Yes!” with overflowing anticipation. We stared at the screen and it was VERY OBVIOUS that we had been blessed with another boy. Our children seemed a little surprised at first, for they had hoped for a sister, but soon started laughing and giggling, exclaiming, “Mom is going to have 4 boys and we even have a boy dog!” The technician continued to observe the baby; he measured and checked off all that is required in a pre-natal ultrasound. When he observed the area of the heart, he seemed to spend what seemed like several minutes looking at the heart and I could sense that he saw something that was maybe of concern. The ultrasound doctor arrived to discuss the results and by now my husband had left the room with our boys. As the doctor began to talk about the ultrasound, she asked if I had elected to do any pre-natal testing for Down Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis or any other chromosomal abnormalities.
I answered no and she began to tell me that during an ultrasound, the doctors are looking for many genetic anomalies suggesting Down Syndrome and such. My heart began to race as I knew what she was getting at. She finally told me what was discovered on the ultrasound: an echogenic focus in the left ventricle of the heart. An echogenic focus is a “bright spot” on the heart seen on the ultrasound. It is not a heart defect, it does not change the function of the heart and it does not cause heart disease. Usually the bright spot is a small calcium deposit that disappears by time the baby is born or shortly after birth. This indicator is found in a very small percentage of babies with Down Syndrome and it only slightly increases the percentage of having a baby born with Trisomy 21. An amniocentesis, blood tests and genetic counseling were offered to completely rule out any genetic disease.
Despite the reassurance I received from the doctor I still felt somewhat troubled with all of this new information and asked that someone please get my husband. With both of us present, once again the doctor explained the results; all while I was fighting back tears and quietly praying. Many thoughts rattled through my head and I experienced a myriad of emotion. First and foremost I have always believed that all children are a gift from God. I do not believe that God makes “mistakes.” But at that moment, I was experiencing fear: fear of the unknown. What would it be like to have a Down Syndrome baby? Could we handle it? As we left the office I tried to smile with my kids and not let them see the tears.
Driving home, I asked my husband to stop at the church so I could go visit with Jesus. I got on my knees and thanked Him for our unborn baby boy and placed all of my fears into my Father’s hands. There are many uncertainties in life, but I know what to do when life presents them.
After talking through and praying about the situation, my husband and I declined all further testing and surrendered the outcome to God. Respecting our pro-life views, my OBGYN concurred that any further testing was unnecessary especially since the increased risk was small.
In the days that followed I continued to pray and ponder over the situation. During my rosary one day, our Lady came to mind and the emotion she must of felt in her days living with Jesus. We know that Mary suffered so much anguish and pain as she watched her Son suffer and die. Then the question arose in my mind: Did our Lady experience fear? I prayed about it. I thought, she had to have felt fear, even if momentarily, for she was human here on earth. Or was it that in her perfection, she was not able to experience fear? Finally, I decided to ask a priest this question. He said that yes, humanly speaking, Mary did feel fear. Fear is a natural human emotion and Mary was human. He said that this is evident in the gospel of Luke when Mary is described as “greatly troubled” at the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel consoled her by saying, “Do not be afraid.” Father concluded that Mary’s emotions were never irrational or beyond reason and that her faith always superseded fear.
These realities, these examples of trust, strengthen me on my journey. Knowing that Mary experienced these kinds of emotions comforts me in the uncertainty.
As mothers, we worry for our children: from the unborn to adults and beyond. Yes, I’ve been assured that the findings are not of concern. But this is a life — a human life that has been entrusted to me, a mother. This child spends nine months in my womb, and many years in my home. How can I not worry or experience fear at any time raising any child given to me? I am very human– God reminds me of this constantly. So I have my faith — my beautiful Catholic faith. I have many “tools” available to me as a Catholic: the rosary, Scripture, the Mass, confession. All of these are meant to support me on my journey towards God — to help me live in calm despite the storms, the uncertainties of life. How blessed I am, how blessed are all of us, to have been given such a powerful faith as Catholics.
[Editor’s note: James Francis is expected to arrive at Thanksgiving.]