Fetal Echo

The fetal echocardiogram, a detailed scan of the baby’s heart, is not a routine scan for pregnant women in the UK. But my combination of health conditions (specifically type 1 diabetes and the medication I take to control my tendency to have seizures) increases the risk of heart defects, so I was advised to have the scan in order that any problems could be identified and either managed or prepared for. Although I’m glad that we got to have this scan, for the extra reassurance it offers, facing it is also another reminder of the risks that my body poses to my unborn child. My own heart breaks just a little bit to think that I may be unwittingly causing our baby harm at a time when they are supposed to be most safe and protected, cocooned in their little watery nest. Honestly, with all these cycles of fear, worry and guilt, it isn’t much wonder that I’m having a hard time enjoying this pregnancy.

All in all though, I was reasonably relaxed as we took the train up to London. Being a specialist scan, it was carried out in the cardiology department of a specialist children’s hospital rather than in our local hospital. It felt odd, attending a children’s hospital, but equally kind of appropriate as many would say I’m still a big kid, especially at heart! I already knew that the risk of problems was low, as nothing showed up on our routine anomaly scan last week. In the back of my head, though, was a nagging doubt because the sonographer at that scan had a hard time seeing a complete view of the heart.

As is becoming typical for our child, this scan wasn’t straightforward either. It was rather different to previous scans in that it focused straight in on the heart, which completely filled the viewing screen. However, Flangelina flatly refused to get in to the best position for the doctor performing the scan to see all that she needed to. We had a repeat performance of the hip wiggling and walking around that has been a feature of our three previous scans. The doctor kept pressing harder and harder in a vain attempt to achieve the required views or cause Flangelina to shift round. After about 15 minutes, my bladder was beginning to protest to the point that I desperately wanted to cross my legs and was involuntarily straining away from the scanning wand. At that point the doctor decided to ask me to wriggle around again.

“I can’t” I said, through half gritted teeth. “Unless you want a very wet examination couch. Do you think I could maybe empty my bladder? It might help?”
Fortunately I was granted a bathroom pass and I shuffled awkwardly across the corridor in my socked feet, not having bothered to refasten my trousers. Between my state of (un)dress and awkward gait, I must have looked like a confused granny, out of place in a children’s hospital.

Instant relief for me, but the lack of pressure from my bladder did nothing to improve the view of the heart though. After about another 10 minutes, during which the doctor remained silent and focused, she shook her head. “I need to get someone else to come and have a look at this.”

She must have seen the instantaneous look of fear flash across my face. Jumping straight to conclusions I assumed she needed a second opinion because she’d seen something tha concerned her.

“I just can’t still can’t see what I need to see” she said, sort of apologetically.

Eventually a senior member of the medical staff came in to the room. The original doctor shuffled through a quick introduction of my history and what she’d already seen. She seemed so uncomfortable and unsure as she spoke, half mumbling with eyes darting to the floor, that I instantly felt for her. It’s a position I’ve been in when I’ve needed to call for back up professionally. I’m always concerned that the patient may think I’m inexperienced or just plain incompetent and somehow I have trouble suppressing embarrassment that I need help. Ridiculous of course, and it was ridiculous in this situation too. We already knew that our kid is very stubborn and uncooperative. I was grateful, if anything, that she was being thorough and asking for another set of eyes.

The two doctors hunched over the ultrasound machine, chatting to one another about what was there. Periodically there were pauses as photographs were captured, and the grainy black and white images would flash with colour as the flow of blood was assesed. I was slightly in awe of this tiny heart beating away, knowing that it was deep inside me. The chatter seemed encouraging and eventually it came “That’s fine. I really can’t see anything. Everything looks exactly as it should.”

I had another appointment to attend in the adult hospital next door, to see my neurologst and review my medication. But as soon as that was over, we celebrated with more baby shopping, trekking home on the train with bags of bargins too good to resist – clothes, blankets and a microwave steriliser reduced to just a few pounds due to a damaged box.

I feel incredibly blessed. To have fallen pregnant in the first place. For the baby have grown to this point already. And for there to be no major problems detectable at this stage, despite the risks posed by my own ineffective body. Next stop is 24 weeks when Flangelina will be considered viable. This is going to happen and it’s going to be ok. I’m starting to feel much more sure of that.

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