This week I had my first SPA appointment, though not the kind you might think! 🙂 After my 20-week ultrasound revealed Samuel’s Trisomy 18 I was transferred to a high-risk pregnancy group, Strong Perinatal Associates, affectionately called by its acronym SPA. Women literally call in and say, “I’d like to set up a SPA appointment…” 🙂
On our way, I felt tense for some reason. As Bob and I talked in the car ride, I realized I was nervous about two things: I didn’t know how the doctor would view our choice to continue this pregnancy, if we would be misunderstood or unsupported. And knowing how I am at doctor’s appointments, I always feel bad if we take too much of a doctor’s limited time, and I knew Bob had a growing list of questions he’d prepared over the past five weeks. I really wanted to be able to leave with a sense of peace and our questions answered, but when I’m feeling rushed I don’t like to ask all our questions. We arrived early and Bob spent a few minutes praying that I would feel peace, that our appointment would go well, that we’d feel respected and supported and leave with our questions answered.
Within minutes I started to relax, from checking in and joking with the friendly receptionist to being whisked right back by the nurse without needing to sit in the waiting room. Then we met with the most wonderful nurse practitioner I could have asked for! She didn’t even look at her computer or run through her standard questions until about 45 minutes in. She first wanted to hear how we are doing personally, and answer any and all questions we had for her. Within the first few minutes she asked if we’d chosen a name and immediately lit up saying, “I don’t know if you’re religious, but Samuel is my favorite name for a boy!” From then on she referred to Samuel by name. She was incredibly supportive of our decision to enjoy whatever time we have left with Samuel, and encouraged us to choose what we feel is best for our family and assured us we will be supported by their staff and the teams at the hospital in whatever decisions we make.
I have no idea how long they typically spend with patients, but we spent over two hours meeting with her, the doctor who originally delivered the news to us at my ultrasound, and the genetic counselor who will be coordinating our appointments with all the other groups (NICU team, neurosurgeon, palliative care, etc.). I knew it was probably an unusually long appointment even for them, but they were so patient with us, genuinely caring to make sure all our questions were thoroughly answered as we move forward. I walked out of there so thankful that God had answered Bob’s prayer and provided exactly what my heart needed!
As we learn more about Trisomy 18, it seems the longer this pregnancy continues there will be many complicated decisions before us. We will probably need to have three birth plans in place to cover the different scenarios: Samuel could be stillborn at any point right up until birth, he could be born prematurely, or he might make it full-term. If he is born alive and closer to full-term, we have many decisions to make about how much to intervene versus simply provide comfort care until he dies. Some Trisomy 18 babies only survive a few minutes or hours, some a matter of days or weeks. A small percentage survives longer. They told us the average life span is about 5 days. Knowing a baby’s life will likely be brief, many couples choose to just hold and love their baby in the time they have, and say goodbye peacefully rather than send them off to risky surgeries that might not prolong their life or significantly increase the quality of it.
From the problems the ultrasounds have shown, unlike many Trisomy 18 babies, thankfully Samuel’s heart is not an issue that would cause immediate problems after birth or require surgery. It seems the two major things for Samuel are 1) Potential feeding and breathing problems that most Trisomy 18 babies have (and we won’t know the extent of those issues until after birth). 2) Spina bifida – there is a hole at the base of his spine that would require fairly immediate surgery. If left untreated, he would eventually contract an infection that would take his life.
Our appointment was a sobering reminder that there are no “good” outcomes, just many hard decisions before us – decisions we don’t want to make for our child regarding life and death. We are asking for God’s wisdom, that He would lead us every step of the way and continue to give us peace. We don’t know the outcome, and no matter how much we plan or prepare, there’s so much that’s simply beyond our control. I’m so thankful He already sees the future and knows the number of Samuel’s days. And He is with us, taking care of our hearts in this process. If we look only at the predicted outcomes, it feels grim. But that’s not the whole story…
At church this morning, this line from a worship song stirred my heart: “Now death, where is your sting? The resurrected King has rendered you defeated!” Tears escaped down my cheeks as I pictured the day coming when I’ll hold my sweet Samuel and say goodbye. But at the same time, hope rushed into my soul knowing that Jesus died and was resurrected to take away the sting of death. Even though I will probably need to say goodbye to Samuel soon and experience the pain of loss, I know that it will only be temporary. Someday our family will be reunited with him for eternity, and that gives me hope.
We are choosing to enjoy as much time as we have, and we are grateful for each day Samuel is with us. Every kick and movement reminds me that, for the time being, he’s still safe and alive inside me. In the meantime, we are going to treasure every moment of his life, no matter how long it lasts!