Hope

Previous to this journey with Samuel I never would have identified “hope” as hard or painful, but I’ve learned it can be when I don’t know what to hope for.

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Joanna outside the doctor’s office

My emotions, and hopes, have been all over the place in the last few months. In an ultrasound a few weeks ago the doctor told us Samuel was very likely to not be born alive. Samuel’s growth seemed to be slowing down, and that’s not a good sign for an already-underweight baby with significant developmental issues.

I left that appointment terribly sad and hurting. I realized I had hope that Samuel would be born alive, that we’d get to hold him and look into his eyes and feel him move and tell him we love him. Hearing that news crushed the faint hope I had, and I hurt at the thought of not holding our living son.

Then we had an appointment yesterday, and the new images told a better story. His physical problems are still there – but he is growing! He’s still small for his gestational age, but he added over 30 grams of weight per day over two weeks, which, in technical terms, means he’s crushing it! If his growth had stopped already we’d likely choose to induce soon, but now we’re almost certainly not going to do so before Christmas, and if he keeps growing we’re happy for him to stay inside for as long as he wants. Yesterday’s visit in many ways saved Christmas for us and our family.

It’s all a huge lift to my spirits. And yet… only to a point. Samuel is still at risk for stillbirth, and yesterday’s news didn’t change his long-term prognosis. He still has Trisomy 18 and a raft of complicating issues. He now has a better chance of surviving birth, but if he does there is almost certainly a hard road ahead of him. He could pass away within hours or days of being born, and that’s not necessarily an easier way for us to say goodbye to him. If he’s stable, then we have difficult choices to make regarding major surgeries he may need. In many ways, a stillbirth would be easier, or at least more straightforward, as terrible as that is to say.

But a stillbirth is not what I want! I want my son!! I want him alive and part of our family. I want a picture with both of our sons alive and sitting with us. I want to speak to him and know he hears me. I don’t want him to suffer (and he won’t, the doctors tell us), and I don’t want us to need to make hard decisions. But I so want to meet our son alive.

In allowing myself to actually hope for a certain outcome, I think I’m opening myself up for a greater sense of disappointment and loss if it doesn’t happen. I guess I just don’t care – I’m willing to risk it. This is already so hard, so painful to walk through, that I’m willing to risk a little bit more if it means I can have a spark of hope in my heart that something beautiful might happen against all the odds.

My mind is aware of the risk, and I feel the pull to lower my expectations. I could simply say: “I hope Joanna comes out of labor ok, and whatever happens with Samuel is what happens.” I want good health for Joanna, absolutely, but surely there’s more I can hope for than that!

It’s not safe to hope for things that are so uncertain. I don’t want to be unrealistic, but I have to say: I hope to meet Samuel alive. I’m not pinning my future happiness on him having a long life, but I do hope to meet him alive for at least a short time. I realize that’s risky, and we could have difficult days ahead with him if I get my wish. But I hope just the same.