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Starting Point

No guarantees, but there are reasons for hope


Sometimes one phone call changes everything. One moment, I’m sitting at my desk feeling glum on a July Utah afternoon. The dog is napping there on the futon, and it’s too hot to make her move. Then the phone rings, and a chap named Brent or Brandt, I’m never sure, tells me there is something off with my recent blood work done at the hospital, and my baby, our first, has a higher than expected chance of being born with Down syndrome, and if we want to know for sure, we can have an amniocentesis done. Bye bye.

Afterwards, nothing matters much. Not the heat, or the bad dog, or my stalled journal writing. All that matters is the scrap paper where I’ve scribbled numbers like one out of 180, the apparent risk that the baby has Down’s, and the percentage right after it, 99.5, which is what Brent said were the odds that everything was fine. This should be a comfort. It’s not.

I call my husband, who is working overtime, and he says he’ll be home soon. He’s better with crises than I am.

This is when the numbers games begin. What does 1/180 mean, anyway? If you had a 1/180 chance of getting hit by a car when you walked out of the house tomorrow morning, would you call in sick? If you had a 1/180 shot of hitting the big jackpot in Las Vegas, would you spend your last dollars there? My husband arrives and calms me as best he can. He puts two decks of cards together and asks me to pull the four of hearts. I don’t, of course. “See?” he says. “The odds were greater that you would pull that card than that our baby has Down’s.” This helps some.

There is still a lingering fear, though, a gray mist that has moved onto the horizon, one that shows no signs of going away.

I realize that I don’t know a whole lot about courage and waiting. I like quick answers that immediately put my mind at ease. Amniocentesis would do this. Except for the 1/220 chance that I’d then miscarry the baby, healthy or not. The thought that I had intentionally undergone a procedure that took my baby’s life just to put my paranoid heart at ease -- that would be unbearable.

A month or so later, I go to the hospital for a level two ultrasound. Though not conclusive, these tests are safe and often show if a baby has Down’s tendencies. The good doctor bustles in, rubs gel on my belly, doesn’t seem to notice that I am on the verge of tears, and after a long silence says that the baby’s heart looks fine, that there are no obvious symptoms of Down’s. He buzzes out again. I forgot to ask if the doctor has seen the baby’s gender. I wander back through the hospital halls, looking for the doctor, to see if he noticed. I find the young technician instead. “I saw,” she said.

We are going to have a daughter. Of course, the tech could be wrong. We’ll know for sure once she’s born.

Finally, that day is drawing near: Right around New Year’s, they say. All summer I longed for Halloween, for Thanksgiving, for stores to put up their Christmas displays, for the holiday movies to air again on TV. Those would be evidence that time was passing, that the baby’s arrival was upon us.

Today, I still wait. Though the signs look good, we still don’t know for certain about our baby’s health. My husband reminds me that it’s just the first of many worries that will be part of our parenting journey. I hate that our world is one where babies die of rare diseases, and toddlers are abducted, and high school students drink themselves to death. I’ve already learned how quickly it all can change, that there are no guarantees. But in this season of new beginnings, I’m remembering all the reasons there are for hope.

The dog sleeps on the futon again, dreaming of rabbits and long runs through desert sage. The baby rumbles and tumbles in my belly. The furnace roars to life, and icicles melt off the roof. Snow is in the forecast. The fear that plagued me for a good part of the summer disappeared somewhere along the way. Now, there is nothing to do but wait for this child, our long-desired one. Jesus will be with her, with all of us who love her, and will come to us in a new way with her birth. We yearn for this arrival. May it come soon.

Robin Taylor writes from Salt Lake City, where she can be reached at Tumblestick@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, January 5, 2001