Elated and relieved is how I felt as my surrogate, Rose, and I walked out of our 20-week ultrasound. The tech at the imaging center isn’t allowed to share any definitive feedback of course, but she gave us a wink and congratulated us on the baby. It was all coming together. I wanted to pinch myself I was so thrilled. The next morning, we saw our midwife and once again heard the baby’s strong heartbeat. We didn’t have the official ultrasound results yet, but I was completely reassured. I had been holding off telling coworkers my news, but the 20-week scan is a significant pregnancy milestone, so what was I waiting for? I had beat breast cancer and now we were growing our family with the help of a surrogate. I was my own Lifetime movie.
Six days later, I got a text from Rose: “I need to tell you something.” I figured she was excited to share details about the baby’s latest in-utero acrobatics or maybe a funny story from her office Christmas party. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The midwife had just called her and said that they found some anomalies on the ultrasound. Something with the brain and skull.
“They don’t know anything yet, they just said something in the head is measuring larger than it should, and it needs to be further investigated. And there are some issues with the skull that might indicate a congenital issue.”
We wouldn’t know anything until the second ultrasound, which would be done at a hospital the following week. I couldn’t breathe. It was as if someone had punched me in the stomach and I was lying there, unable to defend myself. My husband arrived home a few minutes later to find me bawling.
“But how could this be? We did the genetic testing. We tested for stuff.”
I had no answers. I felt so powerless. I just wanted our surrogate, who lives several hours away, to run to the nearest hospital and demand another ultrasound that day. Pitch a fit until she got one. Or we could fly her to us and get an appointment at a hospital here. We needed answers.
The midwife encouraged us to calm down and wait for the next appointment, which was scheduled for two days after Christmas. Over a week away. How were we going to survive the holiday? We had planned to finally tell our extended family our news, and now our baby’s brain was under review. F&*$ the figgy pudding! That night I couldn’t sleep. I just kept looking at the sonogram of our seemingly perfect baby. The midwife reminded us that mistakes happen all the time on ultrasounds, wrong measurements are taken and radiologists interpret images incorrectly.
“I just want to say that we truly feel and appreciate all that you are going through, and our hearts are with you,” the midwife said.
While I appreciated her empathy, she had absolutely no idea of the level of terror that was flooding my over-caffeinated frame.
“Listen Molly, another woman is carrying our baby because I had breast cancer when my son was nine-and-a-half months old, and I can can’t carry another baby because of the treatments, and the fear I am feeling right now makes the day I got my breast cancer diagnosis seem like nothing.”
That’s what I wanted to say. But instead, I replied, “Thanks, Molly,” and hung up.
My tow-headed two-and-a-half year-old son took the phone out of my hand and replaced it with a book, “Read, Mama.” And for a few minutes, I cuddled with him, enjoying all the blessings I currently have, my toddler being at the very top of the list. But by the fifth time through “Elmo’s Potty Book” (the potty training struggle is real, folks) the wave of worry returned. I have an amazing family, and I knew that if the news we ultimately received wasn’t good, I would still have that, and we would get through this together. I hugged my son, who insisted we watch Paw Patrol and eat Cheerios. Honestly, it’s about all I could handle.
I was excited when my surrogate picked me up at the airport a few days later. We were finally going to get answers. That night we stayed up late drinking tea, laughing, and recounting all the details we had been provided. I was so glad to be there with her. Everything about this pregnancy had been great so far. We had to trust that. For the first time in a week, I was actually able to sleep.
When we checked in at the hospital the next morning, decaf lattes in hand, we were both ready. We jumped up when the technician called us into the room like a couple of game show contestants. Rose lay down on the exam table and we immediately grabbed each other’s hands. I started rambling to the tech, giving her some back-story, and showing her our wrists, which had the matching beaded bracelets I had gotten Rose and me to wear for good luck. The tech smiled.
“So far everything looks good. I’m not the doctor, so I can’t provide any actual results, but if I were the one writing the report, I don’t see anything abnormal.”
Rose and I squeezed our sweaty hands tighter together. But we had heard this before only to have our hearts broken, so we couldn’t trust anything until we spoke with the doctor. After the forty minute exam, the tech returned with the doctor, who was six months pregnant herself.
“Everything is normal. I don’t see anything abnormal or out of the norm. Everything looks great. Congratulations on the baby,” she reported.
I made her repeat it at least three more times. Rose and I hugged, both of us sobbing. Our baby was healthy. Santa had delivered.
My flight home that evening was delayed three hours and eventually cancelled, so I didn’t get home until well after 1am, but I couldn’t resist giving my son’s sweaty sleeping head a little peck when I got in. It had been a long 17 hours, and I was overdue for a quick hit of his sweet scent. Having a baby under any circumstances is not easy, but parenthood and easy have never been soulmates. Sitting in that hospital, reeking of sweat, holding my breath as the tech performed the ultrasound, there was nothing I loved more than that baby I was watching on the screen. The panic I had felt over the last week was proof that not being able to carry my child didn’t make me any less of a parent. My baby may not be growing inside of me, but we are bonded. I am the mama.
Sarah DiMuro is an actor and writer in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram @sdimuro2018 and check out her vlog for "Rethink Breast Cancer."