Seven years later, the beauty of that remarkable sunset remains. It was one of those evenings when the stars aligned perfectly. I was returning home from work on an elevated NYC subway, and I snuck a peek at my cell phone calendar.
I had already started a countdown. March was almost over. For many, April signaled the beginning of spring. For me, it had a greater significance. At the end of that month, I would be finding out the gender of my firstborn baby. I couldn’t wait. I touched my belly, and went on enjoying the sunset. Life was good.
On January 1, 2008 a home pregnancy test revealed that I was expecting my first child. My husband Brian and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Everything was going amazingly well. I was feeling great with no morning sickness. The baby was developing nicely and had a strong heartbeat. When the first trimester ended, we were ready to embark on the next part of our journey: the anatomy scan.
An anatomy scan is typically given to a pregnant woman around twenty weeks. During this ultrasound, a sonogram technician will take a look at the baby’s organs, and is often able to tell whether it is a boy or girl. In my case, no sonogram was needed to tell me what I already strongly suspected. I had a feeling it was going to be a boy.
On the morning of April 29, 2008, I awoke barely able to contain my excitement. It felt like forever, but the day was finally here. Brian and I had decided to take long lunch breaks, and get our scan done midday. By the afternoon, I would know the sex of my baby. It was an amazing feeling.
Travelling from Brooklyn over the bridge to Manhattan, I began to think about names. While I was happy that I would be having a boy, I was secretly hoping for a girl.
The wait was long but I finally got in the room. In typical NYC fashion, Brian hadn’t even arrived yet. He was still searching for a parking spot. I was growing frustrated. I didn’t want him to miss this special moment. He arrived just in the nick of time. I took notice of his tie. It was his “lucky” tie and had shamrocks on it. I smiled. He was just as excited as I was.
“Your baby likes to hide,” the tech said.
I didn’t know what that meant, but I smiled nervously. She wanted to know if we wanted to find out the gender. We said yes.
“You are having a……. boy,” she said.
I was happy, but not surprised. I was too busy wondering what the sono tech was saying to the lady next to her. I figured that our tech was training a new person. Still, I wanted to know what they were whispering about.
“I just want to bring the doctor in to take a look at something,” our tech said as she ran out the door.
When the doctor walked in, it was pretty obvious she had a serious job to do. She squinted her eyes while studying the screen. What was she looking for?
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
I don’t know if I was ready to hear it. I don’t know if I ever would be. However, I knew she had a response. It was the response that would change our world forever.
“I am afraid so,” she sighed. “I think there may be a problem with the baby’s heart.” We were devastated.
At the doctor’s urging, we were to immediately see a pediatric cardiologist. I still remember the ten minute walk over there. It was a beautiful day with a mild breeze, and my world was falling apart. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. We should have been overjoyed. We should have been busy making phone calls to our excited family and friends. How the hell did this happen?
The cardiologist did a fetal echocardiogram. I prayed silently as he studied each part of the heart. I wanted him to prove our sono tech and doctor wrong. What did they know? Maybe the baby was in a strange position. This guy was the professional. I needed him to be our savior. I needed him to tell us everything was going to be okay.
“I did find a problem with the baby’s heart,” he said.
He went into a full explanation, but I could barely hear a word. Although I was comfortably situated on the exam table, I started getting lightheaded. I felt as if I was going to pass out.
Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. It was a heart defect that we had never heard of, and it was serious. In a nutshell, our baby boy’s left ventricle was severely underdeveloped. Our options were to either terminate the pregnancy, or a series of three open heart surgeries. We chose the surgeries.
The remainder of the pregnancy was hard. I was sad, angry and felt very guilty. I often wondered what I did to cause this. Was it because I had secretly hoped for a girl?
On September 8, after a twelve hour induced labor, we finally got to meet our little man. He was perfect, and we named him Liam Jude. They whisked him away to the NICU. I cried. I loved him so much. Was he going to make it?
The doctors were optimistic. Liam had his first surgery a few days later. He was recovering nicely, and was set to go home in a few days. I was scared out of my mind. I just wanted him to be okay. They promised me that he would be.
Nine days later, and after returning home for the evening, we got the call. Liam wasn’t doing well, and had a “blue episode”. I couldn’t believe what was happening. He died before we got to the hospital.
The loss of Liam left us completely devastated. We didn’t know how to go on, and really didn’t want to. A few months later, we found out we were expecting our “rainbow baby.” It was bittersweet.
At twenty weeks pregnant, I once again went into the room to get my anatomy scan. However, this time it was very different. I was still grieving the loss of my son. The innocence was gone. Since Liam’s heart defect was genetic, I had to now prepare myself for the worst. We learned that the baby's heart was perfectly healthy. We also learned we were having a girl. She was our “rainbow baby.”
It wasn’t until my third pregnancy that I started hearing about “Gender Reveal Parties.” They were becoming a big trend. I really didn’t know what to think about them. My first experience with a gender reveal was traumatic. I wondered what we would have done if we had planned one for Liam. How would we handle the tragic news? How can you celebrate heartache?
It took me awhile to realize the absurdity of my question. Yes, our baby was sick. Very sick. However, Liam wasn’t defined simply by a birth defect. He was much more. He was an amazing child and a true blessing. In fact, I celebrate him every day. Looking back, I wish I had that idea. It would have been a wonderful gender reveal party, and an exciting opportunity to show our love for our new addition despite the size of his heart.
I recently received my first invite to attend a gender reveal party. Although I was apprehensive at first, I have decided to go. In many ways, it will serve as therapy. Our family will be never be complete without Liam, but we have found joy again with our two additional children. Every day they are learning more and more about their big brother. I am very grateful for all of them.