Pregnancy #2 was different for so many reasons. My body went into autopilot, chasing my toddler around was my exercise, and fitting in my prenatal visits was an afterthought. I never thought much of it when my OB asked if I wanted the “routine” genetic tests, same as last time. Blood draw #1, nuchal translucency ultrasound, then blood draw #2. I never looked back…
Until the phone rang one random Wednesday afternoon while I was at work. A genetic counselor from Kaiser was calling to tell me that my genetic tests were positive, and that my baby had an increased risk of having Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome). I was so caught off guard as I listened to him explain the risks, describe my options for further testing, and say words like “termination” and “abortion.” My mind was racing. I have worked with special needs children my entire life, and now work at a children’s hospital where I see first-hand the physical and mental challenges these beautiful children go through. I knew in my heart that I would love this child no matter what. Everyone feels differently about genetic anomalies, and everyone makes different choices, but I already knew my choice would be to love this baby. But I was terrified. I never knew how deep my desire was to have a healthy child, until my baby’s health was threatened. There were two more weeks of further testing, more ultrasounds, and LOTS of waiting.
When choosing to write about this topic, it was not the experience of the genetic testing that I wanted to reflect on as much as the loneliness and fear I felt during those difficult weeks.
As I reflect back on this time and as I reflect on the AFC blog that was beautifully written for February, I ask myself the question: Why was I silent during this experience? If I had been vulnerable with my fellow AFC moms would this time have been a little less terrifying? Would I have realized that hundreds, if not thousands, of families go through these challenges, and that I was not alone?
It made me think about my favorite author Brene Brown, whose research about vulnerability has changed so many lives. She writes, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”
Growing up I was taught that being a strong woman was demonstrated by independence, not relying on others to meet your needs. I am now realizing that the courage to tell the truth and be vulnerable is where I will find my strength.
To end this story, it’s important to tell everyone that my baby boy was born healthy, and further testing ruled out an extra chromosome. However, not every story has a happy ending. What I am learning is that leaning in and being vulnerable is how I want to live my life. I wish I could have written this story, or spoken this truth, when I was in the midst of this frightening experience. Hopefully, next time I will. Because I know that I have so many mothers and families in our AFC community who would have been there for me—to listen, to cry, and to celebrate. As I think about the mother I want to be and the women I want to raise in this era, courage and truth must be at the forefront.
-Kelsey Merl is the amazing mama of a kindhearted 3 year old daughter, in addition to a 6 month old boy whose smile lights up the room! She has a passion for people, and radiates warmth and love to those in both her personal and professional life.