Family

What my wife and I did when doctors told us our third son would die at birth

I remember the day like it was yesterday. 

We already had two boys, our first was three years old and the second was just one.

When we found out we were having our third baby we were overjoyed.  It was definitely sooner than expected, but a totally welcomed gift. We could not wait to find out the sex of this one. When it came time for that ultrasound, the doctor joyously told us "It's another boy!"  We were so excited!

The next few weeks were so thrilling.

“Wow, we are having another boy.”

“Will I be a good dad?”

“Will their mom ever wish she had a girl?”

My wife's answer was always this "It’s nice being the only Queen among my men."

At 21 weeks pregnant, it came time for the big ultrasound. The one where the docs measure the arms, the legs, the nuchal fold behind the neck. Basically the docs painstakingly analyze every tiny part of your exciting bundle of joy growing fast inside mommy.  We even decided to have my mom come to this ultrasound. She never came to any for the other two. This one would be fun, and we can even get a 3-D photo. 

We had the last appointment on a Friday, at a top hospital in the area. We also had the director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine Program. Wow - how lucky were we? We got the big cheese! The best of the best!

My dad watched the older two boys, as my wife, my mom and I went to the appointment.  We talked about names and daydreamed of a life with three boys. Also we were excited that the due date would be in June - before it gets really really hot. Maybe we will take the baby to the beach for the summer? So much hope. So much excitement. So much anticipation. So much dream.

We walked in moments before the 4:30pm appointment. The three of us skipped into the ultrasound room. We literally could not wait to see the new baby boy again!

Karin got greased up and the technician was silent…looking at the screen. Saying nothing.

My mom nervously looked at me whispering "why is she quiet?"

Realizing this was not the norm, I became increasingly more nervous as the minutes passed. My wife was looking pale too. The silence was deafening.

Finally we spoke up and said, "so how does he look?" Coldly the tech replied, "something is not right. I need the doctor." 

The doctor came in after we heard LOUD whispering in the hall. The doctor looks around and says, "This baby has an abnormal heart. He does not have a fourth chamber. The aortic valve is not formed - the blood in the heart is not flowing in the right direction. Come into my office."

Say what?

In silence, my wife, my mom, and I all walked right next door to his office. The second we get seated the doctor bluntly and coldly said, "This baby will die at birth. He doesn't have a proper heart. You need to abort. My office can make the appointment for you for next week."

Us: "But you may be wrong, right?"

Doctor: "I'm always right. I've been doing this a long time and I know what I see and what I don't see. This is obvious."

He then left the room.

We were in utter shock.

As we got to the elevator, my wife broke down crying. My mom looked like she'd seen a ghost. And I just could not even speak.

We drove home in silence.

As we got home, after we had a sort of family therapy session, we called our OBGYN. He told us to stay calm. He also realized we were Baptists and believers and kept apologizing for the doctor's frankness and said many doctors are just clinical. He suggested we see another specialist and that we drive down to CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) - and he sent the report from this doctor ahead of us.

Unfortunately, that Monday was a holiday. So for five days we lived with knowing that our baby would die. The whole weekend we felt selfish we even wanted a third child. It was awful.

Tuesday came. My mom and dad watched the two boys. My wife and I made the two-hour trek to Philly. We did not even talk.

We walked into our appointment at CHOP. They were so human, so calming. As the doctor did the ultrasound, she was utterly silent. Wow - we knew this all too well. We didn't even bother asking her any questions. She examined the growing baby inside my wife. After literally 45 minutes, she spoke.

"This baby is totally healthy. Perfect. I am not seeing anything that the other doctor saw. His heart is healthy. He is healthy."

We sobbed uncontrollably. How could this be?

What if we chose to listen to the first doctor?

Sixteen weeks later Matthew was born. Chubbier and stronger than even the first two.  

To that extra-sure, oh-so-confident doctor:  we have no words.  

Happy seventh birthday, Matthew Dean. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Dean Sicoli is a former executive producer. More importantly, he is the father of 3
young boys. Follow him on twitter @DeanSicoli.