Friday, September 4, 2009

The cruelty of statistics

The best greeting card ever.

For weeks I've had trouble breathing. I've been choking on a terrible secret stuck in the back of my throat, that lumpy place where fears metastasize into swollen tongue, into salty tears. There is no Robitussin for this kind of congestion.

Just after our beach vacation a routine pregnancy exam turned up an anomaly. Like any good anomaly, this anomalous test result might sometimes be just a quirk, or it might be the first sign of Something Terribly Not Right. The experts consulted with the high-risk experts who called me in for more tests. Those tests revealed - nothing. Anything. Something? These tests test proteins. Measurements. Presence and absence. They test things. Are things Okay? Or are things more definitively Terribly Not Right? After test One, after test Two, after test Three. I never got an Answer. Only statistical possibilities.

"Well, the ratio of this to that means probably, but the presence of that might indicate not, and this measurement was not quite where we like it to be. We just can't tell from these results."

For eight weeks I choked on the Not Knowing. I discussed this with not one single person besides my lovelier-than-ever husband. I held everyday conversations with friends who innocently wanted to partake in the delight of the timeless 'guess the gender of my fetus' game. We had
relatives visit us. Coworkers would comment that they'd seen my girls on the playground, or walking through the halls. They'd say something like, "those girls are wild! I don't know how you do it!" And I'd respond with a mischievous grin, "oh, this is nothing. Do you know I'm pregnant?"

And then I'd regret sharing what should be unequivocally joyous news. Because what if it isn't? What if something is, in fact, Terribly Wrong? What if I'd have to retract my public joy and somehow, some way, against my will become the newest face of public sorrow?

"These results are inconclusive."

I couldn't talk with anybody about what was choking me because I couldn't face the reality of what I'd be describing. No, that's not accurate. I faced it every minute of each day and every night when I closed my eyes. But I couldn't speak its name because I was afraid I'd irrecoverably disintegrate. When E was almost two and L was the girl we knew to be almost ready to come out of me I daydreamed constantly while looking at the still-only child in front of me: would the new girl be just like her sister? Would L-to-be at almost two be just like this, be E-the-almost-two-the-second just when E-the-present turned E-the-future-almost-four?

I felt robbed of that dream for this baby. I felt robbed of imagining this baby at L's age or at E's age because I knew this baby might never see L's age or E's age. I felt robbed of happiness. I couldn't dream of planning the baby's room or make aspiring lists of baby names. It hurt too much. This was the first baby I've grown in me that I've loved with all my heart since before conception. This was the baby I wanted. This was the child that would complete our family.

Unless it wouldn't because it wouldn't have the chance.

"We recommend further testing."

I cried a lot at night, after the two perfect and healthy and wonderful children we already have were sleeping soundly. I hoped and I despaired and I forced those statistics to do mathematical somersaults.

X% chance of Terribly Not Right = 100-X% chance of Okay After All

I hate statistics. They should be locked in Guantanamo for charges of criminal mental warfare. Because-- answer this impossible question: 100-X has to be how high of a number for you to be able to hang your hope on it? Your faith?

Without ever summoning the confidence to hang my hope or faith on 100-X, I grew this baby inside of me until it was sturdy enough and developed enough to withstand More Rigorous Testing. A few days ago I, no we, the baby and I, we took a test I never thought I'd ever have to take, one I barely knew about and had never considered relevant.

But it would, for better or for worse, for the first time provide A Definitive Answer.

I am never going to talk to you about what we were facing (and that means please DON'T ASK) but nobody should ever have to think the thoughts that were asphyxiating me. I waited as the baby got bigger, as it began to swing-dance around my insides.
More relatives visited. We attended pool parties and picnics and barbecues and birthday parties. I summer-socialized and I cared for the two big-sisters-(supposed)-to-be, applying sunscreen and bug spray and nail polish and kisses.

I waited.

And only because we finally just heard can I post this post, can I exult that everything is, finally, officially, Okay After All. But it needs to be posted: it needs to be explained why Summer 2009 will be remembered as the Summer of Distracted Messiness, why I've been extra-introverted and why I've been even more mama-bear-protective of those first two beauties of our three-kid family. It needs to be recorded as The Prelude to a Groundhog.

Everything Is Okay.

In just a few minutes I'm going to go light the Shabbat candles and bask in the glow of my girls. I'm going to listen as the older one sings the blessing with me so perfectly, smile as the younger one mimics my movements and covers her eyes so reverently. I'm going to welcome the Sabbath calm into our home and spend its quiet hours hugging those girls as much as they'll tolerate.

Besides realizing vividly just how very cherished each member of this family is, there is one shiny, sparkly, luminescent silver lining to two months of scary and invasive testing. We know the baby's gender now without having to wait impatiently until that milestone 20-week sonogram. I'll tell you tomorrow night not because I'm a tease but because the joy of that shouldn't be tainted by the fearfulness of this, and also because I'm ready to commence with the quiet and the hugging. So come back here tomorrow to see if we're desperately collecting blue receiving blankets or lugging the pink ones up from the basement but first, go kiss everyone you love. Pin It