I’ve wanted to write this letter to my OB/GYN pretty much since Sam was born, but for some reason the time just never felt right. Today, it did. 🙂
Dear Dr. C,
I have meant to write this letter for almost three years now, and I somehow never find the time. But today, I’m making the time.
I doubt you even remember me. I was your patient from roughly 2007 to 2011. You cared for me during my first pregnancy and after I gave birth to my son, Theo. And then you cared for me when I was pregnant with my second son in 2011, up until we relocated to the Bay Area.
During both of my pregnancies, I refused prenatal testing, and you were fully supportive of my decision. Even when I was pregnant with my second son and was considered to be of “advanced maternal age” (37), you fully supported my decision to decline prenatal testing. I didn’t feel as if you had any agenda one way or the other—you simply offered me the option and respected my decision to decline. You knew that I was aware of the “risks” and was making an informed decision, and you respected that with a professionalism and caring that I have since found isn’t always the norm.
You can probably guess where this is going. My Sam was born on February 4, 2012, and we received a birth diagnosis of Down syndrome. And when we got the news of the doctor’s suspicion (which was later confirmed), when Sam was a mere few minutes old and I still lying on the operating table, my C-section not even fully complete, my first thought was not “If only I’d had prenatal testing and would’ve known!” Actually, my first thought was “Thank God he’s alive,” because he went into distress while I was in labor, and we had a few minutes where the doctor wasn’t sure our baby would make it out alive.
But even after the horrifying experience of the dangerous moments wore off, I still didn’t wish I’d had the testing and known ahead. And now, almost three years later, I am still glad about my decision. In fact, I’m more glad than ever. Because when I declined the testing, I told you it was because the outcome of the test wouldn’t make a difference to me, and I would not terminate the pregnancy regardless of the test results. And I want with my whole heart to believe that…but in reality, do we ever know what we would do in a situation until we’re faced with it? Would I have caved to well-meaning people consoling me about being young enough to try again, or well-meaning people trying to tell me that our lives would be better without a child with special needs in it? I honestly can’t say. I want to believe I would’ve been true to my conviction either way, but I can’t know that for certain.
What I do know for certain is that if I’d had the testing, I would’ve spent the remainder of my pregnancy absolutely terrified and probably devastated. I can’t imagine how I would’ve handled the stress of the unknown, given that before I had my son, I’d had very little contact with people with Down syndrome. And my husband had had even less contact than I, so he, too, would’ve been a wreck. Instead, we both enjoyed the relatively stress-free pregnancy, and when we got the diagnosis, we were staring at the most beautiful, perfect little boy. I had to look at him from across the room, but I could see the top of his bald head, and I could hear his cry, which quieted the moment my husband bent down and whispered to him.
And what I also know for certain is that our lives haven’t been ruined by having a child with special needs. On the contrary, they have been made far, far better. Sam is the great equalizer in our family who brings everyone together. He is loving and sweet and joyful and stubborn and funny and very much two years old, with all of the fierce independence that comes along with that age. Our older son is now six, and there is no one in the world he loves so fiercely as his little brother—and in return, Sam loves Theo more than anyone else.
And my husband and I have found that our perspective on life has gotten immeasurably better thanks to Sam. There is something very freeing in realizing that you have very little control over milestones and achievements and all of that stuff parents tend to worry about. Instead, we take each day as it comes, and we celebrate like crazy when Sam achieves goals on his own time. We no longer sweat the small stuff, and that makes us better able to focus on our kids and appreciate who they are.
So I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for not pushing me to have the prenatal tests. Thank you for letting me have a worry-free pregnancy, and thank you for respecting my right to choose the right path for me, regardless of “advanced maternal age.” You are the kind of doctor all women should have.
I will always appreciate the care I received from you.