When All Signs Aren’t Normal

Even though my husband and I were nervous first-time expecting parents, our concerns about our developing baby’s health were actually quite minimal. At my 34-week appointment, a uterus measurement was about 1cm too small, and was the same as our 32-week appointment.  My doctor’s nurse practitioner requested an extra sonogram, just to be cautious and get a closer look at how the baby was growing. So, the next week, Nick and I went to the follow-up sonogram appointment.

The tech looked at all the baby’s internal and external parts and found that he was 5 pounds 2 ounces, measuring just a little small in the 40-43% percentile. We didn’t have an appointment with our ob/gyn until the next Wednesday, but all signs pointed to a healthy baby. Relieved, we went to lunch and then on to our separate business meetings.

Nick and I started a digital marketing company called Alter Endeavors, where I serve as the director of brand management. Along with the baby news, it had been an exciting year of hopes and opportunities as our company has grown. We were doubly blessed about this latest confirmation that our baby boy was fine.

On the same day as the follow-up sonogram, however, came a surprise. I was in the middle of an intern interview when my ob/gyn’s office called. I wasn’t worried when I saw the caller ID, but when I heard the request on the other end, everything changed. I started going into panic mode as I processed the nurse practitioner’s words. Our baby’s head circumference was measuring a little small.  They wanted to send me to a perinatal specialist to get a more comprehensive sonogram for a better look at his head and brain and a more accurate measurement.

So competent and unconcerned in my business life just moments ago, I was now a very rattled expecting new mommy. I was barely able to write down the specialist’s name and phone number. The nurse told me to call that office the next morning to schedule the appointment.

I hung up the phone and froze, intensely aware that this could be one of those defining phone calls. I prayed silently for God to be with me, then tried to continue working while I processed the news. But that didn’t last long. I needed to call the perinatal specialist immediately.  The admin answering the phone asked for my age, how many weeks along I was, and how many babies I was carrying. When she heard that I was 30 years old, 35 weeks along, and that there was only one baby, she started calling me “sweetie” and was extra nice to me. I took that as a bad sign.  

She said they would have to call me back with an appointment time to squeeze me in.  My assistant director was overhearing my end of the conversation and knew something was wrong. I didn’t know what to say to her. I just told her that I didn’t want to Google what could be wrong and that no matter what, this is the child God picked for me.  

Our next intern candidate arrived for an interview, and I needed to decide whether or not I could go through with it. Nick was also in a meeting, so I texted him a short synopsis of what I knew.  I made a quick decision and handed my stack of resumes and interview questions to my colleague, knowing that I could trust her to handle it.

Like that—I headed out of the coffee shop and walked, wondering what to do next.  The doctor’s office called back to offer the next available appointment on Monday.  I mentally calculated, “Will my body be able to physically handle the stress of not eating or sleeping from Thursday to Monday?”  I explained to the admin on the phone, “I live south and am north today because of my earlier appointment. Do you have anything today?”  She asked where I was, and I heard her relaying the information and waiting for a response.  “Can you come right now?” I told her I was on the way. I called Nick, we met up and headed to the car.

Nick kept telling me everything would be okay.  But I had to exert all my will to keep myself together. We had only an eight-minute drive, but it seemed like an eternity.  I couldn’t remember any Scripture, so I just tried to be thankful. I was thankful that my assistant director was able to take over for me with the interviews.  I was thankful that Nick was having a meeting close by and could drive me to the doctor. I was thankful most of all that the doctor’s office could fit me in that same day. Nick and I affirmed to each other our trust in God and his sovereign plan.

Finally, we arrived at the doctor’s office, checked in, filled out paperwork, and began The Wait.  Deuteronomy 31:8 came to mind, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  I usually pray this verse before medical appointments, as I picture God going in front of me into the office.

I apologized to Nick for taking him away from his work for a second time that day and told him I could wait on my own if he needs to go outside to take some calls. He did so, and got the great news that Alter Endeavors just landed a new contract.  We joked to each other that now we would be able to pay for this doctor appointment. I thought of Philippines 4:19, “And my God will meet all needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” In fact, our business had been doing well, and we had already seen how God has been meeting our needs.  

Are we going to need a lot of money to care for this child? Who knows what medical needs he might have? I started mentally calculating how to care for a special needs child. I might need to stay home full time to care for him, which was in fact a contingency we already had considered.  This might be our only child, I thought, if we need to fully dedicate ourselves to helping him.

We continued to wait for about an hour and 15 minutes.  During that time Nick and I were mostly silent, each of us trying to distract ourselves with checking emails, looking at social media, and trying to hide from the other the fact that we were looking up things like “small fetal head circumference”.  

Finally, we were called to the back and greeted by the doctor.  We set up in the exam room, and as he began scanning our baby, he started reassuring us.  He scrutinized the baby’s head, all parts of his brain. He explained what he was looking for, but it was way beyond my comprehension. He studied the heart, all its chambers and the blood flowing through it, making sure there were no holes.  

Slowly, we began to realize that our son was going to be okay. The doctor explained that according to my ob-gyn’s charts the head circumference measurement was 9 percent. And because it was below the 10 percent mark, they automatically referred me to a perinatal specialist. According to this specialist’s chart, the baby’s head circumference was 11 percent. So while small, he was developmentally only 4-6 days behind and still within a standard deviation of normal.  Everything looked fine and healthy! We were so relieved.

A tremendous weight was lifted, but I appreciate now more than ever having to reckon with whatever God’s sovereign plan might be. It was a turning point in faith for me to trust God with my child, regardless of the circumstances. New moms understand the risks that child-bearing involves, and we must come around those who don’t get the good news, surrounding them with practical support and prayers.

We ended the visit by having a friendly conversation with the doctor about family. During the prior waiting time, my father and brother had texted me their hat sizes to reassure me, because they both have small heads. The doctor said that asking for family hat sizes used to be a part of their protocol, but no one knows their hat size any more. It is completely normal and logical that small heads could run in the family.

Only the night before I had been worried about things like needing a bottle sterilizer. After that long, stressful day, I no longer cared about such things. I gave no opinion on where we should have dinner that night. What mattered most then and now is that our baby was going to be okay.

As we walked out to the car, Nick said he was going to find a way to ask the doctor about his faith. “How did you know he was a Christian?” I asked.  “You didn’t see it? How could you miss it?” Nick replied. “The entire time we were sitting in the waiting room there was a giant portrait of the lion and a lamb hanging over us.” That’s just like God to give a sign of encouragement. We need reminders that he is always with us no matter what the outcome.

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Jamie Alter is Graham Blanchard’s New Mama-in-Residence who shares her insights and lessons learned on the roller-coaster new parenting  journey. She is the Director of Brand Development at Alter Endeavors, a digital marketing company she founded with her husband Nick.