Sorry I haven’t really written anything new in 7 months, but there was a good reason. This is the post that needed to be written before I could write anything else.
The plan was always to have a second child. Of course, by “plan,” I mean utopian future in which I get everything I want, and by “always,” I mean Jenn and I talked about it once over dinner on our third date when we were still lying to each other. Jenn and I both had siblings growing up and we wanted Mabel to have that experience too. Besides, with the two of them having each other to occupy their time, that meant more time for me to concentrate on my Netflix queue. So when we got pregnant again, it was hardly an accident. Of course, seeing as how we conceived while still on the pill, it’s difficult to argue that we weren’t actively trying to not have another child. So maybe this new child is an accident by circumstance, but certainly not a mistake, a distinction that will likely be important in his or her future therapy sessions.
Our family is fortunate enough to afford to have Jenn work while I stay home and raise Mabel, who turned two a few months ago. And being a stay-at-home dad has been the greatest experience of my life. Except of course for the first year, which was absolutely terrifying. Simple things like balloons and remote controls become devices of death when babies are involved. But once Mabel was walking and consolidated her nap schedule so that we could actually do things during the day, life got much better. Every day was a party. We’d go to the zoo or the playground or the Natural History Museum in the morning, we’d come home to take a nap (yes, I said we), and we’d go to the pool or the lake in the afternoon. Mabel and I had gotten into a groove. The introduction of another human life into this equation – one whom I’d be directly responsible for protecting from deadly balloons and such – could possibly tear that world down. Besides, I had gotten used to kissing Mabel on her forehead every night and telling her that she was my favorite person in the world and I didn’t want to have to qualify that with anything. “Goodnight, little Bunnyhead. You’re my favorite person in the world… Well, you’re tied now. No, there is no one and one-A, you’re both number one… And mommy? She’s third.”
When we found out about Mabel and hit that 14th week, in the case of one holiday party, we literally shouted the news from the rooftop. We couldn’t wait for the world to know. This new baby is unfortunately not coming into the world with the same fanfare, producing yet another layer of parental guilt. We know it isn’t fair, but from what I’ve heard, the second child needs to get used to never getting the same attention the first child gets. I just didn’t think that life would start in the womb.
The time came for our 18-week ultrasound, the one where we find out the sex of our little fetal ball of guilt. Mabel and I went to this event because I wanted us all to have the experience of everyone finding out at the same time. Mabel was justifiably confused and obsessed with the flashlight that was able to penetrate into mommy’s tummy to see the little baby. After five minutes of that, she turned her obsession toward an open box of rubber gloves and the trash can, a game which was admittedly wasteful, but preoccupied her in a non-destructive manner, which I considered a win. The technician measured the head and the femur and a bunch of other stuff I’m sure is important before finally revealing the one piece of info that we were there for. Mabel was going to have a baby brother. There was a mixed reaction in the room, but I was happy for the news. And not necessarily for the reasons most typical sitcom dads are happy they’re having a boy, but because now Mabel would be daddy’s little girl, and no one could take that away from her.
We had discussed names of boys but had never really settled on anything like we did with Mabel. Her name came to us in a dream, both of us sitting straight up in the middle of the night, looking at one another, and simultaneously saying “Mabel!” Nothing like that was happening with this child. And after weeks of discussion, lobbying, and a little indifference, we finally found something to agree on. Corbin. Corbin Fisher. We both liked it. It was original, fun, and neither of us had an ex named Corbin. So it was decided.
We weren’t telling people at the time about the name. Which means that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about the name, but Jenn was telling random people whenever she wanted to. One afternoon, she told her friend at work, a gay security guard (an important detail which you’ll discover soon enough). His response was Oh, like Corbin Fisher. But Jenn didn’t take my last name and this guy had no way of knowing what Corbin’s last name would be. You might want to Google that.
So we did. And as it turns out, Corbin Fisher is not the name of a gay porn star. It’s the name of a gay porn franchise. A film studio. A website that won the “Best Adult Gay Megasite” at the 2006 Cybersocket Awards. This probably wasn’t going away anytime soon. Let it be known that I have nothing against gay people and very little against pornography, but this may be out of our hands. Still, a part of us really wanted to hold onto the name. And that way, when we introduced our son to people and they recognized the name, we could glare at them in judgment, which is what parenting is all about. But this kid is eventually going to go to high school, and this was unnecessary baggage to saddle him with. So we had to say goodbye to Corbin Fisher. And we turned the parental controls back on our internet browser and went back to the drawing board.
After the ultrasound, we all adjourned to the doctor’s office to talk about weight gain and some other less important stuff. It’s a boy! the doctor said. We know, I retorted. The doctor asked if Mabel yet knew that she was going to be a big sister. We think she knows, but we don’t really know how much she’s taking in. She keeps saying she’s going to be a big sister, so there’s that. Sure, but she probably doesn’t understand the full implications of what that means. Well of course not. Neither do we.
The doctor then told us that there was a white spot on our son’s left heart chamber, that is likely indicative of calcium deposits, which happens to be a soft marker for Down syndrome. The term soft marker means that in and of itself, the spot is not an indication of Down syndrome, but together with other markers, like the bridge of the nose and the length of the femur, it is a strong indication that the child will be born with Down syndrome. Our doctor flippantly said this happens all the time and I see maybe six or seven people a week in this office with this, and it almost always turns out to be nothing. She was smiling. Out of how many? I wanted to ask. Was it 50? If so, that’s a good percentage. Or was it closer to 1,000? That’s not so good.
She wasn’t telling us this to intentionally send us spiraling into a panic. She had to tell us this as a matter of procedure to cover her ass. And I get that, but it doesn’t stop the spiraling. She did say that the spot often goes away and asked us if we’d like to schedule another ultrasound. Sure. How’s tomorrow? And every day after that until it goes away? We scheduled the next ultrasound for our 22-week appointment and had the task of trying not to obsess over it for the next month.
Jenn and I wanted to handle the next month in two separate ways: she wanted to do research and talk about it; I wanted to ignore it. These techniques were at odds with each other and neither of us was happy with the compromise. Through her research, Jenn discovered that 16% of babies have this spot show up at some point during their fetal stage. Less than 1% of these babies – absent of any of the other soft markers – are born with Down syndrome. I still didn’t much like the percentages. I just wanted to exist until the next appointment.
Mabel and I did not go to the next appointment. In the case that we got bad news, we didn’t want Mabel to be there. And so Mabel and I waited at the playground for the call. 45 minutes after Jenn’s appointment time and I still hadn’t heard from her. An hour. An hour and 10 minutes. And hour and 15 minutes. An hour and 16 minutes. I was now checking my phone twice a minute in anticipation of the call. Finally, an hour and 47 minutes after the appointment, I got the call. Apparently, Jenn’s doctor wasn’t there. Another doctor took the appointment and told Jenn that the calcium deposits don’t normally go away and she didn’t know why the other doctor told us that. So there was no good news and there was no bad news. There was no news. And now, we’d need to wait another four months until the birth of our son to find out for sure. It would be to be tough to ignore for that long.
Not only is this child being born at a time when we were actively not trying to conceive, but he had his name taken from him by a homosexual pornography website, and he’s in a limbic stage of potential genetic defect. He did not have his sonograms published online for all to see and information of his existence was not shouted from a rooftop.
I know there are plenty of special needs children who grow up to live happy and privileged lives. I feel yet another layer of guilt at times just hoping that our son doesn’t have Down syndrome. But as parents, we just want our children to have the best chance in life that they possibly can.
For the next 18 weeks, Jenn and I decided to shoulder the burden of this information alone. After all, odds were very good that in three years, my perfectly healthy son and I would be leaving the playground to go pick up Mabel from school, get Jenn from the Metro after work, and we’d go have a nice dinner and maybe chase each other around the house before bedtime, life full of smiles and laughter. Of course, there’s still that less than 1% chance that he wouldn’t be perfectly healthy, and that our lives would all need to adjust accordingly. But raising a child wasn’t exactly easy the first time around anyway. We figured it out once, we can do it again.
…17 Weeks, 6 Days Later
Jenn and I casually strolled into the hospital at 9pm on the day after Christmas, confident our son would be born before Mabel woke up the next day. Less than an hour and a half after we parked the car, our son was thrust into this world, absent of a planned epidural and carrying the burden of four months of suppressed anxiety. Nurses and doctors unaware of my concerns told us how healthy and beautiful he was. No one explicitly said “and he doesn’t even have Down syndrome.” About 20 minutes later, I finally posed the question that I apparently needed a blunt answer to.
No, said the nurse, as if it was an absurd question asked by an absurd man. Mabel was going to have a perfectly healthy brother to play with and teach about the world.
I sat down and called my sister. We talked about weight and the labor process and she asked, innocently enough Is he healthy? She didn’t know. And that’s when I lost it. I tucked myself into a dark corner of the room and wept, finally relieved of not only the anxiety of not knowing, but also of the secret we had been keeping for the last four months. Morris Glen Fisher, named for both of his grandfathers, will have as good a chance as his parents can possibly provide for him. Of course, he is now named after an apartment complex in Arlington, but there are some battles he’s just going to have to fight on his own.