The opening of Chapter Three of A Smile for Anna, describing the day we found out about our child’s cleft:
T . . . U . . . S . . . H . . . Y.
We watched the ultrasound technician type “TUSHY” on the screen.
“The ‘tushy shot’ is kind of my trademark,” she said. I don’t think I’d ever heard the word “tushy” outside of a sitcom, yet here it was on the screen next to a picture of Peanut’s butt. Not that I would have known. To my untrained eye everything looked similar and unfamiliar.
She printed a picture. “OK, I’m going to zoom in and take some measurements so I need you to look away for a minute.” We had explained to her that we didn’t want to know the sex of the baby.
A few moments passed as I stared at the floor.
“OK, let’s take a look at the baby’s legs now.”
We both looked up and saw two legs, bent just a little at the knee, stretching across the screen.
“Are those as long as they look?” Julia asked. It was hard to tell given the magnification of the image.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got a future basketball star there.” Click: a second picture, then she moved the Doppler about a half an inch over, and two feet appeared on the screen: click.
“Or maybe a cyclist. Look at those feet pedal.”
I broke into song. “The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round.”
Julia laughed. “I think Peanut will really love that song.”
The technician continued along Peanut’s body. Next we saw the legs again from the other side, then the spine, and then the arms. She paused to take more pictures and measurements. Then she travelled to the head, and I saw my child’s face for the first time.
Julia smiled and squeezed my hand. The technician took several pictures of Peanut’s face. At the time I thought nothing of it, except “I’ll take as many of those as you’ve got.” I didn’t think anything of what happened next either.
“Come on little one,” the technician pleaded, “open your mouth. Come on . . . open up.” And there it was: a wide-open mouth and another picture. “We almost never get that shot.”
“Now let’s get a video.” She popped in a tape and took us on another tour of Peanut sliding the transducer over Julia’s belly again. The long legs, the feet, the toes, the face, the head, and even the “tushy shot.” She pressed ‘eject’ and handed the tape to me. “I’ll send the pictures over to Dr. March along with the measurements. She will give them to you at your next visit with her.”
“So what did you see?” Julia asked.
“A beautiful baby. I’m not allowed to say anything besides that. Dr March will go over everything at your next appointment.”
“Well, we’re headed over there right now,” I said. The imaging center was across the parking lot from her office.
The appointment started out the same as always. The nurse weighed Julia, checked her blood pressure, and asked her a few routine questions about the pregnancy. Then we waited in the exam room.
One thing I noticed about Dr. March was that she always smiled when she entered an exam room. Today was different. She held an ultrasound picture in her right hand and she placed her left hand on Julia’s shoulder as soon as she came in.
“Julia, David, I need to show you something.”
As I stood up, my heart hammered through my chest.
She pointed to the picture. “Do you see this shadow here on the lip? We’re not positive, but we think it’s a cleft.”
I had heard of cleft lips but had only seen one once, as a child during the year my family and I lived in England. My mom called it a “harelip” which was the common term among her generation, but I thought she said “hair lip.” I imagined a baby born with a hair looped tightly around his lip that left a scar after the doctor removed it.
As I grew older, I found out what a cleft really was—a gap requiring surgical repair—but that was my one and only personal experience, until this moment.
My baby has a cleft.
The voice in my head screamed:
“My baby has a cleft!”
That was the day that everything changed.