I laid on the exam table and prayed it would be over soon. The room was muggy and I felt like I couldn’t breathe- an obvious byproduct of my ever-growing belly, but also, my nerves. The mounting anticipation of our ultrasound was laced with worry. And now- in this very moment- it was creeping closer to panic. When the nurse called back with the AFP results and said that they were “slightly elevated,” I had naturally/obviously/understandably decided right then and there that something was devastatingly wrong with our son. (“Slightly elevated,” she had explained, had taken our risk from .5% to a whopping 1%). I rested in that in the impossibly long few weeks between our conversation and the ultrasound. But just then, sitting in that tiny room with all of the buttons and controls and a blank monitor gaping back at me, I felt like my heart was coming up into my throat (or wait, maybe it was breakfast).
An eternity later, the tech breezed in with a short but friendly introduction and pressed the probe down on my belly, giving me a painful reminder of my full bladder. And there was my sweet boy: a pound-ish ball of flesh and bone, hiccuping, squirming around, and otherwise looking pretty content. Jake gave my hand a reassuring squeeze, and I focused on the perfection of Milo's little silhouette. Despite the fact that I’d done this once before, I still found myself completely and utterly in awe that a tiny, beautiful body had been fused together inside of mine: the four chambers of his heart working in perfect rhythm, the sections of his brain that had divided where they were supposed to, the curvature of his spine- even the way he balled up his little fists and kept them close to his face. The tech reassured us that all of his major organs and systems were working perfectly, and I felt myself exhale three weeks of "what-ifs."
There was just one thing she wanted the doctor to look at though, and she’d be right back.
Um, what? Once again, time seemed to stop. The crinkly paper underneath me was loud and obnoxious. All I really wanted to do was pee. And also cry. Just then, the doctor walked in and sat down beside me at mission control. I watched his face like a hawk as he scanned over Milo’s entire body. I think we made small talk in those three or four minutes. I think he might have asked us what we did, where we lived. Whether or not unicorns really existed. I don’t honestly remember because I was too distracted by the fact that he kept zooming in to Milo’s left hand. It was then that I vaguely recalled the tech doing the same thing. He finally cocked his head ever so slightly to one side.
“Well,” he declared.
“He’s stone cold normal. Except that he only has three fingers and a thumb on his left hand. He’s missing his pinky.”
He said it as if he was giving me the weather forecast or describing the color of the walls. Granted, it wasn’t devastating news- far from it. At first, I think I actually laughed out loud, feeling absurdly relieved. I mean, if we had walked in to rule out Spina Bifida or some other truly life-altering condition, this was about the best “worst case scenario” we could have been given. I asked him if he was sure. Because maybe, just maybe, it was an odd angle or a weird shadow and by asking, I could pretend that I actually knew the difference between a leg and an arm on an ultrasound. But in his own words, he was 100% sure that Milo’s left pinky was gone. He explained it was most likely due to something called an amniotic band, in which tissue wraps around a developing fetus’s digits (in severe cases, it can wrap around arms and legs), creating a type of tourniquet by cutting off blood flow and ultimately resulting in a freaky kind of self-amputation. We were lucky that it was only a finger.
And that was that. It’s always awkward when you meet someone for the first time and they tell you that your kid is missing a finger. “Well, um, thanks! Happy….Thanksgiving.” I wanted to leave the room feeling normal and good and like I just had the most boring ultrasound ever. Because, truly, of all of the body parts to be missing when you’re born, surely the left pinky is somewhere in the top five, right? Maybe even the top three. But the what-ifs began to take center stage again as I walked out to my car. Certainly not like the ones I had wrestled with when I first arrived and yet, they always find a way to creep in. Mommas know this.
What if he gets picked on? Will he be embarrassed? Will he be able to play sports? How many instruments can he play with only nine fingers? Should he wear mittens or gloves? (Yes, even THAT was a topic of conversation later that day).
Oh and then, let’s not forget the mom guilt. I managed to make it out of the parking lot before the sobs came. I felt almost ungrateful as the tears stung my eyes and splattered onto my bulging belly. Of course, Milo was going to be a normal kid and live a good life (if we had anything to do with it). And just like his big sister, he would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was loved and cherished. But my conscience was heavy with a thought I wanted to destroy and never think again: He isn’t as perfect as I wanted him to be. Not if I’m being completely honest. I worried that my son would be coming into this world at a disadvantage- however small and insignificant it might seem on the surface. Yes, it’s just a finger, but it’s one less finger to kiss and hold when he’s born. I am going to give myself permission to mourn it.
I'm grateful, though, that I have a few months to adjust to this little curveball. I’m banking on the fact that I’ll be too googly-eyed over him once he gets here to really focus much on anything other than that intoxicating newborn smell. (I. Can't. Wait). And in the months and years to come, would I put money on wanting to be able to wave my magic wand and make him have all ten of his fingers? Absolutely. (Probably for very selfish reasons). I can almost imagine that one day, he'll reassure me, himself, that it’s just such a small thing. And as I reflect on this truly tiny part of the big picture, I’m reminded that maybe that’s exactly what God wants me to understand- that He is a God of small things, too- like missing pinkies and gloves with holes cut into them to match. That He holds the loud, angry outbursts just as much as the silent, questioning sobs. Perhaps this is a reminder that nothing is to ever be taken for granted- on any scale. The first time Milo drops a block into the shape sorter with his left hand, the first time he ties his shoes, the first song he learns on whatever instrument he chooses to play- they all become victories in a way they might never have been. Small things made spectacular. Or rather, spectacular things revealed to me in a brand new light- one that asks me to throw my pre-conceived ideas out the window.
Milo isn’t even here yet and already, he’s teaching me how to let go. I like this kid. <3