Pregnancy diary: week 20 – scanning for anomalies but not blue-/pink-ness

Believe it or not (I can’t quite believe it really) this week is half-way through this pregnancy already! Where is time flying to?! I suppose the first half is in practice shorter than 20 weeks, because (if baby is conceived naturally) you’re already some weeks pregnant when you’re first aware that you’re pregnant: a test shows up positive or you start feeling sick or noticing other signs. For me this was around 4 or 5 weeks, so I’ve only had about 15 weeks of knowingly being pregnant. Somehow over the next 20 weeks or so I don’t think will fail to know I’m pregnant!

Of course it’s only roughly half-way, because babies don’t generally decide to come into the world on their so called ‘due date’. To be fair, the ‘due date’ is technically an EDD – estimated due date – so a certain amount of discrepancy from this is completely normal. A baby is called ‘full term’ if it is born somewhere between 37 and 42 weeks. Born before 37 weeks a baby is called ‘premature’, and the medical world like mums to be induced, or their labour started artificially, if baby is still showing no signs of coming out by the end of 42 weeks. Theoretically it’s a mum’s choice to be induced or not, but from what I’ve heard, most do choose to be induced because of the potential risks that increase as baby stays longer in the womb. So who knows, I might have already passed the half-way point a week ago, or I might have another week to go. Andrew was born only four days after his EDD; it would be nice if this baby also arrives within a week of the EDD either way, but I know it’s not something I can plan.

Not sure this is much different from last week. I don't feel very big yet, even for half-way through, but I remember from last time that all of a sudden around 30 weeks I suddenly grew and then felt *really* pregnant.

Anyway, apart from doing a little happy dance to celebrate getting to 20 weeks, the highlight of this week has been the ultrasound scan we had on Tuesday. All pregnant mums in this country are offered a routine scan sometime around 20 weeks. You don’t have to have it, but I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t taken the opportunity to see the growing baby inside her. The main point of the scan is to check for structural anomalies in the baby. And we were pleased to know that there were no anomalies visible to the sonographer. She had a very detailed look at everything! It’s quite amazing what you can see these days with ultrasound, such detail.

She started with the head, checking the brain and the facial features including lips and jaw for cleft lip. I said to her jokingly that it was a shame they couldn’t spot tongue-tie before birth with the ultrasound 😉 Then she moved onto the limbs, checking all the bones, and counting fingers and toes. With Andrew there had been a short flash through my head that something wasn’t right when she said ‘four fingers…’ hang on, I thought…. just as she followed it with ‘…and a thumb’ Phew! This time I was prepared for the four fingers comment. All present and correct. After that she moved on to the back, checking the vertebrae in the spine, and the skin on the back. The detail in seeing each vertebra was incredible, especially when baby moved and they all waved in harmony along its length. She scanned in two different perspectives, one at a time: first from the side, so we could see the length of the spine as one picture, then from the bottom to the top, going through each vertebra one by one from baby’s bottom to neck, as a cross-section through the body.

Then came a search through the body for the vital organs, including the stomach (which was black, indicating that baby was ingesting some of the amniotic fluid, as he/she should), the kidneys (which were pretty tricky to spot with the untrained eye, until the sonographer pointed them out), and the bladder (at which point we had to look away in case we glimpsed any signs of whether baby is a girl or a boy – more on this later in the post). Apparently the heart is one of the trickiest things to see, especially if baby is lying face down rather than on their back in the womb. Of course our baby was lying face down, which meant she kept getting shadows from the chest as she tried to get at the heart. After tipping the examination table up so I was almost doing a headstand (well, not quite, but that’s what it felt like – I never knew a scan could turn into a theme park ride!), and getting me to bounce my bum up and down on the table, both in the hope of flipping baby over, she decided to send me out for a walk around, and suggested I drink something and eat something sugary as that sometimes gives baby a boost and makes them move! Good excuse for some chocolate if ever I heard it. I should add that ours really didn’t need any encouragement in the wriggling department – he/she wouldn’t stay still for much of the scan – but the idea was that it might encourage a complete flip onto the back.

Baby Cumming at 20 weeks. If you need a little help in figuring out what things are, here's a description. On the right is the head, with an arm held across the head so the hand with 4 fingers visible is in the top right of the picture, next to the nose, mouth and chin that lie to the left of the hand. The other shape (circle-ish) on the right is a cross section through the abdomen (apparently baby was at a funny angle here, so needs a bit of interpreting!) The white line around the edge is the skin, and the black blob to the bottom-left of centre is the stomach - the fact that it is black is a good thing because it shows baby is taking in some fluid and its stomach is working properly.

It was pretty successful, as baby managed to turn onto his/her side, so we got a better view of the heart. Again the detail was unbelievable: you could see each individual chamber and the valves opening and closing with each heartbeat. This has to be one of the most awesome (as in puts me in awe of God’s creation, not dude language) things I have ever seen. Then the sonographer switched on some kind of colour coding, which I presume, if I remember from Biology A-level, was a depiction of the oxygenated (shown as red) and de-oxygenated (shown as blue) blood, to check where each was flowing. It was all good. Finally, she did a few more measurements, another overall check, and took a picture. It was reassuring to know that everything was alright, and that baby was very active (although I can feel this myself, it’s nice to back it up with visual as well as sensory information).

The position of the placenta was also part of the check. If it is significantly low in the womb, near to or covering where baby needs to get out, this would cause complications during birth, and it might be recommended that you have a c-section. But even if the placenta is low-lying at 20 weeks, often it moves up in the womb as pregnancy progresses, so you would be given another scan around 32 weeks to check this. In our case it looked great, and was nowhere near the opening of the womb. She showed us the currently tiny tube that will be baby’s exit, and it’s hard to believe that it dilates enough to fit a baby’s head through!

The other thing that is possible to find out from this scan is the sex of the baby. This is an interesting point to discuss with other parents and parents-to-be. Some cannot wait to find out the sex, for various reasons, and don’t hesitate to be told at the scan. Others know they definitely don’t want to find out the sex, and like to be very clear with the sonographer when he/she asks if they’d like to know. Others are somewhere in between – perhaps they are very curious, but ultimately would like to have the surprise at the birth. I am definitely in the second category I described: I do not want to know what sex the baby is before the birth, and I was the same with Andrew.

My reasons? To me it makes no difference what sex baby is, as long as it is healthy I really don’t mind whether we get fountains or lakes on the changing mat! I’m most certainly not into the whole pink for girls and blue for boys thing, especially not for newborns – I’d rather see them in simple neutral white/cream/multicoloured etc. clothes. In practice it’s actually very difficult to buy clothes beyond the baby stage that are not pink and flowery or blue with vehicles on. If this baby is a girl, she would be dressed in Andrew’s baby clothes that are mainly neutral, and when older, we have kind offers of hand-me-downs from friends with girls, and she would wear these as well as some of the less overtly boyish clothes (e.g. jeans) that Andrew wore. Of course if it’s a boy, we won’t have any issues in the clothes department as we’re kitted out already. One of the best bits of giving birth to Andrew was that surprise of finding out that he was a boy for ourselves when he was placed straight onto my tummy. To be honest at the time I was just happy to hear that amazing cry and know that he was breathing for himself, but after the feeling of relief that the birth was over and went well, I loved the discovery that he was a boy (I don’t mean I loved the fact that he was a boy – a girl would have given me the same feeling – rather I loved that feeling of discovery at that moment in time). I would not want to give that up this time either.

What about Tom? Does he not get any say in this? Handily, and like many other things in life for him, he is describes his take on this matter as ‘indifference’. On the one hand he’d quite like to find out before birth, out of curiosity, but on the other hand he’d quite like the surprise. With one indifferent vote and one adamantly against vote, I win! But everyone is different, and I completely understand why others do want to find out – it’s a personal choice. In talking to other parents I have generally felt in the minority for not wanting to find out baby’s sex before birth.

So that concludes this first half of our pregnancy journey. I hope you’re enjoying the ride with us, and that you’ll come back for more in the second half. There’s no interval or half-time team talk I’m afraid – we start straight back again next week 😉 If you fancy getting an ice-cream though, make mine an ice lolly, thanks (can’t stand sweet and creamy things at the moment, but something cool and fruity would work).