Saturday 26th December 2009
Gestation: 13 weeks, 1 day
One year ago.
I look around this mall, this chain of fast food stores, at the humans milling about. This is a microcosm on the side of the road, a whole universe of ugly food and heart-stopping convenience, in this corridor out of northern Melbourne.
This is what we call Cragieburn.
The place is filled with all sorts. Mainly, they are like us, travellers fuelling up at the start of a summer holiday; in our case, to Suse’s parent’s place in north-eastern Victoria. The junk food is all embarrassingly alluring, but in the end, I fight the urge, lining up at Subway, as it has the most items resembling recognisable food substances.
As I stand there waiting, I look across at Suse. In front of her is a small woman. She has a broad neck, and a low hairline at the back, which is prematurely greying. I reach the front of the queue, where I order a roll, requesting everything I can see that looks fresh.
The guy then puts it in the microwave.
I take my sweaty bag of food, and walk over to Suse, who remains patiently in line.
“Hey,” I say.
I lean in to her.
“That woman has Turner syndrome,” I whisper, in that way you do when you’re trying to look clever, and have someone tell you that you are.
“How do you know?” Suse says, frowning.
“She’s got a webbed neck and a low hairline. She’s not very big. And she looks older than her age.”
Suse makes her order, while I stand there feeling smug. She collects her murdered potato and we walk over to the table.
Suse stares at her chips, taking them in, one by one.
“Can she have kids?” she asks eventually.
“Nope. Not usually.”
I look at my roll, at the dead lettuce and the leached tomato. The humanity.
We sit there and eat. I look around at the food mall, taking in this buzzing community. No one looks happy. Including Suse.
“How do they tell?” she finally asks.
“About the Turner syndrome.”
“Oh. It depends.”
“The severity of it. Sometimes you can tell during the pregnancy. If there’s something they see on one of the ultrasounds, with the kidneys, or another organ. But if it’s milder, it might not be diagnosed until birth, or even later in life.”
“And how do they diagnose it?”
“Usually with a blood test.”
“In the pregnancy? Where do they get the blood from?”
“There are some blood tests that can give an indication. And if there’s a worry, they can do an amniocentesis.”
“The big needle.”
“Yeah. The big needle.”
“And do they take a sample of the baby?”
“No. They sometimes take a little bit of tissue from near the placenta if it’s early. That’s called a CVS. Or later, they just take a sample of the amniotic fluid. That’s an amniocentesis.”
Suse returns to her sliced, fried food.
“They don’t have to do that test, do they?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not compulsory is it?”
“Nothing is compulsory in pregnancy, honey. Some women decide to have no antenatal care at all.”
I feel an uneasy philosophical difference rearing up.
Sitting right there between us.
* * * * *
Suse reverses back hard.
“I just don’t know why they have to offer it?”
“The antenatal blood tests. I mean, why are they necessary?”
I’m momentarily dumbfounded. I don’t even know where to start.
“For information. People like to be informed.”
“But does the blood test tell you anything?”
“But does it give you an answer?”
“Well, you’ve often got to go on and have further testing to get an answer.”
“Exactly. It doesn’t tell you everything. It gives you a set of odds. And then you have to decide whether you want to stick a needle in your belly? So we can decide if we want to murder our baby?”
Somewhere in this conversation, ‘they’ became ‘we’.
“It’s done so that people can prepare themselves for what is coming,” I say. “It’s not necessarily to end the pregnancy.”
We drive for a few minutes in silence. I feel the pressure building. I look around the board, realising that my moves are limited. Eventually, I take a pawn, shifting it forward.
“I would want to know,” I say.
“Why? So you can murder our unborn baby?”
Rook takes pawn.
A couple more minutes pass.
“I think we have a real, philosophical difference of opinion here Suse, and I think we need to talk about this.”
“I would want to know, so that I could prepare myself.” I pause, looking at Suse. She grips the wheel hard. “If we decided to have a kid with Down Syndrome, or another condition.”
“What do you mean – ‘if’?”
“Well, clearly it is a very personal decision. But I’ve seen a lot of families suffer with a kid with a genetic condition. The angst that it can cause. The ongoing medical treatments. And that I don’t know that I would want that for us.”
“You don’t know that you’d want it for you, you mean.”
Queen to F-3.
“I’m sure there are just as many families who’ve a child with a disability, and that has enriched their experience of life.”
“Sure, I’m not denying that…”
“…Because every life is precious, Mark. It is a gift, and not something that can be controlled. And just because you’re a doctor, you’ve been trained to want to proceduralise things…”
“…And to look for all of the proof and reassurance you can, when this is something that is actually a magical, inexplicably beautiful happening. And you can’t try to control that.”
King’s bishop to H-5.
“Well, I don’t see it that way.”
“Well, I do. And at the end of the day, I’m the mother.”
Queen takes bishop’s pawn. Check.
“And I’m the father.” Suse goes silent. “What are you saying?” I continue. “That as the mother you have more right to the decision than I do?”
“As the father do you think you have more right than me?”
“No. I think it’s equal. And if we disagree, then that’s a really tough bind to be in. Because in that situation, I don’t know who has the final say. I don’t know who gets the casting vote.”
Stop the clock. Time out.
* * * * *
We go silent.
We both retreat.
We’re both sore, both watching our opponent, both licking our wounds.
We choose to not talk about it anymore on this trip. There ain’t no fun to be had down this track; it’s rocky terrain the whole way. And we are both bruised and battered by this whole expedition. It’s been a long, hard road.
But it doesn’t change the fact that we disagree on this.
A pivotal belief.
And consequently, this is something we really need to talk about.
At some point.
* * * * *