They came back with nothing.
Next, they sent out for photographs of her chromosomes so they’d have some idea of what they were dealing with. Thirty-one years ago, you didn’t get your DNA snaps overnight. Thirty-one years ago, you had to send overseas to get them.
It took six weeks.
When they came back they were gray, fuzzy monstrosities that looked like x-rays of ribs taken by the junior radiographer on a bad day. They didn’t give the information you get today. What they did tell us was that The Girl had a number one ring chromosome – a mutation in one of the DNA strands where the top and the bottom of the chromosome had been knocked off, and because they were ‘sticky’ they closed together to form a loop.
A condition reported in only six other cases. None of which were in New Zealand.
That alone told me that no budding medical student in his right mind would be basing his thesis on The Girl’s condition anytime soon because everyone knows it’s prudent to base your thesis on something relatively common and well documented. That way there’s plenty of information at hand, and tons of willing parents to interview.
After one week in the hospital, I had to go home without her.
Snow fell. The world suddenly became a bleak and foreign place. Halfway home, The Husband broke the tense what-the-hell-do-we-do-now silence, saying, “We could just leave her there.”
Without even looking at him, I said: “We’re not doing that.”
And we drove on.
I have no idea whether he was serious. I only know that after a week of hell – of discovering the child I’d been expecting never existed; that in her place I had something broken – something that I didn’t want people to see for fear of their reactions; that after a week of feeling like I’d been thrown into a tornado I couldn’t find my way out of, a week of no sleep, no appetite and a diet of hourly adrenaline blasts – there was one fleeting moment in that car when the possibility of walking away – of turning my back on all those terrors, all that pain, all that heartache, looked very attractive.
That moment passed in one split second.
At home I fell back into my daily routine feeling hollow and lost. It was as if leaving The Girl behind in the hospital had torn a huge hole in my chest; as if every breath escaped out between my ribs, leaving me perpetually sucking in air; perpetually strained.
Depression set in. People avoided me. I lost weight, I lost my friends, I lost hope.
Twice a week, I rallied enough energy to catch the 8 am bus for a two-hour trip back to the hospital to see The Girl. At 4 pm, I turned around and caught the bus back again.
Number One Son spent those days with a friend. I don’t remember telling her how much that meant to me. I hope I did. If I didn’t, I hope she knows.
On the days in between I froze my milk in a jar, wrapped it in brown paper, and took it to the bus depot where the driver gave me a sympathetic smile, then tucked it safely down beside his seat where it stayed until he delivered it to the hospital.
After two long months, sixteen or so bus trips, endless hours of staring into an incubator, and several hundred miles gazing out a bus window at a frozen landscape I was beginning to hate, The Girl finally came home.
She was 4lbs.
Was the hard part over? Hell no.
Fortunately, I had yet to discover that. I got on with life and tried to make everything better. Did I regret my decision to go back to the hospital and get her? Not once.
Were there moments when I wanted to run away and leave it all behind? Numerous!
These days I look at my Girl and I see someone beautiful; someone sweet and funny and loving.
It took me twenty years to come to that, to forgive myself, forgive The Husband and find the way forward. It was worth every minute.
So what did I learn out of all this? I learned that it doesn’t matter what decisions you make along the way; what road you take, when you hit that fork in the road, make sure your choice of path is one you can live with.
After that, don’t look back. Because whatever you did, whatever you chose, it was the right decision at the time. And no one lives your life but you.