My husband and I were in Chicago for a short getaway while pregnant with baby #2. I got a call that no mother-to-be wants to hear. My doctor called and explained to me that after our 20 week scan, she had a chance to review the ultrasound and was concerned because our unborn baby had a Single Umbilical Artery. I thought to myself, “A what?!” It was not a term I was even remotely familiar with.
According to the March of Dimes website, the umbilical cord has three blood vessels: one vein that carries food and oxygen from the placenta to your baby and two arteries that carry waste from your baby back to the placenta. As my doctor explained to me that an artery in our baby’s umbilical cord was missing, all I could think about in my head was, “You have to be kidding me.”
We have lost two babies through miscarriages. And although we had one healthy daughter at the time, this was a complete shock to us.
The ultrasound tech had given no indication that anything was wrong with our baby, and we saw her on the screen moving around, happy as can be, normal. But what we didn’t know was that she was missing an artery. Their concerns were that she wouldn’t get enough nutrients and that she wouldn’t grow to normal size, or that her kidneys wouldn’t function correctly. The doctor explained to us that she wanted us to have an echocardiogram done on our baby as soon as possible, because there was a small chance that she could have a heart defect. Even if the scan came back positive, there was still a chance that she could have one after her birth, that went undetected.
In the Thick of It
My mind was racing through all the things that could go wrong. It was quite overwhelming. My heart was so heavy. I just felt like we had endured enough. That we didn’t deserve this, but quite honestly, no parent deserves this. I immediately started to search on line for what a Single Umbilical Artery meant for the life of my baby. Would she be ok? Would she grow to normal size? Would she have a heart defect? Would her kidneys function normally? Although I knew google couldn’t answer what was happening to my child, I was hopeful that hearing others’ stories would ease my worries.
What I found was very little. There was a basic description of what it was, but very little on others’ experiences. Mostly just chatroom forums where some people experienced nothing and the baby was healthy or others that had to be induced due to the baby stop growing. I felt quite in the dark about what our baby was experiencing and it was agonizing waiting nearly 20 more weeks, with ultrasounds every 4 weeks to check growth, to see if our baby would be OK. At one point they were worried about the size of her head too, if it was “normal” or not, but since it was growing at a rate they were “not concerned” with, it wasn’t a concern enough for them to do anything about it. I had no idea how worried I had to be when the doctor would tell me, “we aren’t concerned enough to do further testing.” Using the term concerned enough wasn’t exactly calming.
Every ultrasound we had was scary. I used to look forward to ultrasounds so I could see my little one rolling around in there, but these just made my heart sick. I prayed every time I went in just hoping that she would be fine.
I ended up delivering full-term, which was told to me would be highly unlikely. Because of that, I was able to have a water birth, just like I had planned. Although I wasn’t able to deliver in the water, due to our baby needing to be monitored near the end, I was thankful that I got to experience part of that, and didn’t have to be induced.
Another blessing was that she came out completely healthy. No heart defect, no kidney problems, and a perfect weight of 6 lbs 14 ozs. (She was actually 3 ounces heavier than her older, “normal pregnancy”, sister.) I am happy to report that we have an almost 2-year old and she is perfectly healthy.
Receiving a diagnosis like this in the middle of your pregnancy can be devastating. It can be scary, and so many unknowns. I wanted to share my story in case any other parents are dealing with a diagnosis of a single umbilical artery, or may in the future, to offer hope that your baby can still be completely normal. I think what got me through it was having a support system, i.e. my husband, friends, family, etc. to talk to about my fears, but also to pick me up and offer positive reinforcement when I couldn’t find it myself. Control what you can, and leave the rest up to the universe, and most importantly, don’t underestimate the power of your body and how delivering a healthy baby is truly a miracle.