fetal mri

Calvin’s first MRI was in utero. We were about thirty-three weeks along.

Michael and I had learned the previous week, from an insensitive witch (doctor), that the lateral ventricles in our baby’s brain were enlarged. We ignored the docs advice to come back in two weeks by opting never to see her again. By good fortune, we came across a study of the diagnosed condition—ventriculomegaly—underway at a Boston hospital.

The events in the hospital were a blur, shuffling between obstetricians, neonatologists, neurologists and radiologists while running blood tests, genetic screenings, and sonograms on me. Near the end of the day, exhausted and fraught with worry, the only test left was a fetal MRI. Michael and I sat holding hands on teal fabric chairs amongst fake plants, and painfully awaited our turn. I felt alone and frightened, trying to hold back my tears of trepidation. I knew Michael felt the same.

Finally, I was lead to a changing-room to disrobe for the procedure. The stark space had bare plywood walls, a single hook on which to hang clothes and a cheap mirror fastened slightly askew on the back of the door. Against one wall were stacks of clean folded “johnnies.” I stripped down, shivering, not so much from cold as from fear and fatigue. Standing naked in front of the mirror I regarded my taut round belly and wondered how and when it all went so wrong. I was so afraid—afraid of what I knew about my precious child’s brain, and afraid of the unknown. Slumped in sorrow, my dirty hair hanging in strings before my face, I feebly chose a pale printed johnny. Surprised and dispirited by it’s weightlessness, I found each gaping one-size-fits-all armhole and positioned the opening in front as I had been advised. The flimsy gown could have wrapped around me nearly twice if not for Calvin. For a moment I stood trembling beneath the thin garment, which fell at my shins revealing shoeless feet. I had never felt so vulnerable in all my life, and in the mirror’s reflection I watched my screwed-up face start to sob uncontrollably.

Michael appeared and I gave him my wedding band—metal cannot be worn inside the powerful magnet. He escorted me to the imaging room, kissed me and returned to the waiting area. The technician laid me down on the conveyor and strapped me in good, feet first, on my back. With a push of a button I was slowly inserted into the massive, white hollow tube. It was a much narrower opening than I had imagined and I felt as if my pregnant belly might graze the cylinder as I passed through. The technician exited the room and left me alone, except for Calvin. A voice spoke to me over an intercom from the darkened side of a large window giving me instructions as to when to hold my breath for the making of the images. Deep, guttural sounds and jolting buzzes, like no other sounds I had heard before, bellowed from the machine's bowels. The noises were freakish, futuristic and jarring, contributing to the whole surreal experience. But somehow, knowing that Calvin was with me—inside me—and we were going through it together, gave me a sense of calm. I kept telling him that everything was going to be okay and not to be afraid and he seemed to be doing the same for me.

After an hour or so I emerged from the white monstrosity that had swallowed me whole. Now all we had to do—which was no easy job—was to wait for the results and find out what needed to happen next. We had no idea of the nightmares that were in store for us and for our unborn child, nor of the worst that was to come: epilepsy.

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