Additions and subtractions

By Published On: January 19th, 2012

At my 20-week ultrasound when I discovered my baby had […]

At my 20-week ultrasound when I discovered my baby had a part I didn’t know she (he) had, I was also told that he did not have something that he should, namely, a third vessel in his umbilical cord.
The surprise of the unexpected gender announcement was foremost on my mind for the whole of the visit, so I didn’t really have a chance to process information about the missing artery until I had left the ultrasound room and Luke and the kids had split off to go home, leaving me there to have my follow-up visit with the doctor. The ultrasonographer had been very nonchalant about the whole thing, saying that it was really not a big thing, but that I should speak with the doctor about it and see what she had to say regarding further monitoring, etc. All I could think was “You mean on my BOY? That I’m having instead of a girl? The BOY in there?” I was preoccupied, you could say.

A very handsome and also very intelligent-looking profile, don’t you think? Also: male. Did I mention male?

But after the nurse ushered me in to my windowless room with the buzzing fluorescent light and I perched with legs swinging from the crinkly-papered table, my mind started to revisit all I had heard about this new development in my baby’s development.

I’m not much of a worrier, I don’t think. I’m usually pretty calm and collected when it comes to potential what-ifs, and operate under the thought that information is the best defense against Freakoutitis. In this case, I had almost no information (since I had only heard of a two-vessel cord minutes before) so my mind was leaning a little more toward AHHHHH than usual. Luckily, the doctor was in the room within five minutes, and I wasn’t able to launch a full-fledged, bona fide Wig Out before asking a medical professional my questions.
Here’s what I learned. (Hang on, I’m about to go factoid on you):
• A normal umbilical cord has three vessels—two arteries and one vein for carrying blood to and away from your baby’s circulatory system.
• Two-vessel cords are relatively rare, occurring in less than 1 percent of singleton pregnancies. (This proves what I have always known: I am a special, special snowflake.)
• The umbilical cord simply comes this way, either growing with two vessels from the get-go, or beginning with three and having one atrophy during development. (Meaning those two … or three … glasses of wine I had in the first trimester before I knew I was expecting did not cause it. And yes, I asked about this specifically.)
• Potential problems that can arise from a two-vessel cord include growth retardation, renal issues, heart issues and a risk of chromosomal abnormalities. (Oof.)
• Further high-res imaging is recommended to confirm that a two-vessel cord is in fact present, after which follow up ultrasounds will be performed every few weeks to monitor the baby’s growth.

Oh, hi, face. (You can see the umbilical cord in the upper lefthand corner. It’s the rotini pasta-shaped dealio.)

So! Facts! I had ’em. This did not stop me from asking just about every question I could, though, including Is there anything special I can do/eat/take to help promote normal development? (Not really, just keep on keepin’ on with your normal healthy prenatal behaviors.) When will you be able to tell if the baby is struggling in the growth department? (Around 28 weeks.) How do all my baby’s systems look? Heart? Kidneys?Brain? Chromosomes? (Perfect.) How much should I worry about this? (Zero percent.) No, but really, how much? (Really, you shouldn’t worry.)

I left the appointment feeling relieved and uneasy all at the same time. For one thing, he looked great. Blood was flowing in all the right places, he had 10 fingers and toes (and also a penis, did I mention that?), he was moving and kicking fine, and both the doctor and the ultrasonographer urged me not to give it a second thought, and assured me that everything was most likely 100 percent A-OK.
Still. Have you met It is a deep dark hole to spiral down when you have any kind of “might be a problem.” That night I typed in “two-vessel umbilical cord” into the search bar and hit enter, but after reading the very first result, I closed my computer resolutely. No way, Jose. Not gonna hop on that Crazy-making Train. I decided right then and there that I was banned from Googling about it.
The next week I went for the high-res image, and as the nurse took my weight down, she offhandedly remarked,”So you’re here because your baby is measuring small, huh?” And I promptly let out all my non-Googling, fake-Zen, pent-up anxiety right out in her animal-print scrubs-wearing direction. “What? No! No one said anything about him being small, why do you say he’s small? Did someone say he was small? How small? I wasn’t told this! I thought we were just confirming a two-vessel cord so the doctor would know whether to do further monitoring! What does that mean? Is my baby OK? Am I OK? Are you OK? AHHHHHH!”
Brain circuit meltdown.
Unsurprisingly, she could feel my nervousness about the situation and backtracked a little, saying that she just thought she remembered seeing that in my chart, but maybe she was mistaken? I chose to believe her.
The high-res ultrasound, however, could not have been more reassuring. Here are the statements that I heard, straight from the ultrasonographer’s and doctor’s mouths, that have made me finally put down my itchy Google trigger finger:
“If I had to have something wrong with my baby, I would choose a two-vessel cord. I see at least one a week, and it’s not a big deal at all.” —The ultrasonographer, aka my newest BFF
“I’ve seen over a thousand two-vessel cord babies and I’ve never seen one be born small. Never.” —The doctor, whom I may have then kissed on the mouth
“Your baby’s systems look perfect, and he’s two days ahead of growth schedule and right where he should be on the charts.” —The doctor again. Seriously, I had very fond feelings for her at this point.
So! Now we monitor and ultrasound and check fluid levels and growth and just make sure everything’s on the up and up, but I’m feeling approximately one million times better than I did when first hearing the news. Modern technology, man. It can show us what we have and it can show us what we lack. It’s a blessing and a curse all rolled into one. For today, though, I am grateful that it showed me a perfect little boy, whom I can’t wait to meet.