March 01, 2005

Suspension of Belief

If you start noodling simple, everyday things through, do you realize how scary life is? We talk about the concept of suspension of disbelief when reading a book or watching a movie. But in real life, I think its often the suspension of belief that keeps us all going. If, for instance, you're driving down the road and actually let the thought hey, that dude in the two ton SUV is shaving and reading the Wall Street Journal while doing seventy and he could swerve and - whoops - that's the end of me you'd go nuts. If you actually thought I'm a small cog in a small wheel of many small, possibly inconsequential mechanisms that make this whole blue ball go around you'd be unable to function, right? Suspension of belief, folks. That's the ticket.

Last week something unpleasant happened. Maybe you read about it on Beth's site. Maybe not. Before I continue, I'll say that the unpleasant thing has been pleasantly resolved.

You see, Beth had some blood taken for what's called a quad screen.


The purpose of the triple check or quad screen test is to identify those who would benefit from further testing for certain fetal problems. Some practices use three biochemical markers, called the triple check, others have added a fourth marker, and have renamed the testing quad screen. Either test can be used to help detect problems with chromosomes (such as Down Syndrome), and problems where there has been incomplete closure of a body cavity (such as spina-bifida).
- Marjorie Greenfield, DrSpock.com


The results that came back were discouraging. No, check that. Terrifying.

Doctors are quick to tell you that the quad screen has a very high accuracy rate in predicting defects or problems. Of course, what they don't tell you is that there's an astonishingly high false positive rate. They'll say, for instance, that 99.4% of Down syndrome births were accurately predicted by the test. What they'll ignore, however, is that they might have told 70% of women taking the test that they were at significantly higher risk. Its like a weatherman predicting that it will snow in the winter. Sure, he'll be right a couple of times but he'll leave a bunch of other people freaked out, running to by salt, shovels, bread and milk.

To be fair, we knew what we were getting into. We were aware of the high false positive rate. But how do you realistically prepare yourself to hear that your child has a significantly high likelihood of being born with Down syndrome? The answer? You don't. What you do is freak out. You cry a little then start to think about what one in fifty-six really means. You think of all the kids with Down syndrome that you know, that you grew up with because your mom was a special education teacher and these were the kids you grew up knowing, realizing they were different and possibly somewhat shortchanged but also happy. As wonderful as they were, however, you really don't want that for your kid. And yet you catch yourself saying that, thinking that and it sounds selfish but you really don't care. No, you want the best...nothing less...and not out of some sort of egotistical, foolish pride that screams "look what I created!" No, you just want the best for your child. You, trying not to project, want the kid to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. You want your child to be an 87-time Jeopardy champ leaving Ken Jennings in the dust. You want your child to find the cure for cancer, AIDS, world hunger and Middle-East peace. You want the kid to strap on a guitar and be a rockstar. But, failing all the grandiose notions you may have, you'll settle for a kid who has a chance at being happy and leading a long, healthy life. That's what goes through your head.

As it turned out, we needn't have worried. Some lab technician somewhere entered the wrong due date and that, of course, through the entire formula out of whack. The test results were thrown out, run again and all is well. The Lima Bean will be fine.

Here's the real lesson. As a potential parent and, certainly as a full-fledged member of the parenting club, the ability to suspend that suspension of belief falters. As much as you'd like to live in a world padded by your own innocence or ignorance of the things that could happen, of the inevitabilities, you can't escape the very real fear that something will happen to your child. Its a tough concept to deal with but its certainly worthwhile. We talk about childhood innocence, the ignorance we all shared of the world around us when we were young. I'd argue that there's an adulthood innocence too. And such innocence is shed by having kids and looking at the world as a parent...or a parent to be.

Posted by Chris at March 1, 2005 09:02 AM
Comments

Well, I'm glad that everything turned out okay. Like you said, it sounds selfish but you do want your kid to be healthy.

I see exactly where you're coming from - when you think about starting a family, you fantasize about how great it will be and how much fun it will be. You hardly ever think about the bad things that can happen, or the risks.

I know it was hard for my mother-in-law to find out that both her boys have a rare genetic lung disease that only 1 in 1 million people get. Both parents have to carry the gene recessively for the child to get it. Luckily that means that our child won't be at that risk, but I'm sure it really took a toll on MIL and FIL when they found out that news.

One great thing is that kids have the ability to look past their disabilities - J told me that he thought it was normal to have an inhaler and take medicine almost everyday, and he never thought twice about the weekly visits to the hospital. It was just normal routine because he didn't know any different.
Even at 33, he doesn't really acknowledge his condition that much. Yeah, there are days that he feels like absolute crap because he can't breathe, but he doesn't use it as an excuse to not try his hardest and be the best he can be. That's one of the things I love most about him. :)

Posted by: Kitty at March 1, 2005 10:12 AM

jesus h. christ! I don't remember reading that on beth's blog.

welcome to the freaking parent club, son.

Posted by: jenorama at March 1, 2005 10:20 AM

Ah yes, Grasshopper, you have grasped the pebble. :)

Time for you to watch the movie Parenthood with Steve Martin. Remember the scene where is talking to his father on the bench at the park? It never ends. :)

Posted by: Jon in Michigan at March 1, 2005 10:33 AM

*sigh of relief* Thank god things are fine, I was thinking of you guys. Being pregnant and a mommy of one already I know how you feel about wanting your child (born or not) to be as healthy as they can be. Parenting is a never ending state of worry, I swear...but that's ok...just a small trade-off.

Posted by: JuJuBee at March 1, 2005 10:45 AM

Wow. I'm glad things are ok, I can't even imagine how much that caused you to worry.

Posted by: Nicole at March 1, 2005 10:50 AM

So glad everything is o.k.; can we get that lab tech's name so we can track him down and smack him upside the head, or at least recommend a good typing school?

There's nothing selfish at all about wanting a healthy kid. Take it from somebody whose 9 month old had a rare and lethal disease (Kawasaki's) that most U.S. doctors have no experience treating, and who's met parents of kids who've been left permanently damaged and in one instance died from said disease.

Posted by: Jason at March 1, 2005 11:02 AM

I'm just getting this test done for the second time now. Last time it did come out false, but my Dr. tried to reassure me OVER AND OVER AND OVER again that if by chance it came out positive, not to freak out because it's wrong so often. Hearing that really did help me calm down about it, but you're right. There's still no preparing to hear the words - whether they might be wrong or not. Luckily, I didn't have to. I'm hoping I'm that lucky again this time. And big props to the two of you for holding it together :)

Posted by: RockStar Mommy at March 1, 2005 11:04 AM

Hey -- completely OT, but... it's snowing here! You are GOOD!

Posted by: Stacy at March 1, 2005 11:07 AM

I know what you mean. I suppose I can suspend my belief enough to drive places and do stuff necessary for life in general.

Me, I can't get over the worrying about what would go wrong. Which is why Matt and I intend to adopt if we decide to have kids. I'm already that mom to my cats, running them to the vet over normal things I don't know what they are. With kids I'd spend all my time making sure they were normal and healthy, and I'd never get a moments rest.

I salute you for your bravery and willingness to be a parent.

Posted by: Autumn at March 1, 2005 11:08 AM

Firstly, I'm glad everything turned out fine with the test. If only the silly experts could read results correctly. Shame on them.

Becoming a parent changes everything. The whole ballgame is different in ways you can't even imagine. Even now preparing your home and yourselves mentally and emotionally, once you see that little wee one, all your worries about the world and your child in it becomes huger. At least for me it did. But still, I wouldn't trade my kidlet for my carefree childless days even if it meant all the riches in the world. As far as I'm concerned, I've found it all in him and nothing else compares to it.

Posted by: groovebunny at March 1, 2005 11:42 AM

i used to say i didn't want to have kids because what if they were ugly? how could i love an ugly child? how could i go through life knowing my child was being picked on and made fun of because they were ugly. then i hit 30 and decided that maybe a kid would be okay to have, i was getting older, more mature and hey, i'm pretty hot so how bad looking could the kid be? we never found out the sex because "it didn't matter as long as they were healthy." that seemed to have backfired on me also...
the pregnancy sucked, but all the tests, etc. showed a perfectly normal little child. so far so good... about an hour after i had Cameron, while i still had the vision of his sweet face in my mind, they came to tell me about his "abnormalities." my beautiful son, my adorably cute child was born with abnormalities (i prefer that word over deformities) that would require multiple surgeries and could potentially keep him from being "normal." well, surgeries are over, he's an amazingly cute boy and no, he will never be normal. he may never be the same as other kids. he will always have scars (8 of them) that mark his perfect smooth skin. but he's the smartest, happiest, most beautiful child i could have ever hoped for.
when you have a child, i think you suspend everything - belief and disbelief.

Posted by: monique at March 1, 2005 11:47 AM

Chris, that is excellent. I've been a mommy since I was very young and I think you are absolutely right about the innocence of adults. We take so much for granted until we have kids. Life starts to feel very fragile and the world starts to seem like a really dangerous place to be after you have the responsibility of another life in your hands. With children, you see the world in a whole new way and you embrace life in a whole new way and the fear just makes it more precious.

The positive to all of this is that as Lima Bean grows you will start to see the world with a sense of awe and wonder that you had forgotten you ever had. Suddenly, minor things are miraculous! That's the only way we could possibly continue with all of this - otherwise it wouldn't be worth all the stress, eh?! But you already know this!

I am going to go out on a limb and assert that the threat (conscious or not) of something bad or scary or unpredictable happening makes us appreciate how miraculous life is. You know what I mean? That's the only way we would ever be happy just knowing our kids are happy. =) And having a happy kid rocks mightily.

Posted by: ms.quilty at March 1, 2005 12:24 PM

Those tests can be scary, I'm glad all is well. I understand the suspension of belief...deny it and it doesn't exist...if only. The world really is crazy, but you can't let it get to you.

Posted by: Milly at March 1, 2005 12:54 PM

It's so funny that you call your preborn baby Lima Bean. I love lima beans and my daughter *who hates them* always tells me I'm eating embryos. Anyway, so glad all is well.

Posted by: Wildcat at March 1, 2005 01:22 PM

I prefer your suspension of belief to the suspension of disbelief theory that my wife the communication professor is always spouting off about. I didn't know if I should keep reading this post when I got into it but I'm glad that everything has worked out for the best. It's my first read, and I'm enjoying the read. Rock On!

Posted by: j.tonic at March 1, 2005 01:35 PM

So glad that everything is okay. It is so easy to become overwhelmed by the possibilities in life, I know, but it works both ways. Some of the most unexpected, unplanned, and sometimes unwanted events in my life have brought me to where I am, and I'm so grateful. And no matter what happens, you and Beth will be amazing parents.

Posted by: Heather at March 1, 2005 01:58 PM

"And such innocence is shed by having kids and looking at the world as a parent...or a parent to be."

AMEN.

Posted by: Martha at March 1, 2005 02:35 PM

When child #3 was born, she looked, well, odd. After 10 mths of testing, we found she has Smith-Magenis Syndrome (hence my email address). She is now 8 yrs old and life is life, as good as it gets and as bad as it gets, it's life. I am with you on suspending belief, sometimes it's how I get through the day. It's how I survive living with a mentally retarded child knowing this child will be in diapers and live with me for the rest of her life. Scary as hell, SUSPENSION OF BELIEF TAKE ME AWAY.

And the worrying never, ever stops. It's always something. Some worries not as big or scary as others. But always worries. Always a hole to want to crawl into and hide until "this too shall pass"

Take care, all of my best to you and Beth.

Posted by: Lori at March 1, 2005 03:06 PM

There's really nothing I can say that everyone hasn't already said... but I'll say that I'm happy that Lima Bean (and parents) are fine and well.

I honestly dread becoming a parent. I have my younger sister, who I was terrified for the entire toddler-stage of her life (she is now 7). And that's my SISTER. I am going to be one hell of an over-protective, crazy ass mother......

Posted by: Jessa at March 1, 2005 03:54 PM

Good post.

And you are right... my whole outlook changed completely after Turtle's birth.

I take things much more seriously. I weigh decisions carefully.

It's not necessarily a bad thing... it's just that i've got someone else (besides myself) to think about now. I'm not nearly as reckless as I was before.

Posted by: Snidget at March 1, 2005 04:44 PM

Congratulations, you just passed one or two "skin-toughenings". (the testing and Beth's fall) Kind of like building antibodies, the more you're "exposed to" ie. life experiences- the better you're able to deal in the future. Very, very true in parenthood in particular.
Also, I'm an expert at "Belief Suspension" but I call it Avoidance. Or Selective Cognition. Or any number of things... It's also why I have to have my music LOUD. :-P

Posted by: JuJu's Mom at March 1, 2005 05:10 PM

Wow, i am so far behind but i am so happy for
1] about the new car
2]the lima bean had a fun time with the fall [unscathed]
3]the quad test was messed up yet & now it's all fine
4]i have been to damn busy & need to catch up on my reading!!
5] Please note that these were not written in order of importance - lima bean is definitely far more important! =)

Posted by: angel at March 1, 2005 05:19 PM

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: I'm glad to hear the tests came out fine.

However, I do think you're onto something about how some doctors forget to mention the high false positive rates on some of those tests. I had a friend once who was pregnant with twins and throughout her entire pregnancy, her doctors warned her they would be very likely to have spina-bifida. Both girls came out perfectly normal. Obviously, doctors *can't* know anything for certain, but it would have been nice if they told my friend that since she was severely stressed out her entire pregnancy.

You and Beth take good care of each other now! :)

Posted by: Spring at March 1, 2005 05:38 PM

Chris, I am so relieved that everything turned out OK. As I told Beth, I happily volunteer to be part of the lynch mob after the doc that caused you both to worry so much! ;)
Amy

Posted by: amy at March 1, 2005 06:35 PM

Well, I got here late, it's all been said. So ... (((((hugs)))))

Posted by: Chepooka at March 1, 2005 06:36 PM

Truer words were never spoken!! You never take anything for granted as a parent, and everything, in the beginning, can terrify you. I'm pleased to tell you that the fear you have so close to the surface when you first become a parent tends to go under the surface a bit when your child grows. It never truly goes away, but when each day you avoid disaster, it gets easier to see all the good again. You guys are gonna be fine!!!!

Posted by: Nina at March 1, 2005 08:59 PM

I can't even fathom having to think about such a thing. After you guys were trying to have a baby for so long...and then to think something might be wrong. (eeeeeeeeek)

Posted by: Zandria at March 1, 2005 10:28 PM

i am glad to hear that it all worked out....do you know what you guys are having?

Posted by: lizabetty at March 1, 2005 10:44 PM

Being a parent is terrifying. You've experienced it with the scare of the test results. It never ends. So many things you've never thought of before, are suddenly demons in the night ready to harm your child in one way or another.
I got anal on old time cartoons, like the ones we grew up on. I never realized, until my children were watching them, how full of sexual inuendos they were/are. The simplest of things you see as a potential threat.
Ya'll are going to be great parents, particularily for the fact that you already see that train coming and have the wherewithall to know when to step in front. The hardest part is knowing when not to.

Posted by: Jade at March 2, 2005 08:34 AM

Oh, I'm glad everything is ok. I am not a parent, but when I think about having kids, I'm terrified by the "what ifs."

Here's wishing you guys a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child. I know you two will be great parents.

Posted by: Gweny at March 2, 2005 01:54 PM

Yep....you're beginning to figure this thing out already.

I skipped that damnable test both times, myself. I'd heard about the false positives and didn't think it was worth the stress.

Posted by: Mary at March 2, 2005 06:35 PM

I am glad the Lima Bean is fine! Tests are hell, remember doctors...are PRACTICING medicine!

Posted by: Gypsy at March 4, 2005 06:08 PM