I was very lucky in that physically, I had a very easy pregnancy — a little bit of acid reflux, some minor ‘backne’ and a bit of pelvic/hip pain were the only things that bothered me.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and I’m going to share our experiences of what happened after our twenty week scan, in that it might provide some support for others who stumble upon this post when scouring the internet for answers.
The twenty week scan started well, in that all the major things — heart, brain, spine — looked fine. But at the end, the sonographer frowned a little and said the baby’s femur length was coming up a bit short, and she needed to re measure it. She did; it still did — on the third percentile. She looked at S and me, and said that because we’re tall (6’2″ and 5’7″), she wanted to refer us to a consultant for further tests, as a short femur can be a marker for certain genetic conditions.
I was completely devastated. Of course on my return to the office (one of the issues when you’re a freelancer and committed to a day’s work somewhere, giving yourself time off unexpectedly isn’t an option) I Googled ‘short femurs pregnancy’ and thus began a few weeks of obsessive reading and worrying, as short femurs are a marker for Down’s Syndrome and skeletal dysplasia. You can imagine, I’m sure, what my state of mind was.
Because the scan was so close to Christmas, we had to wait until the first week of January for our consultant appointment. That was the worst two weeks of my life. We had such a lovely Christmas planned with just the two of us — we were going to celebrate ‘Bumpmas’ and treasure our final solo Christmas. We did our best to relax and enjoy it but there was a constant feeling of worry and dread underpinning everything.
I ate loads of protein and calcium in a vain hope that the baby’s femurs would have grown by our appointment, but they were still on the third percentile (anything under the fifth or over the ninety fifth is considered ‘abnormal’). Our consultant was very lovely and calm, and presented us with four options: the likeliest being everything was fine and the baby just had short legs; Down’s Syndrome; achondroplasia (dwarfism) or a placental issue, where the placenta wasn’t functioning at 100% and thus giving less blood to the limbs. The only way to rule out two and three was with an amniocentesis, but as the miscarriage risk is 1%, my Down’s risk had been found at 12 weeks to be 1:6900 (very low risk) and neither were life limiting conditions, we decided instead to opt for serial scans and keep an eye on things that way.
Over the course of my pregnancy I had a scan about once a month. After 24 weeks they could rule out achondroplasia as the other limbs were growing fine, but options two and four continued to always be in the background. Because of the potential placental issue, I wasn’t allowed to give birth on the midwife led unit and had to have the baby’s heart rate continuously monitored during labour, which wasn’t how I had envisaged giving birth. But I was exceedingly grateful for the amazing care and support we received from the hospital — the NHS rocks.
S and I did a hypnobirthing course and I found that the affirmations and positive visualisations learned from this really helped calm me down when things got overwhelming — which they frequently did. We also had wonderful support from friends and family, particularly friends who had had similar experiences of problems coming up at the twenty week scan and who knew what we were going through. It was one of these friends who told me to stop Googling things and she was quite right. After our first consultant appointment I managed to convince myself that the baby had a lethal form of skeletal dysplasia, purely through Googling things obsessively and jumping to huge conclusions. I ended up emailing the consultant with my fears to do something positive and break the cycle. She told me that this was not likely at all and, as S pointed out, fifteen minutes of Googling is no match for fifteen plus years of medical experience!
The story, luckily, has a happy ending. At our final scan, the femurs had jumped to the twelfth percentile, so things were looking much better, and when our son arrived a few weeks later, he was absolutely fine with no health issues relating to his legs at all — they just were disproportionately short compared with his body length (21 inches!).
If you are reading this because you’ve had a similar diagnosis, my heart goes out to you. It’s a worrying, stressful, horrendous time that takes the shine off your pregnancy. All I can say is, the chances are that everything is fine, especially if short femurs are the only marker that’s come up from the scan. Don’t fall into a Google hell hole as I did; instead, focus on the actual facts you’ve been given, rather than imagining things to be far worse. As I said above, positive visualisation and affirmations were tremendously helpful for calming me down and staying positive, as was reflexology, and may be good for you. I also had a friend who’s an aromatherapist create a calming essential oils blend for me which I had in a stick, so when my mind started racing I could take a step back and relax by inhaling it.
I wouldn’t wish our experience on anyone, but I can take some positives from it. Firstly, how amazing the NHS is. We had so many people involved in the pregnancy and birth, all of whom were marvellous. I am so grateful for the healthcare system we have in the UK. Secondly, how lucky S and I are to have such wonderful friends and family, and how lucky I am to have such a brilliant husband. S was an absolute rock throughout everything, and even when he was worried himself, he always stayed positive for me, wiping away my tears and reassuring me that no matter the outcome, we would be OK.
Finally, this experience has made me so grateful for my baby. When things get a bit tough or tiring — which, with a newborn, they do — I try and put things into perspective and appreciate the brilliant fact I have a healthy, happy baby, who just needs the legs on his onesies rolled up a bit.