Yesterday, I got a surprise. And not the “whoo-hoo there’s a $10 bill in my pocket I forgot about” surprise, but a disappointing surprise that had me stepping into my mental time machine wondering how I let that happen. Why didn’t I catch it? What was I thinking?
You know, the crappy kind of surprise.
Surprises are weird that way. I’ve been known to say, “I love surprises” and “I hate surprises” both with complete sincerity. And that makes a surprise such an interesting and unique part of life.
Christmas morning has long been one of my favorite moments. Not just because of the gifts, but because it was chock full of good surprises. I knew that people loved me and that they had surprises planned that would make me happy. My first Christmas as a young married woman, we spent the Christmas Eve at my parents’ house. At 5:00am I woke up and elbowed my husband, “It’s Christmas!” I said excitedly. He looked at me like I was insane and said, “It’s 5:00am, go back to sleep.”
I nudged him again — I just couldn’t wait for the surprise.
There have been other times when I would gladly have waited longer for the surprise. An exam with a question I had never seen before. A call from my husband that a child had been hurt. Being summoned into my boss’ office to hear that my position was being significantly changed.
The worst surprise I ever got was back in 2000. I was pregnant with my first child and at 20 weeks we were ecstatic to go to our ultrasound appointment. We jumped in the car, drove to the unfamiliar hospital and found the office. Sitting there with a gown on, babbling away with the tech I was happy. Over the moon, first pregnancy happy. And then the tech said, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”
When she came back, she had a doctor with her. He looked somber. He started to explain to us that there was a cyst on our baby’s brain stem and that was often a sign of a fatal chromosomal abnormality called Trisomy 18. He preceded to rattle off the things that were caused by it and he told us that most babies with it didn’t survive birth. Other flags weren’t present but he recommended we see a genetics counselor.
To say we were surprised was an understatement.
The drive home was tense. We talked about the risks and benefits of genetic testing. We talked about what we thought we heard. When we got home I looked up what I could on the condition, even though medical information on the Internet was a bit less comprehensive and no less scary than it is now. We talked and talked and decided we would just wait.
Months later the surprise of meeting a perfectly healthy daughter wiped away that frightening moment. Ten fingers, ten toes and a very average 7 pounds and 12 ounces put all our fears of a rare chromosomal abnormality to rest. And, in its place came the everyday ordinary fears that every parent faces. And those fears haven’t gone away since then.
Because, unfortunately, not all surprises are good.