Our cushy little pregnant world, where the deepest problem to this point involved sharing the bathroom, exploded today. The phone rang at my desk, and it was Sarah, who had that amused-but-troubled ring to her voice. “You’ll never guess what happened. I just got exposed to chicken pox.”
The inside of my stomach dropped so fast, I checked my shoes for my lower intestines. Sarah is always showing off about how she’s never had chicken pox—no one in her family has—and she has never developed antibodies to the virus. I’d always considered this more of an oddity than anything, but with a 23-week fetus inside her, it’s frightening. “What happened?”
“One of my students came to school this morning with a whole bunch of bumps, so we sent her to the doctor. Chicken pox.”
“Have you been in contact with her?”
“I just hugged her an hour ago.”
I checked my shoes again. “OK, so what does this mean?”
“Well, if I get chicken pox, it can cause birth defects in the fetus,” she said matter-of-factly.
Birth defects. I couldn’t think of any scarier words on earth. Two minutes earlier I was blissfully fact-checking a column about Italian cheese, and now we’re talking birth defects?
We recently finally got the results of the week’s triple screen, and found out that the fetus was healthy and roughly the size and weight of a foot-long Subway Cold Cut Combo. I foolishly believed the worrying was over. “What do we need to do?” I asked in a shaky voice.
“I don’t know. What can we do? Either I’ve got ’em or I don’t.”
We decided that calling our doctor would be a good first step, which Sarah did immediately. Meanwhile, I tried to get back to work, which suddenly felt ridiculous. Cheese? Italy? Who gives a shit.
I did some quick research online, and found that 1 to 2 percent of babies whose mothers contract chicken pox while pregnant are born with defects such as scars, eye problems, poor growth, and delayed development. These aren’t the worst things in the world, I suppose—nor the worst odds—but I felt my temperature rising in a big way, and had to squelch the overwhelming desire to hunt down and destroy the parents who’d allowed their kid go to school with chicken pox.
About a month ago, Sarah broached the topic of our course of action if we found out that the fetus had a congenital problem. I contributed nothing to the conversation, but as usual, Sarah had a clear head. “I’m obviously excited about being pregnant,” she said. “But what I’m attached to right now is the idea of being a mom; I’m not attached to the particular fetus inside me yet.” Though she would obviously be devastated to lose a pregnancy, it would hurt her more to bring a sick child into the world. This gets into some murky moral waters that I wouldn’t dream of wading into here. Let’s just say it feels good to know that the two of us are on the same page.
The upshot: Sarah has to go get a globulin shot in her ass and go back for a blood test tomorrow. The incubation period for chicken pox is seven days, so we’ll just have to wait and see. I hate waiting and seeing.