On her 30th birthday, Katie Haggerty went to the doctor to get a first glimpse of the baby she and her husband, Jim, had waited for — tried for, prayed for — for so long. She was 20 weeks pregnant.
“We were trying to have a baby for a long time,” Katie said. “We did a full year of fertility treatments. We were obviously super, super excited when I was finally pregnant last year.”
Katie and Jim are both from New Jersey originally. They met when they were students at Catholic University. Jim’s an architect with the federal government. Katie works at a private school in the District. They live in Arlington with cats Lily and Grant.
“The first ultrasound is the big one, the one everybody waits for,” Katie said.
Jim and Katie had decided they didn’t want to know the sex of the baby, but much else promised to be revealed at the ultrasound. The first blurry pictures had barely resolved on the screen when the sonographer made an announcement: Something was wrong.
Among the routine measurements made at an ultrasound are the lengths of various bones. The numbers can tell how the pregnancy is progressing and whether there are any congenital problems. The bones in this fetus — a boy — were worryingly short. The thighbone looked short and curved. So, too, the bones in the arms. It was the ribs that were most troubling.
“They said that if the ribs weren’t large enough by the time the baby was born, then the lungs wouldn’t be able to expand and he wouldn’t be able to breathe,” Katie said.
Every two weeks over the next five months, Katie went in for an ultrasound. The lengths of the fetus’s bones hovered around the third percentile.
“If it’s under the fifth percentile, it’s just not possible the baby will be able to breathe,” Katie said. “Every doctor we saw said A: it doesn’t look good and B: trust Children’s.”
The Haggertys were referred to Children’s National, where they met with geneticists, orthopedists and other specialists. While other doctors they had seen were uniformly downbeat — one even saying point-blank that the baby would not survive — at Children’s, the Haggertys were offered hope, especially by Dorothy Bulas, the doctor in charge of fetal imaging.
“She just had a feeling,” Jim said. The fetus was tentatively diagnosed with a bone disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta, but “with all her research, she said, ‘I’m not ready to say it’s going to be a fatal case.’ That’s kind of the hope we were latching on to.”
Still, Katie’s pregnancy was shadowed by fear.
“I guess it was a pretty private pregnancy,” Jim said. “How do you tell somebody the baby’s sick, we don’t know what he has, he’s probably going to die?”
Before classes resumed in the fall at Katie’s school, a note was sent to the staff hinting at problems in her pregnancy and asking for privacy.
“Going through infertility, people feel bad for you,” Katie said. “I was tired of that. We were finally not those people, and here we were again. I wanted to be able to go see friends for dinner and talk about something else. We tried to do that. Our minds were never off that, but at least they didn’t know, so we didn’t have to talk about it.”
Jim said he read more books on dealing with the loss of a child than on how to care for one.
“To put it in simple terms, we didn’t have a car seat, we didn’t have a crib,” Jim said.
It seemed likely there would be no need.
An October date was set to induce labor, but after Jim and Katie spent a Saturday at Eastern Market and watching “Iron Man 3” at home, the baby decided he was ready. Katie was awoken in the middle of the night by contractions. On Sept. 29, the couple drove to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, where Children’s National oversees the neonatal intensive care unit. Family members hurried down from New Jersey. After 31 / 2 hours of labor, the baby was born.
“Is he okay?” Katie shouted. “Is he breathing?”
Tomorrow: First breaths.
We’re just about halfway through our annual fundraising campaign for Children’s National. So far, we stand at $165,545.34.
If you’ve already donated, you have my sincere thanks. If you haven’t, I hope you will consider making a gift of any amount. As always, the money donated by Washington Post readers is used to pay the medical bills of poor children.
To make a tax-deductible gift, visit childrensnational.org/
washingtonpost or send a check (payable to “Children’s National”) to Washington Post Giving Campaign, c/o Children’s Hospital Foundation, 801 Roeder Rd., Suite 650, Silver Spring, Md. 20910. Our deadline is Jan. 10.
Bill and Joanne Conway, through their Bedford Falls Foundation, have generously offered to match all gifts to The Washington Post Campaign for Children’s National. All donations, up to a total of $150,000, made by Dec. 31 will be matched dollar for dollar.
Your gift today can make a difference in the life of a child.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.