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17 Dec, 2016. 0 Comments. Uncategorized. Posted By: Helen Penny

A guest talk by Jemma, a wonderful Welsh mummy living in England, on when the 20 week scan reveals something unexpected…


jemThe 20 week scan, the second milestone scan during pregnancy. In the UK it is most commonly regarded as the day you can find out the sex of your baby, usually only the second time you get to see your baby since the moment you found out you were pregnant. Excitement overwhelms you, another opportunity to marvel at the miracle that is pregnancy, see little arms, legs, toes. A truly exciting moment in your pregnancy journey.

I wasn’t too focused on the scan that day, I had a one year old and a full-time job. The scan was just one thing on a long list. I drove to Andy’s work to pick him up, Lucy in the back, pushchair in the boot ready for an afternoon shopping trip. We took Lucy along to the scan without really thinking about it, so secure in the knowledge that this was just another opportunity to see the new baby, it never entered our heads that there would be anything but a positive outcome.

The waiting room was full, we met a colleague of Andy’s who was waiting for ‘yet another scan’ as she put it as she was suffering from placenta previa. We had a brief chat, she was called and we waited…and waited.

We were finally called. We met the sonographer who friendly but firmly explained that if she deemed Lucy a distraction she would ask her to leave. I was a bit put out by this at the time, but since this scan I have thought about the job of the sonographer a lot. I was, at that moment, blissfully ignorant to the difficult task in hand. In the 30 or so minutes allocated to each patient the sonographer has to check the baby for any anomalies. This scan is called ‘the anomaly scan’ in all literature provided by UK midwives and the leaflet details what the sonographer is checking for during the session. The conditions listed are as follows:

  • absence of the top of the head (anencephaly)
  • cleft lip
  • defect of the abdominal wall, where the bowel and liver protrude (exomphalos)
  • defect of the abdominal wall, where the intestines protrude (gastroschisis)
  • missing or very short limbs
  • defect of the spinal cord (spina bifida)
  • major kidney problems (missing or abnormal kidneys)
  • hole in the muscle separating chest and abdomen (diaphragmatic hernia)
  • excess fluid within the brain (hydrocephalus)
  • Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome (chromosomal abnormalities)
  • major heart problems (defects of chambers, valves or vessels)

The sonographer checked everything meticulously, then she went quiet. She asked my partner to take Lucy away as she was distracting her. Andy took her out. The sonographer stared at the screen for what felt like an age. ‘Is everything ok?’ I ask, ‘I can’t see the baby’s face’ she admitted. ‘Can you go back out to the waiting room for a moment?’ She asked. ‘Sure’ I say, blissfully unaware that anything is wrong. ‘Do you want me to jump about a bit?’ I say, as I’m walking out the door. I’ve heard plenty of stories from friends about the baby being in the wrong position and them dancing around trying to get the baby to move so the sonographer can get a clear picture. She nods and says ‘I just need someone else to take a look’. I walk down the corridor to the waiting room processing her last words, ‘someone else’ is a second opinion. There is something wrong with my baby, blind panic overwhelms me…I get to Andy and practically shout it ‘she’s getting a second opinion, there’s something wrong’. But what? I spend the next ten minutes agonising over this statement. The baby was moving so he/she is alive at least. Spina bifida? Downs? Something worse? Am I going to meet this child or is this the end? I’m in hell in my head, trying to hold it together in a room full of people.

We’re called back in after what feels like hours (in reality it’s probably less than 5 minutes). I lie down again, a different sonographer looks at my baby and says ‘your child has a cleft lip’. I cry tears of relief, I know a small amount about clefts (a guy at my high school had one, a friend of a friend has one) and that limited knowledge is enough to know that it isn’t life threatening – my baby is going to be ok. I am angry at the sonographer for my worrying and waiting when I should have really been asking questions.

The rest is a blur, they tell me about treatment (two operations in the baby’s first year) and give me a leaflet. I want to leave, they make me an appointment to see a consultant the following day. The baby needs a consultant to check that the cleft is isolated (clefts can be a symptom of something more serious) and they can’t tell whether the palate is affected from the scan. They ask if I want to stay a bit longer to compose myself but I can’t get out of there fast enough. All I can think about is my baby and how this will affect his life.

Fast forward and it’s almost five years since that day. Rowan was born with a complete unilateral cleft lip and palate on the right side. He has had four operations so far; lip repair at four months old, two operations for palate repair and one to elongate the palate to help with speech. He has regular speech therapy and is due a review with his surgeon in March to determine whether he requires more surgery to assist with speech. Aside from this he is a kind, gentle, compassionate child with a zest for life and a love of the natural world. He is truly remarkable and has influenced my life in many ways. I am now a trustee for the charity CLAPA (Cleft Lip and Palate Association) and this work and the satisfaction it brings has prompted a career move into the third sector. This significant change in my life wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for my beautiful son.


If you would like to donate to, or receive support from, CLAPA here is the link to their site.


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