Shortly after the holidays, we decided to try for another baby. It did not take very long for me to get pregnant again, but for some reason it seemed to be a complicated pregnancy. During an ultrasound exam at 19 weeks, I felt the need to ask if our baby's heart was okay. The technician didn't say much, other than confirming that four chambers were visible. A few minutes later, back in the examination room, my midwife said that they had found some fluid around the heart, and I needed to have a level II ultrasound. I walked out of the clinic crying that day. I felt utterly helpless as I shared the news with Andy over the phone. The next day we had to fly to Florida for a conference, and the ultrasound would have to wait a week. A week seemed like an eternity.
Our first night in Florida I woke up in the middle of the night with an unexplained and overwhelming sense that our baby was going to have Down syndrome. With a heavy heart I prayed, "Not Down syndrome, Lord please! It's OK for our friends but not for us." I locked myself in the bathroom and let the tears come. I was not like Bill and Kristin; I could never have a child with a disability. The delays, the therapies and other people's perceptions were too much for me to handle.
The next morning I was still very upset. "What if our baby has Down's?" I asked Andy.
"Why do you ask that?" he replied, confused.
"I ... " My voice broke as I struggled with my emotions. "I had a dream about it," I finally said, as tears streamed down my face.
Andy was thoughtful for a while, then he reached out and held my hand, "If it comes to be, then we will walk down that road, and you and I know that we will not walk it alone."
I fell into his arms and cried. He was right. Bill, Kristin and Jennifer would walk with us every step of the way.
When we went to have the level II ultrasound, we were overjoyed to hear that the fluid around the baby's heart was gone. The doctor said not to worry about anything, our baby girl was perfectly healthy and an amniocentesis would not be necessary. We felt relieved to know that everything was OK.
But then, two weeks later, we went to my regular prenatal checkup. "How are you guys feeling about the level II ultrasound?" my midwife asked.
"We feel great," I responded.
She looked confused. "Didn't they tell you?"
"All they told us is that the fluid around the heart is gone," Andy replied.
The midwife paused, took a deep breath and looked from Andy to me. The concern in her face threw me into panic. I feared she'd say those words that had only been spoken in the sharing of my dream. It was only a dream. It had to be only a dream.
"Your baby might have Down syndrome," she finally said.
My heart sank. I swallowed hard and looked at Andy. It struck me that despite this news, his eyes were peaceful. The only thing I knew for sure was that this was our baby girl and we would love her, even if she had an extra chromosome. All I could muster in reply to the midwife was, "It will be OK if she does."
As Andy and I drove home, we decided that since there was only a possibility of Down syndrome and not a definite diagnosis, we wouldn't share this information with anyone except two people: Bill and Kristin. When we did, they helped us process our feelings and assured us that they would journey alongside us. Our close friends were becoming our family.
Nichole was born on Oct. 2, 2007, after a smooth and quick labor and delivery. And yes, Nichole was born with Down syndrome. As soon as she was placed on my tummy, I thought, she looks like Jennifer. Several nurses told us how lucky our daughter was, for they had never seen such love and acceptance from parents who had a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome. I had fooled them all. They didn't know that when I looked at Nichole's face, all I saw was Down syndrome. I couldn't see my baby.
Back at home with Nichole, I was a depressed mess. My life had been destroyed and the shattered pieces lay scattered around me. My vision blurred from the constant tears; I couldn't even begin to put together a façade. I was in a deep and ugly hole, feeling as if warmth and light had vanished forever, and leaving me to slowly die inside. I prayed and I prayed that I would wake up from the nightmare to find out that I had a "normal" baby girl.
Exactly a week after Nichole was born, her doctor called to confirm her diagnosis: Trisomy 21. I called Andy and he came home from work early. We sat in the living room and I cried while we held each other. I thought I was ready to love a child with Down syndrome; I thought I would be able to handle it. Why was this happening to us? It had to be a mistake, it just had to be a mistake!
The doorbell rang. Andy opened the door wide and a beautiful and spunky little girl walked in, wearing one of her huge smiles. She waved both arms at us and said, "Hi!" It was Jennifer, and despite my great sadness, she had just made me smile.
Our friends stayed to visit for the evening. I couldn't take my eyes off Jennifer that night. I couldn't help but imagine our new life with a child with Down syndrome. And what I imagined was beautiful! I saw love, joy and peace bundled in a baby. I saw great celebration of even the smallest of accomplishments. I imagined Nichole as a little girl running to me, offering a hug and a kiss, playing with her sister, and bringing laughter into our family. And that was only the beginning. My heart was pounding hard, fully engaged and overflowing with joyful dreams for the future. I was ready to embark on this new adventure.
By the end of the evening, I knew I could be done with my tears of sadness. As I looked into Jennifer's eyes, I knew beyond any doubt that everything would be OK. That life with Nichole would be surprisingly rich in all aspects. That I had so much to look forward to.
Today, 19 months later, I am even more convinced that Nichole is absolutely perfect. I would not have her any other way. Because of her, I have basked in love, joy, kindness, gentleness, peace and goodness. Nothing about my daughter is a mistake. God does not make mistakes.
Adapted from Ellen Stumbo's blog at ellenstumbo.com. Ellen is a pastor's wife and she writes about finding beauty in brokenness with gritty honesty and openness. She is passionate about sharing the real—sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly—aspects of faith, parenting, special needs and adoption. She has been published in Focus on the Family, LifeWay, MomSense, Not Alone and Mamapedia, among others.
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