All my life, if anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always the same: I wanted to be a mother. I was lucky to find my soul mate early in life. We married at 21, and although our first pregnancy wasn't planned, we were so excited to learn we were pregnant with our first daughter, Emma, when I was 25.
When Emma was about three years old, we thought it was about time to add to our family. We thought having another child would come easily to us. However, to our dismay it didn't. It took us over seven years to conceive our second child. My pregnancy was rough from the start. To our horror, my bag of waters broke when I was only 23 weeks along. I was rushed to the hospital, where we were told that our chances were slim to none of having our child survive even 24 hours. We were completely devastated. After a few days became a few weeks, our chances of having our baby greatly improved, and after being in the hospital for a month, our second child, our daughter, Angelina, was born at 28 weeks. Angelina weighed in at a little over a pound. She was absolutely beautiful. We lived the next entire month in the NICU, with hopes and reassurances from the Doctors each day that everything would be fine. Then one horrible night, our little princess left our lives. It was the worst time our family had ever known. For months, I can't tell you how empty my arms felt. Looking back now, I'm sure part of Angelina's purpose was to prepare us for our future. We knew that with her being so early and so small, our chances of having a perfect little "average" child were slim, but we didn't care. We would take Angelina anyway we could. We loved her and still do.
Never did I think that another pregnancy could be right around the corner. Almost four months after Angelina passed, I learned that I was pregnant once again. I told my daughter first, and as an early Father's Day gift, Emma told her Dad the good news. We were so happy. We were scared, but so happy.
This pregnancy went perfectly, but because I was 38 years old, my doctor recommended a test called a triple screen to help rule out some birth defects. The day of our ultra sound, the three of us went as a family to hear any news. Boy or Girl-we thought that was going to be our biggest question. We left the ultrasound being told that everything looked good, and a slip of paper was placed into Emma's hand from the nurse saying if she was going to have a little brother or sister. Later that night we went out for dinner, where Emma opened the paper to say it was a boy. We were to have a little boy in our family!
About two weeks later we came home to several messages from our doctor asking us to call him. We paged him and waited anxiously for any news. When he returned our call, we learned my blood work showed I had an increased risk for having a child with Down syndrome. They said our odds were about one in 33. Not that bad of odds, he assured us. We were stunned. Down syndrome...us...hadn't we used up all the bad luck in our lives after losing Angelina? We knew nothing about Down syndrome. Even though we were told that our odds of having an "average" child still looked very good, I think in my heart I always knew...although at that time I had hoped for the best. As we educated ourselves on Down syndrome, we learned of the many health issues that could come with this condition; this scared us. We had just spent a month in the NICU with our daughter before we lost her. The thought of going through that again was a lot to digest. From that day on, whenever I prayed to God about our child, I prayed only for health.
We knew we could have further testing to tell us if our child had Down syndrome, but we decided not to. Over the next few months we had many ultra sounds performed to look for any other markers or health issues. Everything always looked good. Maybe this little voice in the back of my head was wrong...maybe everything was going to be okay.
The day of our son's birth was so exciting. He was a planned C-section, and he was to come a month early due to some complications from my previous pregnancy. We knew with him coming early that we might have to spend time in the NICU, and that scared the heck out of us, but we were ready to meet our little guy.
My C-section went well, and into our world came our little boy, Matthew, all pink and beautiful. He weighed in at 6lbs 8oz - pretty big for being a month early. He was breathing great on his own. He was healthy, my husband said to me, with tears streaming down his face. As the doctors finished working on me, I noticed the neonatologist talking to my husband. A minute later he walked up to me, still strapped to the operating table, and bluntly said,”we think your child has Down syndrome." I'll never forget the gasp of the anesthesiologist. I went blank. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. Where was my husband? How was he...during the pregnancy he was more afraid of this outcome than me. Dave walked over to me with the most gentle look on his face (even though he was angry not to be the one to tell me), looked me in the eyes and said,”Honey, he’s perfect." I don't think he ever looked back after that. I wasn't that lucky.
Our first concern, after learning that Matthew looked perfectly healthy, was how Emma was going to take this news. She was aware of our risks throughout our pregnancy but was always the voice of optimism. I was so worried for her sake, and that was the only thing that kept me strong. How Dave was so okay with this news shocked me. “Everything was going to be fine,” he kept saying so convincingly. Emma joined us in the recovery room, where to her delight she got to hold Matthew right away. “Where were all the tubes and lines like Angelina had?” asked Emma. After she held him for a short while, we told her the news. She took it like a little trooper and like my husband never looked back.
The people at the hospital were kind to us. A nurse later that day gave me information on NADS and suggested we call. Meanwhile tests confirmed that Matthew was indeed perfectly healthy. Thank God for that. Especially now that so many of our friends we have met through NADS shared a different story. Later that day my husband called NADS. I could not at that time. He talked to Ann Garcia, a kind caring woman who is also the parent of a child with Down syndrome, and she said she would love to help us by setting us up with a parent who has been there and could understand our feelings. I don't think I could have gotten by without the help of these people.
The day we came home with our baby was the day before the year anniversary of the death of our daughter. I was a hormonal basket case. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be the kind of mother I needed to be for my little guy? It took me about a week or so to call my parent volunteer back. She was so nice and assured me that everything that I was feeling was a normal part of the grieving processes that we all go through. She assured me that I wasn't a monster for feeling this way. That in time I would get past all this.She was so right. I don't remember who said this to me, but it was one of the biggest things that helped me, “there will come a day that I would wake up and Down syndrome wouldn't be the first thing I would think of”. I couldn't wait for that day to come. It came so much sooner than I thought. As the days went by, we fell more in love with Matthew. We realized that he really didn't seem different than other babies. He was such a bundle of love. He was such a smiley guy. But more than anything, he made us all feel complete.
Our family and our friends couldn't agree more. Matthew is a hit everywhere we go! To know him is to love him, and boy is he loved! When I meet a new parent of a child with Down syndrome, I like to assure them that the way they feel today IS NOT the way they will feel in days to come. Today I feel blessed to be able to see the world through Matthews's eyes, eyes that only know love. I believe that if we all had a child with Down syndrome, the world would be a better place.
Today, Matthew is 18 months old, and he is into everything! The personality of this little guy is so funny. I know that we are going to face some challenges in life due to his Down syndrome, but I also know we will reap more riches than most will ever know.