And there was a point in time, in my early teens, where I wasn’t even sure I liked them, but mostly, it was just that I didn’t ever see myself as a mom. A wife, yes. Sure. A mother? Not so much.
And then something happened.
I met someone about a month before my 38th birthday, and decided/realized rather quickly, that if ever there was a guy to make me “take one for the team," he was the guy. He didn’t have any children himself, and at 40, he’d figured if it hadn’t happened by now, it probably wasn’t going to.
Then along came me. And after some months of dating, and some discussion, we came to the agreement that we’d like to make something happen.
But first, an appointment with my doctor, who gave us the go-ahead, and warned that it might take us a few tries to conceive unsuccessfully before "intervention" was required — normal for a woman "my age."
That was her advice in April. I was pregnant by June.
It was expected, but unexpected. My partner and I were thrown quickly into the maelstrom of impending parenthood: monthly/bi-weekly/weekly doctor's appointments, ultrasounds, blood and urine tests. (Thank God for the Canadian health care system.)
On Friday, September 13, 2013, I learned that our baby tested positive for 4 out of 5 markers for Trisomy 21 – the genetic mutation responsible for Down Syndrome. This meant that there was an 80% chance that my child would be a Special Needs child. A week later, after meeting with a couple of geneticists, and one amniocentesis, the diagnosis and sex of our baby – a little girl – were confirmed.
At a final face-to-face meeting to discuss how to cope with our daughter’s condition moving forward – a meeting I have dubbed “the abortion sell,” my partner and I met with the lead doctor/geneticist and her assistant. The discussion started with an apology, as if our baby had died. We were then apprised of the options for termination (either D&C or induction. Really? WTF?)
When it was clear that we had no intentions of terminating the pregnancy, we got the consolation prize spiel (“children with Down Syndrome are loving, gentle souls…very unlike children with Autism.”) Ultimately, we were told not to expect much of our baby moving forward through infancy and childhood, and into adulthood. "She'll probably never grow up to be more than a Wal-Mart greeter," said the doctor.
Incensed, I left that meeting doubled over in pain; my stress-related gastric issues kicked in, and I spent a week post-meeting in the hospital recovering. Once I was discharged, I spent every possible minute scouring the Internet for as much information as I could about parenting a child with Trisomy 21 – the form of Down Syndrome that my baby has.
Apparently raising a child with Down Syndrome is the best thing that could happen to a parent. Or the absolute worst. It can be time-consuming. Or it can be like parenting any other “normal” kid. There are a plethora of additional health challenges. Or not many at all. The information was overwhelming. Conflicting. Disheartening.
I read all about the stats – how something like 80-90% of pre-term Down Syndrome diagnoses end in abortion. I recall the ultrasound technician who called me an “angel” for not ending my baby’s life, in spite of the diagnosis. I flinched every time someone asked me, “is the baby healthy otherwise?” or made reference to how difficult parenting a kid who wasn’t “normal” is going to be.
Sometimes, the remarks hurt, but I received all comments and questions graciously, acting as a champion for my kid, gently correcting people’s choice of words, and reminding them that, at the end of the day, my daughter’s course through infancy into childhood will always differ from some other kid’s. And not just because she has Down Syndrome, but because every kid is different, period.
Today I am scheduled to have a C-section and will finally meet my daughter. She was unexpected, yet expected in more ways than are imaginable. And when I’m able to hold her, I’ll search her eyes for recognition, caress her little head, cover her in kisses, and let her know – as much as humanly possible – just how loved she is.
Because she’s my kid. And I’ve never wanted anything more.
Joanne M. Brathwaite is a freelance writer, social media thingy, and surprised mommy-to-be of a little girl with Down Syndrome. Read about her pregnancy and journey through new motherhood here: www.thiswasntinthemanual.com and follow her on twitter.
UPDATE: Joanne sent me an email last night and her daughter has now joined this planet! She is so amazingly cute, but I won't tell you more because it's Joanne's story to tell. Just know mom and baby are doing well and resting and Joanne seems exhausted and ecstatic, as you would expect. Yay baby!
(Image: author's own)