They say your wedding day and the birth of your children are some of the best days of your life. I have found that to be true. My wedding day, the birth of my first son, and the first half hour after my second was born were the happiest moments of my life.
Then the moment pauses. The pediatrician examining my son said she had a few concerns: the extra folds around his almond-shaped eyes, the straight-lined crease on his hands, the hypotonia. Immediately after she mentioned the shape of his eyes I knew what she meant.
My baby boy has Down syndrome.
Blood is drawn. An echocardiogram performed. A social worker visits and hands me a packet of information. Another pediatrician confirms the preliminary diagnosis. I want everyone to leave and let me sleep so I can wake up from this dream.
As I held him he looked straight into my eyes. It may seem absurd, but it was as if he was trying to communicate to me that even though he wasn’t the little boy I expected he still hoped that I would love him. And I did. From that first moment I held him I was completely and utterly in love. I knew I would do everything in my power to be a strong advocate for him. To give him every advantage I could.
Less than two days after his arrival we were discharged. (My son was only a week early, and other than being a bit jaundiced, he had no health concerns. I was, and still am, very grateful.) I decided to take him for a walk around the Labor and Delivery Ward to show him off. As I walked along I passed a young man sweeping the floor. He stopped to tell me Congratulations.
He had Down syndrome.
As I turned the corner I broke into tears. It’s terrible to say, but it’s true. You see, my boys were going to be all-American, well-rounded quarterbacks—look out Peyton and Eli! I had laid out their future before one was born and before the other was two. But none of my visions had one pushing a broom around a hospital. I was mourning the loss of the child I had expected. And that was OK.
Once I collected myself, I continued on my walk. I ran into the young man for a second time. I was mad at God; how much more “in-my-face about the future” did he have to be? The young man asked about my baby: his name, weight, number of siblings. Then he congratulated me again, looked at my baby, and said, “He’s beautiful…he looks like me.” I swallowed back the tears and thanked him for his kind words.
Beautiful. Like Me.
He seemed to be referring to not only my son’s sweet face, but also his own inner beauty. He didn’t see the bleakness I saw. He saw a newborn not Down syndrome. Perhaps it’s a gift far greater than tossing a football in the NFL to look at oneself and see the beauty and not get hung up on what society deems beautiful and “normal”. A gift I don’t know how to pass on to my children no matter how hard I try, but perhaps, my son can instill in me.
My mother’s intuition tells me that my son will teach more than I will have ever expected. There will be struggles. There will be tough times. This world can be a cruel place. But something tells me the joys are going to be beyond my comprehension.
He is my pride and joy.
He is my beautiful boy.
(The poem “Trip to Holland” explains the title. http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html)