October 1, 2009

the day my buddy was born

Before my buddy was born, I never wrote outside of English class.  A few months after his birth, I felt the need to get it all out and wrote … never intending to share it with anyone.  As we enter Down syndrome awareness month and just a mere 2 weeks from my buddy’s first birthday, I thought I’d share just a small snippet.

my buddy = W    and monkey bear = C

“He looks like he has Down syndrome.”

“What a terrible thing to say about our new baby.  I can’t believe you would say that.”

“No, I really mean it.”

“But I did all the prenatal testing and nothing came up.  I don’t think he can have it.”

Michael brings W over for me to see.  He does look like he has Down syndrome.  I keep on repeating that I did the blood work and that it can’t possibly be true.

“You need to say something to one of the nurses,” said Michael

“I don’t want to be the mom that thinks there is something wrong with her baby - what if it isn’t true.  I can’t be that mom.”

Hours pass while no one says anything to me.  I try and get W to breastfeed, but it isn’t working.  I buzz a nurse to come and help me.  She brushes me off saying something about skin to skin and just letting the baby rest for now.  No one will look me in the eye.  There is a huge elephant in the room. 

I call my cousin and tell her I had the baby.  She asks if he is beautiful.  As I stare at W wondering what his fate will be, thinking of my “perfect” son, I don’t know how to answer the question so I talk about his long blonde hair and the longest fingernails I’ve ever seen.  Tears silently fall down my face.  In my heart I know.

More time passes while I just stare at W.  It feels like an eternity.  This guessing game I play with myself.  How could the prenatal testing not have found something?   Newborn babies all look a bit funny to me.   I don’t know a lot about Down syndrome and I am nowhere near the internet or library.  I need to say something, but what do I say?  Who do I ask?  I pretend to be the happy new mom and make a few more phone calls.  Relief when I get voicemail.  Feigned exhaustion when I reach a person.  I call the bare bones list.  Not like after C.

Finally the nurse practitioner from my family practice doctor’s office comes in.  A slightly familiar face.  Our doctor is away, of course.  I bring up that we think he looks like he has Down syndrome.  In my mind I say “down’s syndrome” because that’s what I think it is called.

“That’s why I am here.  There have been some concerns because of some low tone and other physical traits.  We are going to have a pediatric specialist come in to do an evaluation.”

I ask my questions about the prenatal testing and she explains that it meant no increased risk was present, but we still had the “normal” risk for Trisomy 21.  The specialist won’t be in until later, so we have to wait for the expert opinion.

I reach my mom on her cell phone but the connection isn’t great.

“Mom, they think W has Down syndrome,” I manage to get out between the sobs.


A little louder this time, “They think he has Down syndrome.”

“I’m having a hard time hearing you.”

This time I practically shout, “They think W has Down syndrome!”

She pulls over to the side of the road so she is able to talk to me.  There is nothing better than the sound of your mom’s voice when you really need her.  She talks of how society has come so far and how special education is there for you and how many support groups are out there.  

I feel better.  We have no definitive DNA testing and no specialists opinion, but we know.  Michael is having a hard time keeping it together.  C is starting to get hungry and whining.  My dinner arrives.  I don’t eat red meat and am lactose intolerant.  Dinner is meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and salad with creamy dressing.  This pushes me over the edge.  I am so tired, but more than anything, I am starving.  A nurse comes in and I just cry and cry.  She orders me a special meal.  C enjoys the meatloaf.

I sit alone for a while until the pediatric specialist, Dr. O’Callahan comes in.  He has kind eyes and a slight accent that is very pleasing.  He pulls a chair right next to the bed.  

“How are you doing?” he asks while resting a hand reassuringly on my knee.

I am so taken by surprise with his warmth that I almost start to instantly cry.  I usually don’t cry and especially not in front of someone I don’t know.  I manage to shrug and say, “OK.”

Dr. O’Callahan then goes on to say that from his exam he believes that W does have Down syndrome.  He talks about the physical traits that he has that lead him to the conclusion and about blood work that will be done to say 100%.  There is more talk about possible health concerns and he has a pamphlet for me to read.  The good news is that there is no sign of a heart murmur or any other health concerns.  Dr. O’Callahan then offers some words of encouragement.  The words are a blur, but the sentiment settles well in my heart.

 My in-laws come by for a visit, but W isn’t in the room with me.  They bring a stuffed animal and flowers.  There is a lot of awkward silence and no one really knows what to say.  I waddle on down to the special care nursery so I can show them the baby.  I identify myself and we are buzzed in. We squirt our hands with antibacterial gel - a smell I will soon be all too familiar with.  As we enter, I stop not sure what to make of what I see.  W is under the french fry warmer, legs and arms sprawled out, with a blue surgical sheet over his belly with the hole part open over his belly button.  For a second, a million questions pop into my mind, the number one being - I did not give my permission for anesthesia and what on earth have they done to him.

The nurse must have seen the look on my face and she quickly explained that he is just sleeping.  They needed blood and didn’t have any luck finding a vein, so they opened up his belly button to get the blood.  We admire W for a moment.  My mother-in-law is quick to say how beautiful he is and how they love all their grandchildren.  I feel the other unsaid words - she doesn’t want it to be true.  She doesn’t know what to do with a special needs grandson.  And what will everyone think of him, but more importantly, of her.

The room starts spinning around me and the reality of the day hits me.  I always wanted children, but mostly I always wanted boys.  I love my daughter and was surprisingly excited to be having a girl.  But there is something about having a house filled with rowdy teenage boys.  I used to imagine my son with all his friends over.  I would cook great snacks and they would always want to hang out at the house filling it with their life force.  There would be girlfriends I could chat with and befriend in the way you can’t befriend your own daughter.  But now my son has Down syndrome.  My “perfect” family of one boy and one girl no longer exists.  My heart is aching.  I turn the lights off and cry until I have nothing left to give.  

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