Little did I know the hard part hadn't even begun.
I only got to hold Hunter for a few seconds after he was born. Snip went the cord and whisk went my baby, as the nurses hurried him to an incubator next to my bed. “Wait, I want to hold him!” I said.
“We've got some tests to run, you can hold him soon,” the nurses said.
Tests, I thought. Apgar scores and such. And not holding him was part and parcel of a hospital delivery – not what I'd wanted, but I had no choice. Tanner left my side and hurried to wrap his hands around our baby. We'd discussed this earlier, and it was important that Hunter would be in physical, loving contact with at least one of his parents for every second.
The doctor (who'd completely missed the Hollywood-drama delivery) came in about then, and set about stitching my tears and examining me. The adrenaline bled from my body, leaving black spots in my vision and a wooly feeling in my brain. I kept my head turned toward the incubator, where I could barely glimpse my baby's form between the green scrubs of the nurses.
“I love you, Hunter,” I called. “He's all right, isn't he?”
He's fine. We just need to run tests.
Okay. All right. I sank into the fuzzy warmth of post-labor and barely paid attention to the nurses' murmured request for a neonatologist. I was too happy. Tanner stood by the baby, grinning through the tears running down his face. “Thank you,” he whispered to me. “He's perfect. Thank you.”
I'm not sure how much time passed. Tanner left for a while to get food and let our dog out. The nurses came in and told us our room was almost ready. All I wanted to do was scoop my baby out from the heat lamp and nuzzle him close.
Tanner came back, with a white rose and a big smile. He kissed me, then moved over to the baby. “Have they let you hold him yet?”
At that moment the door opened and the neonatologist came in. Quietly, he did the appropriate pokes and prods.
I reached out to touch Hunter's foot. “Can I hold him now?”
The doctor said some thing about tests.
“What tests?” I finally asked.
The doctor turned to face me, blinked twice, and said, “There's a strong probability that--”
That's when I started to cry. Because in that split second, I knew. I don't know how. The possibility had never crossed my mind. But I knew, oh God I knew.
“--your baby has Down Syndrome.”
In the silence I heard the endless icy tinkle of shattered glass.
Life as we knew it ended. That brief blissful moment of unspoiled joy was gone before we fully knew it had come.
What does one do when they're told their child has Down Syndrome? We went on with life. Scared. But hoping against hope, in that week before the test came back. With Hunter hope was so easy. He's a strong baby, crazily active like he was inside me. He had no heart problems, no obvious physical features. He responded to my voice and touch and tracked my face with his beautiful blue eyes.
One week later the hospital called. They had the results and were faxing them over to our pediatrician. Tanner stepped outside to get better reception. I sat on the sofa with Hunter in my lap, white-knuckling the sofa pillows. Please God. Please God please God please.
It would be negative, right? It had to be.
The door opened. Tanner came inside, his eyes shiny, his chin puckered like a peachstone. “It was positive,” he said. “He has Downs. But it doesn't matter. We love him.”
I cried. And cried and cried and cried.
It's a week today since we heard. It's funny how many times your life can change in seven days. We've said goodbye to our dreams. We've let the little boy we imagined fade back into unreality – because we have to, because we must welcome instead the little boy who is.
And we love that little boy! We held him through the tears and kissed his fuzzy blond head and told him how much we wanted him.
In the last seven days I've plumbed my soul to the bottom, searched every crevice of myself for strength. For answers. For understanding.
And I've realized you can't live your life in fear of the future. Life is scary. We never know what's around the corner. It could be cancer. A car accident. A heart attack. Betrayal. Loss.
We don't spend our lives worrying about those things. We acknowledge their possible existence, and then return to the present. That, I know, is what we must do with Hunter. Being his parents isn't going to be easy. It's going to be sad at times. It's going to be scary at others.
But such is parenthood. And that's all in the future, in the unknown. Right now, he's a gorgeous little bundle of babyhood. Tomorrow, he'll be an adorable toddler, scooting around the floor and giving us gummy smiles. Then he'll be a cute little boy running through the grass catching toads with me.
That's the future I'm focusing on.
I got a poem in the mail the other day, sent in a package of DS information from the hospital. In it, the author likens the experience of becoming a special-needs parent to a traveler who has dreamed their whole life of going to Italy. They have the guidebooks, they know where they're going and what they will see. They get on the plane, thrilled and excited – but instead of going to Italy, they land in Holland. They're shocked, hurt, upset, until they discover that Holland is also a beautiful place, full of joy and fun.
Up until then the poem was good. But then it goes on to say that the traveler will never ever ever stop being sad about not going to Italy.
That's when I crunched the poem between my hands and hurled it across the room. I will NOT live by never-ever-ever. I never ever ever thought I'd be the mother of a baby with DS. The odds said never ever ever. Well, here I am. Here is my beautiful little boy. So I refuse to believe I will always be sad. And I refuse to believe I can't go to Italy! I will go to Italy. I have gone to Italy. For brief splinters of time, we've been like any family: happy parents with a gorgeous baby. No worries. No fears. No future, just the present.
Those moments don't last, but while they do, I clutch at them, determined to drain every bit of the beauty and joy before they pass. And I believe the moments will last longer and longer, until most of our life is spent in Italy.
Hunter is everything we wanted. He makes us smile. He's our son. And we love him with all our hearts.
I'd like to take a moment to thank all the people who have reached out with love and kindness to us in this time. From friends and family to complete strangers who have answered emails, returned phone calls, offered hugs, and in so many ways showed support and love. I wouldn't be in Italy without you all. I'll never be able to thank you enough.