I always knew that I wanted to have a big family. My husband, Matt, and I were thrilled when we welcomed our first son, Benjamin, into the world the day after he returned home from Afghanistan. We figured we would try for our second baby in a year.
Little did we know, God had other plans. A mere five months later, we realized that I was pregnant again. Whoops! Unfortunately, Matt already had another deployment in the works. We knew he wouldn’t be home for the birth this time. I’d be doing it all alone.
At twelve weeks pregnant, I got the nuchal translucency screening done, just like I did with Benjamin’s pregnancy. Both times, I elected to do it solely for the opportunity to get an ultrasound done. I wanted to see my baby. To my shock, the screening came back positive. The ultrasound, plus the blood test, gave me 1 in 6 odds that the baby would have Down syndrome. My obstetrician assured me that in all likelihood, the baby would be “fine” and that these were almost always false positives. Nevertheless, I was referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist in Wilmington to get a higher level ultrasound.
This would be the only appointment Matt was able to attend. I was about 15 weeks pregnant, and Matt was due to deploy in less than a week. We found out we were having a boy then. They also found several soft markers for Down syndrome, and now it was decision time: do we get the amniocentesis done, or wait it out? An amnio is performed by inserting a needle into a pregnant woman’s stomach, and then into the uterus, where amniotic fluid is withdrawn. While I wanted to know whether or not our son had Down syndrome, the thought of the procedure honestly scared me. What scared me even more was knowing I would be doing it alone: Matt was leaving on Sunday, January 1, and the appointment was for the following Tuesday.
Ultimately, my need to know won out. There was never a thought in my mind that we wouldn’t keep the baby, not for a second. But if our son had Down syndrome, I wanted to know now. So a wife from our unit came with me to hold my hand through the amnio. It surprisingly didn’t hurt much, and was over in less than a minute. The doctor told me I’d get the results back in a few days.
I felt surprisingly calm and worry-free over those few days. I think on some level I already knew what the result was going to be. That Friday, at about 6:00pm, a nurse from the doctor’s office called, asking if I could hold for him. I knew right then that it came back positive. He got on the phone and confirmed it: male, positive for Trisomy 21, or Down syndrome. He asked me if I had any questions. I said no, we made our next appointment, and I got off the phone as quickly as possible. And then, I started crying.
I called my mom and my best friend and told them the news. They didn’t really seem to know what to say. Matt was fortunately able to call that evening, and he actually took the news in stride. It was like it was no big deal to him. He was our son, and we would love him. Me? I struggled with the news. I cried for days on end. I couldn’t understand why this had happened to us, why we were being given a child with special needs. I wasn’t prepared in any way for this. I had never even met someone with Down syndrome, let alone know how to raise a kid who had Down syndrome.
After a few emotional weeks, I started to calm down. I learned that around 80% of babies with chromosomal abnormalities end up as miscarriages. This actually made me feel better: my son, just by surviving, was a little fighter. He was a tough guy. I think I had pictured him as being some kind of weak, helpless little child we’d have to take care of our entire lives. This made me start to feel differently. I started to research Down syndrome and learn about it. I found out how medical advances have done so much to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.
And after some time, I was able to accept the diagnosis. When Wyatt was born, I was nothing but happy and excited to meet him. I felt no sadness, resentment, anger, or fear. It took me some time to get there, but eventually I knew that we could handle any challenges thrown our way, and that it would all be worth it in the long run.
Besides, normal is just a setting on a washing machine, right?
Wyatt was born with three minor heart defects, all of which have cleared up on their own. He hasn’t needed surgery, and has thrived these first six months. We’ve started early intervention with him, and he does well with his physical therapy, improving every week. He smiles a lot, likes to copy his big brother (which surely will be fun when they get older!), and is extremely vocal. He’s cute and fun and is just like any other baby. A year ago, I wouldn’t have expected that.
Having Wyatt has changed our entire worldview for the better. We both feel that we’ve become better people, already, because of him, Matt especially. We’ve met people we never would have met and are learning things we otherwise never would have known. And while it seemed so horrible at the beginning, I know now that I’d never take that extra chromosome away for anything. My son has Down syndrome, and really, it’s not that bad. In fact, I’d even say it’s good.