We'd been married for about seven months when we learned we were pregnant. Morning sickness and exhaustion ensued. Shortly before that magic twelve week mark when morning sickness supposedly goes away, we were at the doctor for a routine checkup, including a sonogram.
The nuchal fold measured just above the normal range, and my world came crashing down.
Words like, "heart defect," "Trisomy 13," "Trisomy 18," "Down syndrome" were spoken by our doctor. "You can get CVS in order to find out for sure. We've told you as much as we can here." She was calm and compassionate, but she couldn't change the situation.
I'm healthy. At the time, I was thirty years old. I'd run eleven marathons, and had quit training for number twelve because I was pregnant. Unfair.
We hadn't been married that long. We have big dreams to travel and have adventures. Unfair.
I teach Special Education. I knew the moment "chromosomal" came up what we were talking about. I couldn't be blissfully ignorant. Unfair.
My doctor got the genetic testing center on the phone to set up the appointment with the genetic counselor. I'd have to miss my first day back at work. I called work. I spent a week in tears. Unfair.
Matt and I went on a mini-vacation. We tried to relax.
The Monday of testing loomed. I told the genetic counselor I would not terminate, and she dropped the issue. I saw "Special Ed Teacher" written on my chart. The genetic counselor was also calm and compassionate. She couldn't fix the situation, either.
I opted to have the CVS procedure. I hate needles. I cried, and Matt held my hand. Matt brought me home and got me settled. I spent the rest of that day and the next in bed. The following day, I went to work. The genetic counselor had stated that she'd call around four. I was getting off the freeway when she called, and she waited until I was home to deliver the results.
"Your baby does have Down syndrome."
One sentence. Confirmation of what I think I already knew in my heart. Through tears, I asked the gender. We'd already picked names. "Cling to each other," the counselor said.
I texted the friends coming to dinner to cancel plans, and called Matt at work. "Come home."
I went to bed and cried until he got home, and then said the hardest words I've ever said. I told him that we're having a girl, and that she has Down syndrome.
"Ellie has Down syndrome."
We called parents, and eventually the few friends who knew that we were undergoing testing. Very few people knew we were pregnant at 11.5 weeks.
And the world kept turning. We kept going to work. We cried, we couldn't feel anything, we cried more. We learned a lot about Down syndrome, and heard encouraging stories. We were still scared.
The views on prenatal testing vary widely. In my mind, the prenatal testing ruined our pregnancy but saved the first few months of Ellie's life for us emotionally. We had to grow up fast. We had to talk about things like open heart surgery and lengthy NICU stays. I worried endlessly about miscarriage.
But when Ellie arrived, we had some brief celebration. Nothing prepares you for your child being transferred to another hospital, for surgery, for the NICU, but at least we knew. And the day she came home, the celebration began. From mid-August of 2010 to late March of 2011, we knew stress and tears. Her homecoming gave us some peace.
And now, our angel is settled at home. We seem a decade older, and Ellie is doing well. We don't parent any differently than our friends with typical kids, but our decisions about our lives seem to carry more weight. "Will it be okay for Ellie? Will we be hurting her development?" We know that right now, she's on track for her age-appropriate milestones, but her upcoming surgery will set her back. Life is better now than I could have imagined the day we got that phone call.
We still dream big, but instead of one big dream, our big dreams are a lot of little things that we never truly appreciated before.