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Making the phone calls from the hospital to share the news about Bridget’s birth and telling the other kids about their new baby sister were some of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. Everyone was expecting the exciting details of her arrival, to hear about who she looked like, and all the other regular new baby stats. Telling people that Bridget had Down syndrome--and also needed surgery--was heartbreaking. I could hear the concern in the voices on the other end of the phone, and I tried to reassure everyone that we were going to be just fine.
I told people Bridget was a strong baby, and we had dealt with other difficult medical diagnoses. We adored her, just as we adored all of the other children, and we were well-equipped to handle the additional information that arrived with her birth.
Explaining things to the kids did not come as naturally. Sitting in the hospital room with them-- waiting for the nurse to bring Bridget to us--was not like I would have wanted to picture that moment. The kids were all crying, and although the mood in the room was calm, it was also sad. Bridget’s impending surgery was a concern for everyone, and the kids did not know what to think about the Down syndrome part. They asked if Ds was a disease, or something she would outgrow, or something that she would just live with (like asthma). Chris and I tried to answer all of their questions honestly and without adding more worry. After all, we didn’t know what to expect ourselves.
The nurse wheeled Bridget’s little isolette in and everyone got to peek at her for a very short time before the transport team was ready to take her to Children’s Hospital. The kids all agreed that she was tiny, and cute, and that they didn’t want her to be taken away from us.
It’s hard to think and write about now.
Right after she was born, I felt anxiety about what was ahead for Bridget and for the rest of us. Everything was turned upside down, and I wondered if things would ever seem “normal” again. I was concerned about her health, among other things.
I spent that first night confused, sad, and without Bridget. It was an overwhelming 24 hours, and my heart was heavy at times. I alternated between joy and despair--sometimes within the same minute. I felt both empowered and helpless. I tried to come to grips with my new reality as the mother of a child with special needs and four other children who needed me to not sink into a dark, quiet place.
A life with Down syndrome was uncharted territory--vast, weighty and scary. What was happening to our world? Would I always be worried about Bridget? Would we settle into a comfortable life and routine, or would things seem foreign forever? The responsibility and permanence of it all was completely terrifying.
Sara stayed the night with me (in my little hospital bed) and my mind drifted to how I had also stayed in a similar room alone--without her--the night she was born. It was a bittersweet time. We ate ice cream and put cold wash cloths on our faces. We fell asleep sometime in the middle of the night with eyes already swollen shut from all the tears.
The next morning, one of my best friends visited and brought two adorable outfits for Bridget and a delicious breakfast for me and Sara--it was the only part of those first few days that offered a glimpse of celebration. We left the hospital a few hours later quietly, with no fanfare, and without our baby. I felt like I was in the twilight zone for a good portion of the day, and I thought about how that day might have been different if the circumstances were not the same. I grieved the loss of the happy time it should have been.
My heart pounded as we neared the NICU later that afternoon. We walked through the doors, washed up and signed in. Right around the corner from the nurse’s station, in Bed 2, was a beautiful little girl recovering from surgery.
I recognized her immediately, and the clouds parted. As soon as I saw Bridget, all the fear and uncertainty that dominated the prior 24 hours gave way to a powerful and overwhelming sense of peace and calm.
Chris and I looked at each other and smiled. It must have occurred to us at the same time. The little nose and chin, the shape of the face, the hairline, the shoulders. Yep, she’s one of ours. She is part of our family and she’s perfect just the way she is...
All at once, I understood that Bridget is not a mistake, or an anomaly. She is the way she was meant to be, and she was placed in our lives on purpose.
She was sleeping peacefully, and I don't know if I've seen anything quite as beautiful, or if I've been as certain about anything else (aside from marrying Chris)--but I knew that I was meant to be there, and that she was meant to be here.
Seeing her laying there under the bright lights, deserving and needing to be loved—just as any other baby—I knew in my heart that I would go to the ends of the earth for her. It's true that the deepest and most honest love (true love) sees the soul, the essence of a person--their wholeness. I realized in that moment that Bridget was complete. She was perfect, and she was cherished--and I knew we could handle whatever challenges we would face with love like that on our side...