Mom Apologizes to Son with Down Syndrome

downs Although these words will never meet your ears, I’m apologizing anyway.  You are and will always be protected by what I felt that day, in that moment. After all, I’m a mother. I’m your mother.  It’s my job to protect you.

Admitting something I’m deeply ashamed of isn’t easy. Even your father doesn’t know this.  How could I tell him? He didn’t share my feeling. He didn’t share my fear. I didn’t want to look less in his eyes or risk losing a piece of his heart. But, this isn’t about him. It’s about you and me.

During my pregnancy, nothing was out of the ordinary. Although it had been eight years since your sister was born, it was like riding a bike. The only difference:  I was deemed to be “high risk” because of my “advanced maternal age”.  At 40, I was five-years deep into the label.   I didn’t mind. I felt great.

Besides the standard “what sex is your baby” ultrasound, (I’m sorry my heart sank a bit when they told me you were a boy. Your sister has proven that raising one girl is more than I can handle.)  I was advised to get a genetic one due to my ancientness.

The initial genetic ultrasound showed you were perfectly healthy, but the physician mentioned your arms and legs seeming a bit short. He didn’t seem concerned. In fact, he spent most of the time joking around and speaking of his Eskimo roots.  After the exam he asked if we wanted an amniocentesis, which we quickly declined. We told him you were stuck with us no matter what. Dr. Alaska, as I’ll refer to him, wanted us to come back in about a month to recheck your growth.

The second exam wasn’t much different. Dr. Alaska made similar comments regarding your limbs and added that your head seemed a bit large.  Much to your father’s dismay, he meant the one above your neck. He asked if any of our relatives were disproportionate or had problems wearing hats or helmets. I couldn’t help but laugh and asked if there was a problem. Was he saying you were a little person or had another genetic disorder, like Down syndrome? He said “No,” and added that none of the findings were cause for concern. He said his kids had big heads, which didn’t please his wife during labor.  Then, he talked about working with little people. Basically, he knew little people, and we weren’t having one.  Despite his lack of concern, a final genetic ultrasound was scheduled two weeks before my due date.

When I arrived for my final ultrasound, I discovered Dr. Alaska had left the building, literally. He returned to Alaska to open his own office. Instead, I was left with Dr. Constipated, who was knowledgeable, and professional, but lacked warmth and personality.  It didn’t take him long to express concerns about your low birth weight, lack of fluid in the amniotic sac and by the way… it seemed you had genetic markers for Down syndrome. That news should’ve hit your father and I like a ton of bricks, but it didn’t. In fact, we dismissed it in our minds. After all, we saw Dr. Alaska. He was confident there were no concerns. He laughed and joked with us. He was someone we could hang out with. Why would we believe Dr. Constipated over him? Our answer: We wouldn’t! Anyway… His concerns led to me being induced the next day.  I was excited. I couldn’t wait to be a new mom holding her son, instead of a waddling pregnant new mom-to-be.

I’ll save us all the trouble of real timing the labor. Aside from your father announcing my contractions each time they appeared on the monitor (as if I didn’t know), it was pretty standard stuff.

Let me thank you now for your speedy arrival. It only took a minute or so, and you were out. Of course, your father couldn’t believe it. After the second push, I saw his eyes bug out, and I heard him ask the doctor if I should have a C-section. Your father had no clue.

You popped out and the doctor immediately took you to the side. You were surrounded by nurses cleaning you up and assisting in examining you. It felt like forever. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I began to cry and asked if you were okay. No one turned around to answer me. You father, who tried spying on the huddle a few times, said you were perfect. At that point, I was getting pretty upset that the one person, who did all the work, couldn’t see the finished product.

Finally, they gave you to your dad. Still crying, I asked if you had it (Down syndrome). He simply responded you were fine and put you in my arms. Here lies my shame. I looked at you. Without hesitation or a mental filter, I thought, “This isn’t my son,” and I wanted to give you back. My heart didn’t fill with immediate joy as anticipated. I just looked at you, analyzing the size of your head, the red patchy skin, the appearance of your eyes.  I felt scared and insecure about being your mom.

Then, they took you… again. I only held you for a minute, and they took you. It was in that moment that I snapped out it. You were gone for hours, and I was aching to have you back in my arms.

When I recall my initial reaction to seeing you, I want to smack myself. I want to yell and scream and call myself a horrible person who doesn’t deserve such a wonderful gift. I’ve tried to figure out why I felt that way, but I can only speculate. Was it your appearance? You looked like a malnourished alien because you needed some meat on your bones. Goodness! You were only five pounds nothing. Your eyes looked funny because they applied ointment, causing them to swell.  How can I judge someone who just came out of the depths of me after nine months? I’ve looked worse after a night of drinking.  Was it the anxiety of not being able to hold you immediately? OR… Was it hearing “Down syndrome” only the day before your birth. I don’t know the answer.

I need to apologize for not feeling overwhelming joy the second you were placed in my arms. There is no excuse. But one thing is certain; I loved you beyond reason, before ever laying eyes on you. I still do. You are perfectly spectacular. There is nothing I would change.

And… Let’s forgive Dr. Alaska for not knowing his stuff. You have Down syndrome, and your cute little head hasn’t met a hat it can’t wear.