I was about five months along when I slipped an ultrasound picture into a Mary Higgins Clark book, and handed it to my mom. When she opened it, she looked at the picture for a second, sort of turning it around, and I said, “So, what do you think?”
“I think it’s a baby,” she said, wonderstruck. When she found out I was having a girl and naming her Hannah, she was thrilled. Hannah was unplanned, but like many unplanned things, they turn out to be good things that lead to more good things. Hannah got Brian and me speed up the marriage date (we’d put it off for months for financial reasons) and move into our own home (we had thus far been living with my parents).
It was after we knew she was going to be a girl (we were hoping for fraternal twins—I, contemplating Lucy and Ricky for the names) when my OB/GYN told us something about our baby’s nuchal fold measurements, and how they were an indicator of Down’s syndrome. We were devastated. It took me an entire day to realize that it had nothing to do with my not taking prenatal vitamins the first three months of gestation (I was three months along before I knew I was expecting).
Although I knew if my lovely baby was already affected, there was nothing more that could be done. I had never heard of anyone being cured of Down’s syndrome, but I could pray for a way to handle the challenges that would come from raising a special needs child. “Somehow, it makes me love her even more,” Brian said, and I knew he said it because he felt she would need it more.
I was working overnights at Walgreens at the time, and all night, I agonized over how I was going to be good enough; I didn’t even feel ready for mothering a normal baby. Even as my husband said he felt he loved her even more, I felt I wanted to protect her even more, for the world isn’t always kind to those who are different.
However, once I prayed that I would be able to deal with whatever came, and knew I would love my baby the same, peace replaced fear. By the time we got the more advanced ultrasound done (during which the doctor told us our child was perfectly fine), I wept with relief and joy, knowing this scare had taught me that we are never prepared for what may happen till it happens.
Had Brian and I already had other children, Hannah’s prediagnosis might not have affected me as much, because I knew our children would look after their new sibling, but what if this was the only one we had? Who would love our daughter after we were gone?
When I gave birth, worrying about her welfare didn’t end there. When Hannah was born till she was about three months, I rode in the backseat with her; her crib was also in our room. I didn’t like to take her anywhere (at least alone), but preferred to keep her at home. However, as time went on, I began to relax, but her safety and health was always a part of my consciousness. It was the new me that was born when she was, and it would never die as long as she lived. I had to learn how to co-exist with this heightened awareness that was, at times, exhausting.
Hannah would fail the hearing test twice before passing the third, and always, until she passed, I wondered if perhaps those nuchal fold measurements had been indicators of something else.
When she didn’t walk at a year old, I didn’t think much about it. However, as time went on, especially after a visit to her pediatrician, who said she was developmentally delayed (a term which always made my husband bristle and me want to cry), I began to wonder. When she started walking at twenty months, I was relieved, but I wondered, would it always be this way—her playing catch-up? Would I always be jogging backwards in front of her, trying to make her run faster than she was ready?
When it came time to put her in preschool, I was as excited for her as my husband was nervous. When the administrator of the school told me she was in the one to one-and-a-half-year-old range, I cried. (She had just turned two, two months ago.) When I told my dad about some of her quirks, like staring off into space, doing repetitive things, and her lack of interest in other children, he mentioned autism, but I told him autistic people usually didn’t have a personality.
I know I don’t see Hannah as being anything but perfect because I am her mother, and so I have to see her sometimes as others see her—with a critical, but still caring eye. It is only when I have done all I can do that I can let it go, because I know, as my husband does, that she will get there (as much as is possible) with our help and the others we allow to help. I know and accept there will never be a moment in my life when I will never have to worry about her again—that I will still worry in my own way, about every little thing.
However, I regret I allowed the deep disappointment of not being able to breastfeed to be the thief of joy during the moments when I should have been luxuriating in first-time motherhood. I blamed myself for her delay for a long time, because of all I’d heard about the I.Q. points of breastfed children being higher. I’d tried every kind of pump and every kind of way to get her to take to it. Then one of my best friends told me she hadn’t been able to breastfeed at all; that child is now a gifted student. Hannah is almost three now, and I’ve stopped comparing her to other children her age, and delight in who she is. She isn’t perfect, but is perfect to me and to those who love her. She doesn’t know everything, but she knows we love her. She is healthy and happy, filled with curiosity and wonder, laughter and joy. I teach with love and the rest will come. We are blessed to have a multitude of resources where we can get help for her; we are not alone.
All of us are at different stages in our lives—we all progress in different ways, at different times. I look in the mirror and see what I should have been ten years ago, but am just now getting around to—becoming a college graduate.
The moment I found out I might have a baby with special needs revealed myself to me, and I liked what I saw. When I look at Hannah now, and think back to where she was even a year ago, I see her blossoming into the rose she will someday become.
Published as “Every Little Thing” in The Kilgore Review (2016), having placed second in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.