I was 27, young and healthy. I was not ‘at risk’ for having a baby with Down Syndrome so this wasn’t supposed to be ‘my’ story, it was supposed to be ‘someone else’s story.’
When my [third] daughter Bree was born via C-section I only got to see her cute round face briefly before they whisked her away. My baby was taken to the nursery for oxygen and I was taken to recovery only to watch as doctors and nurses whispered in the hallway. The news was finally delivered… ‘We think your baby has Down Syndrome.’
I felt like my whole world stopped. I felt like time was standing still as I looked at my husband in complete shock at these words. ‘We think your baby has Down syndrome.’ It must be a dream, this couldn’t be happening to me, what would this mean for our family? What would this mean for our little girl?
My first reaction came with intense fear and I prayed they were wrong. At first, I only thought of the future and how my world as I knew it was crashing down around me. I spent the first 24 hours of Bree’s life in tears, without her in my arms. Almost 24 hours after Bree was born I was finally able to be wheeled into the nursery to see her again. I hadn’t been able to hold her since learning she had Down Syndrome and my heart was breaking. I needed her. As I reached into her little incubator bed and she wrapped her tiny fingers around mine, I knew it was all going to be [OK]. That moment changed me forever.
This new world we had just stepped into was going to be [OK]. As I held her tiny hand, I knew that she held hands with God and that walking by her side in this life was going to be a blessing, not a burden. That day started a chapter of my story I may never have written, but that I ABSOLUTELY needed to be in MY story. I knew from the very beginning that Bree was going to change my life. Those almond-shaped eyes and that tiny little nose were like gateways to heaven, but what I didn’t know was just how many other lives she would also change.
When Bree was [two] we decided to try for another baby, only to go through an ectopic pregnancy and then another pregnancy that ended with a late miscarriage at 16 weeks. I was devastated after that late miscarriage. It was my [third] miscarriage and I desperately wanted another child. I was heartbroken and felt very lost and alone.
And then I found the lost, sad, eyes of a 4-year-old little girl waiting in an orphanage in Ukraine.
This little girl was one month older than my Bree, and she too had Down Syndrome. But instead of living the last [four] years with a family and a home, she had spent her first [three] months of life alone in the NICU of a hospital and then was transferred, alone, to an orphanage where she had lived for 4.5 years and was about to be transferred to an adult mental institution as she was aging out of the baby house. What if this was Bree’s fate? It’s like a whole new piece of my heart opened up that day as her face came up on my computer screen. I started sobbing. It was as if her dark, sad eyes were piercing my soul and saying, ‘You are my mom, and you need to come get me.’
A week after returning home with Mia, I was feeling sick and assumed it was still a lingering jet lag… much to our surprise, it was not jet lag, but instead, I found out I was pregnant. And not only that, but I was pregnant with TWINS!
They did not discover it was twins until my second doctor visit so my husband had not come with me. I was laying in the doctor’s office as he scanned for a heartbeat and suddenly, he stopped. I held my breath, having lived this scenario before where they stopped the scanning in concern because there was no heartbeat. My heart sunk and I thought for sure that was the case again. I asked him if he could hear the heartbeat. He said, ‘Yes I hear… two.’ I said, ‘You mean besides mine?’ He said, ‘Yes, you have TWO babies!’ I just started laughing. He said he expected alligator tears but instead, I just laughed. I mean here I was with basically twin girls with Down Syndrome, one of whom had only been home a month and still couldn’t’ speak English, and was trying to navigate what having a family meant, and now I was having twins!
Years before, I had done Clomid and other fertility routes and had no success, and then here I was not even trying anymore to get pregnant and I find out I’m having twins. And if that wasn’t enough to handle, the twins were diagnosed with twin to twin transfusion syndrome, and I was to be monitored very closely. At my 20 week appointment, we discovered that their condition had turned critical and we would need to fly to California in [two] days to have a risky lifesaving surgery done in utero.
The twins were sharing nutrients so one baby was giving all her nutrients to the other and her body was shutting down. The baby receiving all the nutrients was at risk of heart failure because she had too much fluid… so both babies were dying, and we had to act fast. I have never felt so scared and alone as I did laying on that operating table in a strange hospital in another state. My husband could not come in the operating room with me and I was awake during the procedure, watching on a monitor at my bedside as my two unborn babies fought to survive. When the doctor finished the procedure he said, ‘Congratulations, you are now cured of twin to twin transfusion syndrome… now we wait and see if the babies survived.’ We had to wait 24 hours to do an ultrasound to see if the babies had made it. My husband and I held hands tightly as the doctor started the scan. ‘There’s one heartbeat… and there’s the other.’ It was a miracle.
We traveled home to begin our [five] months of bed rest and delivered two healthy babies at 37 weeks. Neither of them spent a minute in the NICU. In 10 months time, we had gone from [three] children to [six] children, assuming our family was complete. But we were wrong once again.
In May 2015, a little boy was born to a mother in Ukraine. Upon learning that her son had Down Syndrome, the doctors told her she must leave the baby, for he was not normal. Her husband told her she must choose between this baby, or him and their 10-year-old son, for they could not take this baby home with them. In an agonizing decision, this mother had to leave her baby alone in an orphanage. Not having any idea what would become of her son, she walked away.
All she could do was pray… pray there was a God and that He was listening… and that somehow He would hear her prayers and bring someone to save her son. So she prayed, every single day for 10 months for the Lord to hear her prayers and connect those prayers to another mother who could love her baby and save him from the life he was destined to there. She didn’t know if her prayers would be heard, or if her son would even live long enough to be found in the orphanage, but she knew she had to do something.
I was blessed to be that other mother — a mother on the other side of the world who was connected to the prayers of a mother from Kiev, Ukraine. So we headed to Ukraine again, to find baby brother. Baby Noah.
While we were in Ukraine we had the rare blessing of meeting Noah’s birth mom. An unexplainable love and power transcended over that little orphanage room that day, breaking down language barriers and connecting pieces of our puzzle, pieces none of us knew were missing. And since then, we have been privileged to have a continued relationship with her through social media.
On that blizzardy winter day when Bree was born and our world as we knew it came crashing down, we had no idea it was going to be the start of such an incredible journey of love. Because of her and her extra chromosome, because of her influence in our lives, because of the way she loved, and in turn taught us to love, we would travel around the world to a foreign country two more times and CHOOSE Down Syndrome. I get asked often, ‘How did you go from laying in your hospital bed crying over the news that Bree had Down Syndrome… to now having THREE kids with Down syndrome?’ It was hard for me to put an answer together for that question because, although we may have multiple kids with Down Syndrome now, we still went through the same emotional, overwhelming, uncertain start that anyone does when faced with the news that your baby has Down Syndrome. We cried, we worried. We were scared. We felt lost and alone. So what changed?
How did we go from the first gut-wrenching days of Bree’s diagnosis, days that still bring emotions out as if it was happening right now…to traveling across the world two times for the same diagnosis? Faith, trust… and this quote from Abraham Lincoln: ‘The great thing about the future is it comes one day at a time.’
Whether it’s Down Syndrome, infertility, or something else, we all have moments in our lives where fear takes over and clouds any vision of the future we may have previously had, so we make a choice. Rather than merely accept our path, we embrace it! We take one day at a time and before we know it, we are looking back wondering how we got here. Wondering how those storm clouds of fear turned into a spectacular sunset of happiness.
We now have [seven] children, ages 16, 14, 11, 11, 6, 6, and 3. I am a wife and mother to [six] princesses and one prince. Blessed by Down Syndrome, adoption, identical twins and lots of love. Three of our seven children carry that same extra chromosome, but just like each of our children, special needs or not, they are each their own miracle, leaving their own mark on the world as they teach us all what matters most… love. Through the course of our family’s story, we have witnessed love making miracles. We have felt the heartaches of infertility and miscarriages and have been carried through to the beauty of identical twins on the other side. We have come to know the fibers that intertwine to make up adoption, a level of beauty and happiness, heartache and hurt that transcends anything I thought I knew about love before.
Before adoption, I could never have imagined the countless layers of a mother’s heart, the depths of love and the paths that weave together to write motherhood. God is in the details, and sometimes those details are absolutely breathtaking. We have witnessed tears of fear and sadness for the life we thought we were losing transform into tears of joy and gratitude for the unexpected miracles of this journey.