Monday, December 24, 2007

The Gift

I was just lying in bed, hands on my belly, laughing as the baby did a series of flips inside me. I'm 21 weeks today and the reality of this is so much better than I had even imagined. It has been hard to find inspiration to write about it, as every post would read something like, "Still pregnant. Still incredibly grateful. Still happy."

Which is not to say that this pregnancy hasn't actually been filled with drama. At about 12 weeks, we had the standard triple screen for Down Syndrome which came back with an alarming result: a 1 in 9 chance that the baby would have the condition. To put that in context, plenty of women become panicked when their odds are 1 in 100. Once we got that information, we had a month's wait before the final amnio report assured us that the baby was genetically typical. Which he/she is (we've decided to be surprised about the sex).

That was a lot of time to think about what it would mean to raise a child with special needs. And for me, that was the only option—raising the child. After these losses, and especially after seeing that baby wiggling around in the ultrasound, and knowing how much I loved him/her already, I couldn't terminate. If it had been another trisomy, a fatal one, that would've been different. And if Down's had been accompanied by life-threatening heart defects that promised multiple surgeries and misery, that might've been different. But every blog, essay, and book I read assured me that raising a child with Down's (who is otherwise fairly healthy) has its own gifts.

Which is not to say that we weren't absolutely frightened. The thought of coping with societal prejudice; of fighting for school placements and resources; of having to go through the rest of the pregnancy feeling different or unlucky, unable to bond with the "normal" pregnant people with all their easy optimism; worrying about raising a child who would need some form of special care well into adulthood...the stress manifested in a rash of red welts on my face and in a reluctance to share our news with anyone outside a small circle of friends and family. It was...very hard. wasn't wasted effort, either. One thing became very clear to me through this: the whole purpose of having this child is to love it, just for being alive, and to to find daily meaning in providing that love and care. The point is not to see this child grow up to become some thing—an artist, a college graduate, a race car driver. It's to love the process, not the product.

Of course, I won't be able to remember this every day. I'll get caught up in the same bullshit that everyone does. I'll fret over report cards and standardized tests. But it's a gift to have this perspective at the outset, and to have even more reason to feel so grateful for this healthy baby kicking away. Sweet is the fruit of adversity.