I was 27 years old, fit, and healthy. I wasn’t ‘at risk’ of having a baby with Down Syndrome, so this wasn’t supposed to be ‘my’ story, but ‘someone else’s.’
When my [third] daughter Bree was born via C-section, I only had a brief glimpse of her adorable round face before they whisked her away. My baby was taken to the nursery for oxygen, and I was taken to recovery, only to hear doctors and nurses whispering in the corridor. Finally, the news arrived… ‘We believe your child has Down Syndrome.’
My entire world seemed to have come to a halt. I felt as if time had stopped as I stared at my husband in complete disbelief at these words. ‘We believe your child has Down syndrome.’ This couldn’t be happening to me; what would this mean for our family? What does this mean for our daughter?
My initial reaction was one of intense fear, and I hoped they were mistaken. At first, all I could think about was the future and how my world as I knew it was collapsing around me. I cried for the first 24 hours of Bree’s life, without her in my arms. Almost 24 hours after Bree’s birth, I was wheeled into the nursery to see her again. My heart was breaking because I hadn’t been able to hold her since learning she had Down Syndrome. I required her assistance. I knew everything was going to be [OK] when I reached into her little incubator bed and she wrapped her tiny fingers around mine. That moment altered my life 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.
We decided to try for another baby when Bree was [two], only to have an ectopic pregnancy and then another pregnancy that ended in a late miscarriage at 16 weeks. After that late miscarriage, I was devastated. It was my [third] miscarriage, and I was desperate for a child. I was heartbroken and felt completely alone.
Then I came across the lost, sad eyes of a 4-year-old little girl waiting in a Ukrainian orphanage.
This little girl was a month older than my Bree and had Down Syndrome as well. But, instead of spending the last [four] years with a family and a home, she had spent her first [three] months of life alone in a hospital’s NICU before being 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 grew out of the baby house. What if this is what happened to Bree? When her face appeared on my computer screen, it was as if a whole new piece of my heart opened up. I burst into tears. Her dark, sad eyes pierced my soul as if to say, ‘You are my mom, and you need to come get me.’
[FIve] months later, lots of fundraising and miraculous help from friends, family, and strangers, piles and piles of paperwork, thousands of miles traveled by plane and then by train, and we were finally standing in an orphanage room wrapping our arms around this little girl and telling her that she was never going to be alone again. Mommy and Daddy had finally come for her. She was going to finally be able to thrive, instead of merely surviving.
I was sick a week after returning home with Mia and assumed it was due to residual jet lag… Much to our surprise, it was not jet lag, but rather the discovery that I was pregnant. Not only that, but I was expecting TWINS!
My husband had not come with me because they did not discover it was twins until my second doctor’s visit. I was lying in the doctor’s office as he scanned for a heartbeat when he abruptly came to a halt. I held my breath, having witnessed a similar scenario in which the scanning was halted due to a lack of a heartbeat. My heart sank, and I was certain that this was the case once more. I inquired as to whether he could hear the heartbeat. ‘Yes, I hear… two,’ he said. ‘You mean other than mine?’ I asked. ‘Yes, you have TWO babies!’ he exclaimed. I just burst out laughing. He said he expected alligator tears, but all I got was laughter. I mean, here I was with basic twin Down Syndrome girls, one of whom had only been home a month and still couldn’t speak English, trying to figure out what having a family meant, and now I was having twins!
Years before, I had tried Clomid and other fertility treatments with no success, and now I’m not even trying to get pregnant and I find out I’m having twins. As if that wasn’t enough, the twins were diagnosed with twin to twin transfusion syndrome, and I was to be closely monitored. At my 20-week appointment, we learned that their condition had deteriorated to the point where we would need to fly to California in [two] days to have a risky life-saving surgery performed in utero.
Because the twins were sharing nutrients, one baby was giving all of her nutrients to the other, causing her body to shut down. Because the baby receiving all of the nutrients was at risk of heart failure due to an excess of fluid, both babies were dying, and we needed to act quickly. I’d never felt so terrified and alone as I did while lying on that operating table in a strange hospital in another state. My husband was unable to accompany me into the operating room, so I remained awake throughout the procedure, watching on a monitor at my bedside as my two unborn babies fought for survival. ‘Congratulations, you are now cured of twin to twin transfusion syndrome… now we wait to see if the babies survived,’ the doctor said after the procedure. We had to wait 24 hours before doing an ultrasound to see if the babies were still alive. As the doctor began the scan, my husband and I held hands tightly. ‘There is one heartbeat… and then there is the other.’ It was nothing short of miraculous.
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 Kyiv, Ukraine. So we headed to Ukraine again, to find a baby brother. Baby Noah.
We had the rare opportunity to meet Noah’s birth mother while we were in Ukraine. That day, an unexplainable love and power transcended over that small orphanage room, breaking down language barriers and connecting puzzle pieces none of us knew were missing. And since then, we’ve had the pleasure of maintaining contact with her via social media.
We had no idea on that blizzardy winter day when Bree was born and our world as we knew it came crashing down that it would be the beginning of such an incredible journey of love. We would travel around the world to a foreign country twice more and CHOOSE Down Syndrome because of her and her extra chromosome, because of her influence in our lives, because of the way she loved and taught us to love. ‘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?’ I am frequently asked. It was difficult for me to come up with an answer to that question because, even though we now have multiple children with Down Syndrome, we still went through the same emotional, overwhelming, and uncertain period that anyone goes through when learning that their child has Down Syndrome. We cried and were concerned. We were terrified. We were disoriented and lonely. So, what has changed?
How did we get from the first heartbreaking days of Bree’s diagnosis, days that still elicit emotions as if they were happening right now…
to travel halfway around the world twice for the same diagnosis? Belief, trust… and this Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘The great thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.’
Whether it’s Down Syndrome, infertility, or something else, we all have times in our lives when fear takes over and clouds any vision of the future we may have had previously, and we have to make a decision. Rather than simply accepting our fate, we choose to embrace it! We take each day as it comes, and before we know it, we’re looking back and wondering how we got here. I’m still perplexed as to how those storm clouds of fear turned into a spectacular sunset of joy.
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.