I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a mom so it wasn’t a hard decision to try to have a baby soon after my husband and I got married. Not long after our little girl turned one we realized we wanted her to have a sibling, so having another baby pretty much came with the territory. That decision was a no-brainer. After having baby number two, we wondered from time to time, what about having a third? What about that third “bonus” child? I imagine many people mull over this decision. Was it a good idea? Things were going well so there was a lot at stake. Was it a risk worth taking? Raising kids is exhausting and costly. It has certainly aged me. It also gives me a lot of anxiety. I find things to worry about that I otherwise would never dwell on if I didn’t have kids – illness, friends, peer pressure, bullying. But having kids is so wonderful. Parenting is rewarding, fulfilling, and worth it.
My kids were ages seven and four and I was 38. My husband and I had been riding the parenting train for seven years and we were finally seeing that light at the end of the tunnel. The girls were becoming more independent and less demanding. I was finally seeing my “me time” come back. Then we started seriously thinking, should we have a third child? Do we risk it? Why take the chance, our life was perfect. But what could go wrong? My biggest concern was that something would happen to me. That was always where my fears landed, but I hesitantly convinced myself that it was an unlikely scenario and that I shouldn’t let any silly anxiety get the best of me and my journey in life. Little did I know how my life’s course would turn and how that train we were riding would veer off into an unseen path right before the tunnel ended. No, nothing was going to happen to me, my whole family was going to be embarking on a new journey.
We decided to go for it, take that risk, roll the dice and grow our family. Party of four just didn’t feel complete. I had saved everything – the clothes, the baby gear, even unused diapers. And I had a dream only a year prior that I would never forget. It was fuzzy and grey and I couldn’t see faces but in the dream I was watching my children playing, and there were three of them. And to the littlest one I said, “I’m so glad I had you.”
I was blessed to get pregnant and at 10 weeks of pregnancy, due to my advanced maternal age, it was advised that I take some extra blood tests. These blood tests, known as Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing, were fairly new but very accurate and would tell me if there were chromosomal anomalies. Simply based on my age I was told that my odds were 1 in 100 that the fetus would have any ‘issues’. I am someone that worries unnecessarily about every little medical test I take, but for some reason I didn’t think twice about this one after I confidently walked out of the lab where they drew my blood. Only four days later on a Thursday night I got the call regarding those dice that I rolled. The baby had Trisomy 21, otherwise known as Down syndrome. And that was that. Little was said between the genetic counselor on the phone and me. She asked if I had any questions but I didn’t as shock took my breath away and the words right out of my mouth. I asked if it was a boy or girl. She said girl, to my relief. She rattled off a bunch of clichés about how kids with Down syndrome were very loving and always happy and somehow that positivity comforted me. But any initial peace I felt was fleeting. I believed I had only months left until life as we knew it would be tragically veered off course to a new life of health issues and missed opportunities for all of us as we took care of this new family member. I ruined my life and my family’s life. I messed with our perfect life. I took a risk and I lost.
In hindsight those thoughts of devastation were due to my lack of knowledge. But Down syndrome was bad if you were testing for it, right? I spent my pregnancy researching Down syndrome, speaking with experienced parents, calling my local organization and even wondering if I should terminate the pregnancy. As I became more knowledgeable I saw the truth about Down syndrome, which wasn’t as devastating as I thought. Yes, it was going to be hard. No, I had hardly any idea what the state of the baby’s health would be. I had absolutely no idea of her cognitive abilities as you can’t test for that prenatally. However, I learned where I can get support, what my resources were, and that things would be okay because things were going okay for other families. These other families felt that they were blessed to have Down syndrome in their lives. Sometimes they refer to themselves as the lucky few. I began to feel like I won the lottery. 1 in 100.
We all have those friends who say they wouldn’t change anything about their family structure. They have three boys, it’s perfect and they wouldn’t have it any other way even though mom cried initially when she found out her last was going to be another boy. Another couple has two girls and they couldn’t be happier. That’s how I feel about having three girls, one with Down syndrome. She adds uniqueness to our family. She teaches us what’s really important in life; not ability or success but joy and happiness. She completes us and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The baby has Down syndrome. I enhanced my life and my family’s life. Our perfect life is now even more enriched and beautiful with her. I took a risk and I won and I’m so glad I had her.