It was one year ago tonight that we brought our sweet Danielle home from the hospital. We celebrated her first birthday on the 7th of September, but I feel like this day deserves a celebration all its own.
It was almost immediately after our daughter was born that she was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for oxygen support. Before they took her from the delivery room, a doctor told us he thought she might have Down syndrome. I had already recognized her facial features and I knew it was true. It seemed like forever before the doctors were finally able to move me from the delivery room. I was anxiously waiting to be reunited with my brand new baby that I had only barely had a chance to hold; but when I got to her room I found myself at a loss. She was in an warming bed, with an oxygen hood that completely covered her face and head. I couldn’t hold her. I couldn’t nurse her. I couldn’t sway to a rhythm with her in my arms as I shushed her in a soft soothing voice. I couldn’t comfort her in any of the ways I knew how. I didn’t know how to be her mother; that’s how I felt, anyway. I laid my head down helplessly on the edge of her bed and held her tiny finger. My mind was swirling with concern and fear. It wasn't long before I asked to be taken to my room. I was exhausted, mentally and physically exhausted. Later in the evening my nurse asked if I wanted her to take me back to Danielle’s room. I agreed, but mostly only because I didn’t want the nurse to think I was an awful person for not wanting to see my baby. It was hard to see her under that hood with so many things attached to her and to feel like I couldn’t be her mother; or didn’t want to be. I was struggling with so many difficult emotions.
The next day the nurse removed the hood that covered her face and replaced it with a nasal cannula. I was able to hold her. It was so nice to cradle her in my arms and rock with her in a chair. It wasn’t long after that the doctor gave the go ahead to try feeding. It was an awesome feeling to provide her the nourishment that only her mother could. My mind was starting to clear a little and I could feel my baby tugging at my heart. I started to notice that her nose looked just like mine, and that the way her eyes slanted slightly upward was graceful and pretty. Her fingernails were so tiny and the blond peach-fuzz that covered her body was sweet.
I was discharged from the hospital and went home to see my other kids. Over the next few days I was back and forth from the hospital to home. Every day I was missing her more. When I held her my worries left me for a while. The smell of a newborn brings a flood of mothering instinct. Her soft skin was warm against mine, and her eyes seemed to tell me everything was going to be just fine.
By the 16th of September, Danielle had been off the oxygen support for a few days and she was doing great. Her doctor said we could bring our baby home. While the shock of her diagnosis was not as raw as it had been a week before, it was still hard to accept. It was hard to think about how her future might not be exactly like the one I had thought of during the 10 months that I carried her in the womb. It was hard to explain to our family and friends what had happened, and attempt to console them when I myself needed to be consoled. It was hard to feel the pressure to be a “special” parent that so many had said that I was meant to be.
It wasn’t hard to love her, though. That part was easy. We brought our baby girl home and we loved her. We enjoyed her. Our scars were beginning to heal as we adored every coo, celebrated her first smile, and enthusiastically applauded her first time rolling over. It was the day we welcomed her in to our home that she changed my heart. I could see how perfectly our baby fit in to our lives. I was seeing my child for who she was. She was a baby, a precious blessing, not a diagnosis. Love is the only thing I needed to be her mother.
It’s now one year later and I am incredibly proud of our daughter. I want to shout from the roof-tops that I love someone with Down syndrome and that she has forever changed me. I’ve learned so much from being her mom and she’s made me a better person. I still have hard days sometimes but her eyes are still telling me that everything is going to be OK, and her infectious smile seals the deal.