‘Is he ok?’ I was afraid to say the words. I never told a soul about my feelings, not even my husband.’: Mom births son with Down syndrome, ‘I am so thankful for his perfect 47 chromosomes’

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“My husband, Alex, and I got married at age 23 and moved across the country from our families so he could start pilot training in the Air Force. We were 25 when we found out we were pregnant, right after he finished training, and as we were settling in at our first permanent duty station in Georgia.

I expected it to take months for us to conceive, but we were fortunate enough for it to happen very quickly. My pregnancy was easy and uncomplicated. I felt great the whole time and was even able to continue to do modified CrossFit workouts. My doctor asked if we wanted the routine blood work that happens later in the first trimester, but I remember declining it. I actually remember saying, ‘I’m only 25, I don’t think anything will happen.’ I also knew in my heart it would never change anything for us; we would always continue the pregnancy regardless of prenatal diagnosis. In hindsight, I can see how a prenatal diagnosis could be helpful for some people. However, I’m happy our story unfolded how it did and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Partway through my second trimester, I was up late one night reading a blog post about a dad’s journey of accepting his daughter with Down syndrome. The story resonated with me, mainly because the dad was also a pilot in the Air Force. For whatever reason, it kicked off this persistent feeling inside of me that our baby also had Down syndrome. This feeling lasted for about two weeks, but I never told a soul, not even my husband. It just sort of lingered in the back of my mind. After about two weeks, I stopped thinking it, brushing it off as a new parent worry. I never thought about it again until February, two days before Gabe was born. Suddenly, I had the same overwhelming feeling again, but once more I didn’t say anything to Alex as I knew he would just tell me I was worrying.

Two days later, Gabe was born at 11:30 on a Friday night. I knew the second I saw him, he had Down syndrome. His precious little eyes told me. I kept asking the nurses and doctor if ‘he was okay’ as I was too afraid to say the words. In my heart, I just wanted to scream, ‘I think he has Down syndrome!’ but those words just seemed too overwhelming to say out loud. The nurses and doctor never mentioned anything to us all day on Saturday, and it wasn’t until Sunday morning, about 36 hours after Gabe was born, we learned they suspected Gabe had Down syndrome. I remember I was sitting cross-legged on the bed with Gabe in my arms as the doctor walked in. I knew what he was about to say as soon as he opened the door. That overwhelming feeling was back again and I just knew what the doctor would say. The doctor said something about his eyes, low set ears, low muscle tone, and how yes, they believed Gabe has Down syndrome.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

I burst out into tears, sobbing and rocking back and forth as I held Gabe, telling him over and over again how much I loved him. In that moment, I felt my love and protection for Gabe intensify – it was a distinct feeling I will never forget. It just flooded over me as I cried and repeatedly told him, ‘I love you so much.’ Alex’s first response was to deny it. He told me he never suspected it and it caught him by complete surprise.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

It was a strange mix of sadness, happiness, and joy for us. It didn’t make me love him any less. In fact, it had the opposite effect and made me love him exponentially more. We brought Gabe home a few hours later. We were fortunate Gabe had no underlying health conditions. He only needed a little oxygen shortly after birth, but otherwise, he was in perfect health. I had never been so happy in my entire life, so in love with our baby, but at the same time, I spent much of that week crying as we waited for the karyotype results. We received the results when Gabe was 10 days old and it confirmed what we already knew in our hearts: Gabe did, in fact, have Trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome.

We both processed the news in different ways. I laid down on our couch, cried, and then fell asleep. Alex went outside to do yard work and work out. He later told me he was digging out a weed with a shovel when my OB drove up to talk to him. Alex is not a crier, so physically moving was his way of getting out some feelings. I am so grateful for both our pediatrician and my OB’s caring way of delivering the official news and checking in on us.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

When you’re pregnant, you imagine what your baby is going to look like and act like once they’re born. I always imagined this big strong guy like my husband – a star football player and maybe a military pilot. But after Gabe’s diagnosis, suddenly those dreams and those ideas I had came crashing down. I worried if Gabe would ever drive, get married, or just end up living with us forever. Yes, at only a few days old, I was thinking about the lifelong implications of having a son with Down syndrome. There was definitely a bit of sadness (coexisting with extreme joy) for me as I was grieving the loss of the baby I imagined and accepted our new future together as a family. Thankfully for both Alex and me, the sadness we felt was very short-lived, but it was definitely there for a bit. I read a quote sometime in those early weeks that said, ‘do not let the fear of his future steal the joy of his today’ and that has stuck with me since.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

I also had a lot of friends who were having babies around the same time and I’d see their pictures online. I remember thinking, ‘Why do they have a typical baby and I have one with Down syndrome?’ or I’d see other babies in Target and think the same thing. I feel guilty and sad about those thoughts now, even though I know it’s a normal and healthy process to go through. But now, 6 years later, I feel so much thankfulness we are lucky enough to have Gabe. I am so grateful now that our baby has Down syndrome and we got the Gabe that we did rather than the Gabe I had imagined while I was pregnant. He wouldn’t be the same Gabe we know and love today without that extra chromosome. I genuinely believe having a baby with Down syndrome is one of the greatest gifts you can be given in this world.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

I knew no one with Down syndrome when Gabe was born. I indirectly knew of three people with Down syndrome and that was it. I started joining Facebook groups to learn more about raising a baby with DS. I was lucky enough, right around the time Gabe was born, a nonprofit that is now very near and dear to my heart, The Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network (DSDN), was launching. It got me plugged into online groups with other parents of kids the same age as Gabe. In addition to my DSDN groups, I joined other groups where I was able to ask questions and share in excitement about milestones with other parents. I was (and am) truly so thankful to be raising Gabe today with so many resources and support that were not available in the past.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson
Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

Alex and I had always known we wanted a lot of kids and close together in age. When Gabe was born, I worried about having another sibling so soon, as we had hoped. I wondered if another child would take attention away from Gabe. I looked to those online support groups for advice and so many parents told me that having a sibling at any time, but especially close in age, was better than any therapy they could have given their child. The bond, the way kids learn from each other, and watching them grow up together was absolutely the best. We were fortunate enough to have Gabe’s sister, Lottie, only 14 months after Gabe was born. In the years following, we welcomed another sister, Maggie, and baby brother, Vince. The youngest was born 2 months before Gabe turned 4, so we had four in less than four years!

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

Our house is chaotic, loud, and messy and it’s absolutely perfect. I am so thankful these four have each other. I honestly believe Gabe’s siblings will grow to be kinder, more patient, and compassionate people with Gabe in their lives. I can see those qualities developing already.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson
Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

When Gabe was a few months old, I decided to start a Facebook page called Gabe the Babe and Co. It began as a way to educate others and even myself at the same time about Down syndrome. It was a way to advocate for Gabe and for people with Down syndrome. I wanted to show people just how wonderful, rewarding, and ‘normal’ our lives are with Gabe in our family. I wanted to educate others with current information on Down syndrome and share my feelings as I navigated motherhood. It also was a bit of therapy for me as I wrote posts and interacted with people who were interested in and supportive of our family.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

After a few years, we decided to design t-shirts to sell through our Facebook page and website. Our shirts are meant to advocate for and celebrate people with Down syndrome and start conversations out in public. It’s really been a humbling and rewarding experience to see people support us – it has literally brought me to tears with gratefulness. The nonprofit I mentioned earlier, the DSDN, hosts the Rockin’ Mom retreat each year. We have had a vendor booth there for the last few years as well as at a few other conventions and events. Our hope is that Gabe the Babe and Co will grow with Gabe and provide meaningful work for him as he gets older. Our ultimate dream is to open a physical business of some sort that can employ people with disabilities. This is our long-term plan, as Alex is still active duty Air Force for 10 more years so we are doing what we can with shirts for now. Hopefully, once he retires and we settle down somewhere long term, we will be able to make this dream happen. If not, then the money raised will just be for Gabe and his future.

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson
Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

Having Gabe in our lives has changed my husband and me on a deep level. Gabe makes us see the world differently. He’s six now, thriving in kindergarten, loves books, cars, hamburgers and donuts, much like any six-year-old. We are better people because of him and I am so thankful for all of his perfect 47 chromosomes.”

Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson
Courtesy of Kristie Magnuson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristie Magnuson from Enterprise, Alabama. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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