‘I felt nothing. The alarm started sounding and nurses flooded into the room. All I could say was, ‘Does she have it?’: Mom recounts labor experience of daughter with Down syndrome

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“Today, as I lie on the couch with my three-week-old baby on my bare chest, her warm, rosy cheeks smooshed up against my skin, inhaling her brand-new baby breath and the intoxicating smell of the top of her head, mixed with Baby Magic lotion, sinking into the peace a sleeping newborn can bring…all I can think about his her birth story.

You see, we found out about Violet’s potential diagnosis three weeks before she born, after an extremely hard pregnancy, in the middle of a pandemic. We knewbut didn’t knowshe had Down syndrome, because we were too far along to confirm with an amnio, and the doctors were telling me they thought it was very possible she wouldn’t, because they saw nothing on the ultrasounds to show she would. But I knew. In my heart, I knew.

We were instructed to be at the hospital for our induction the evening of October 7th at 6:00 p.m. Through the grief of the previous weeks, the inability to nest or even walk into her nursery without breaking down, I was still anxious and ready to have this baby. I spent the day finishing packing my bagshopeful that maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to place Violet in the coming-home outfit I bought for her. I felt her move in my belly. I thought I knew her before, but ever since finding out she felt foreign to me, like I knew nothing of who she was.

I soaked up Nora during the day. We played with makeup and I requested hugs from her over and over until I got, ‘No more hugs Mommy,’ in response. I knew these were my last moments with my one and only girl. I knew I wouldn’t be bringing her home a sister in the typical way. I knew she was going to have to wait and I didn’t know what she would think. I tried to distract myself with Nora, episodes of Schitt’s Creek on repeat, and spending time actually doing my makeup and curling my hair.

At 5:15 p.m., we were getting ready to say goodbye to Nora and walk out the door into the unexpected when I got a phone call from the hospital: ‘Hi Mrs. Smith, I’m calling from labor and delivery. I was calling to let you know we are currently out of beds and will have to have you come in later tonight, possibly around 8 p.m. Is that okay?’ All I could think was, ‘Are you kidding me? Can anything go as planned? Anything?’ So we settled in and I tried to eat some dinner. I texted my doctor to let her know and she reassured me they’d get me in that night. At 7:30 p.m., we got the call to head to the hospital. We hugged our Nora and I inhaled the smell of her hair, kissed her cheeks, and lingered to not let her go.

As we buckled into the car, Matt and I both took a deep breath and looked at each other for a minute. ‘Are you ready?’ was said, but I honestly don’t remember who said it. The past few weeks, we had been repeating to each other for reassurance from the other person, ‘We can do this, right?’ I had repeated more times than I’m proud of, ‘Do I have to go through with this?’ We backed out of the driveway holding hands and were on our way. As we drove, Matt turned on a surprise playlist he had made me, titled ‘Violet.’ It was full of songs that bring me peace. Led Zeppelin’s ‘That’s The Way,’ ‘Tangerine,’ Bee Gees’s ‘How Deep is Your Love,’ Elton John’s ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,’ and more.

Once we arrived, we were checked in and I began the process of stripping down to gown-up for bringing baby. I looked around the room and was flooded with memories of Nora. Same hospital, same room, but oh, how different this experience already was. I saw the little bassinet in the corner and remembered feeling so excited when I had Nora to see that tiny little bed, the bed that the baby currently nestled in my belly would soon be snuggled into. But that’s not what I felt this time. This time, I looked at the bed and felt sadness. I thought, ‘Why is it even in here? They’re going to take her away from me as soon as she’s born.’

The nurses came in and I had to repeat our story, the possible DS, the heart defect, all of it. You see, one thing you learn with a medical condition yourself, there’s not a ton of communication in the medical field…not as much as there could be. And when the nurse said to me, ‘Are you okay? You don’t seem excited.’ I had to tell her why. And I hated her for it. I hated that I hated her for it, but I did. They began inducing me, and the minute they did I started contracting.

I felt nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I felt the contractions…but I wasn’t focused on them. In about fifteen minutes, I had my first long contraction and I heard the monitor start alarming. The nurse rushed in and told me the baby’s heart wasn’t handling the contractions, and if it continued we may have to deliver via c-section, but she would have to call the doctor first. They told me they were going to give me a shot to stop my contractions and it would make my heart race and I would feel shaky. My whole body was already convulsing from fear and sobbing. The shot did as they said, and I shook in the bed for about 30 minutes, crying while Matt wiped away tears and held my hand.

The nurse called my doctor and she instructed them this baby could absolutely come naturally and to continue the induction, stopping it periodically when the baby’s heart rate dropped. So, the rest of the night was spent with me watching monitors, being induced and then stopped, and watching baby’s heart dip and then stabilize. I received a text from my doctor at 1:00 a.m. that said, ‘It will be okay…try to get some rest.’ I appreciated the attempt at comfort, but laughed inside at the suggestion.

After a long night, at the 7:30 a.m. shift change, I was dilated to 4cm and they said my doctor would be in soon to break my water and get us on our way. At 8:00 a.m., my doctor made her way in the room, smiling and saying, ‘Are we ready to have a baby?’ This is a question pregnant women get all the time, especially at the end of pregnancy. A question from well-intentioned people who assume only the best circumstances. ‘Are you ready?’ I got it so many times. I didn’t know how to respond. ‘As ready as I can be’ was my go-to.

My doctor checked me and said, ‘Oh, you’re at an eight and your water just broke. We’re having a baby.’ The room bustled, and in no time I was prepped and ready to push. Matt was holding one leg and the room filled with NICU nurses. I pushed one time and heard my doctor say, ‘Well hello there, I like your cheeks.’ Matt turned to me and said, ‘Her head is out, babe.’ All I could think was, ‘Does she have Down syndrome? Do you see it?’ But I didn’t ask. Somewhere in me knew already.

Courtesy of Hope Smith

Violet was such an easier birth than her sister. Two pushes and she was out, just like that. They put her on my chest and she was plump, pink, wailing. All I could do was hold my baby and sob. I looked at Matt and said, ‘She has it.’ He said, ‘I know, babe.’ I hate that this is the first thing my mind focused on for her. But I also know it’s a real and normal response. They then took her from me, checked her, and off they went to the NICU, her daddy following behind by my request.

Thanks to 2020 and all its glory, I was left in the room alone. Still numb from the waste down with empty arms and a very empty heart. I laid in that hospital room as the morning light shone through the window. This was probably the hardest part of the whole experience. The silence, the inability to move to follow our baby, to follow my husband. It was the finale to a pregnancy which had brought so much uncertainty. And now, the certainty and shift was here, and I had to sit with it.

I’m thankful for labor and delivery nurses. Mine didn’t know me well, since they had just switched shifts before Violet was born, but she will forever be etched in my brain as the person who held me when no one else could. I’m sure a lot of people in the hospital in the midst of the pandemic can point to a nurse who held them when no one else was able to. My nurse came in after about an hour of my epidural wearing off, carried me to a chair while I sobbed, and advocated for me to go to the NICU when I was supposed to be in the Mom/Baby floor. That floor is hard to be on for three days without a baby in your room. Sounds of babies surrounded me while I lay in bed, empty-handed. Moms were being wheeled out, holding theirs to take home, and my baby was on another floor. All I knew was I had to get to her.

I was wheeled to the NICU, and Matt and I just sat and held her for hours. Eventually, we were told I needed to return to the room for my own recovery. If I could advocate for anything going forward, it would be to make a floor where if your baby has to go to the NICU, a bed could be provided for the mother to be next to them in recovery as well. I knew what ‘normal’ felt like: being given your baby instantly and having days to bond before going home. Maybe that’s why this was so traumatic for me. This was anything but ‘normal.’ The new theme of my life. Our life.

When Matt wheeled me back to the room, I was still numb in one leg from my epidural. He lifted me to help me into bed and blood spilled everywhere. All over the floor, all over Matt’s shoes. This is where you see the love come in. Where you see when someone is at their lowest, the person they love stepping in. Matt assured me it was okay and helped get me cleaned up and into bed. The next few days are now so etched in my brain, but also such a blur. I spent every moment I could in the NICU. I had nurses tracking me down to get me back to bed. I had full body convulsions from pain of pushing myself too much to get back to my baby, and refusing pain medicine because it made me tired and I needed to be awake. At one point, it was forced on me to take it and sleep because of the shaking.

I want to be able to tell Violet I was there for her. That this wasn’t a moment in my life I look back on with trauma and tragedy in my brain. I also want other moms to know these experiences are real. These emotions are real and they are okay. And if you’re lucky, eventually you will be sitting with your baby on your chest, inhaling that new-baby scent, and taking every day as it comes.”

Courtesy of Hope Smith

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hope Smith. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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