‘Mama, is our baby sick?’ They stuck a foot-long needle in my stomach. I just wanted it to be over.’: Mom gives birth to baby with Down syndrome, ‘All we see is light and beauty’

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“It was the year 2020— new decade, new you. Humans were full of hope and motivation to make this the best year yet. For me, I was on a journey I knew was going to change my life. I’d just pictured a different journey.

A week into the new year, my pregnancy nausea started. Being our third baby, whom we nicknamed ‘Greenbean,’ I knew it was going to hit, and I knew it would hit hard. I always wonder why they call it morning sickness when, for some like me, it’s debilitating around the clock. I remember wanting nothing more than to curl up in bed after throwing up for the fourth time that day but knew there was more work to do and more children to keep from jumping off of counters or running outside naked.

Melissa Winters Photography

It was in these early January weeks the HERself podcast launched and with it, a door of possibilities opened. I interacted with thousands of women every week, more people than I ever had in my entire life, and the support right from the start was enough to keep me smiling and filled with energy… at least until the next bout of nausea struck yet again.

March came and with it, better weather and the second trimester. The golden trimester where my bump starts to grow into a beautiful conversation piece and I no longer am hugging porcelain after every meal. I opened up my storage bins of beautiful maternity clothes and couldn’t wait to wear them to work and get-togethers with friends. But March 2020 brought something else as well.

COVID-19 hit and I will never forget the conversation I had on March 11. We were shuffled into an urgent meeting with everyone on my traveling sales team. Effective immediately, we were to cancel all travel until further notice. ‘It will most likely only be a few weeks’ was announced several times and we all nodded in agreement. It was a nice change of pace from my usual weeks where I was on an airplane for work more often than not. I got to be home and sink into my family time, something I never had the opportunity to do since becoming a wife and mother.

But COVID-19 didn’t last just a few weeks. It turned into a global pandemic. At the time I am writing this, I have yet to spend a night away from home besides the birth of our third child. COVID-19 didn’t just change the way we view health in the world; it changed my entire identity of the woman I was.

The fact my 20-week anatomy scan was quickly approaching took my mind off the elephant in the room- my upside-down career. My husband, Colin, was not able to come because of pandemic restrictions. I was upset but knew I could Facetime him in and bring home the adorable pictures of Greenbean. The photos where we discover our baby was going to have Dad’s nose and Mama’s chin. We were not going to find out the sex of our baby, we never had before. But on that day, I found out much more.

Courtesy of Abby Green

Right from the start, the anatomy scan felt off. The tech had on a mask and a shield and was gloved and clothed in a way that made me feel like I was a threat. The room was sterile and dark and was the first place I had been beside the grocery store in months.

The ultrasound took longer than I remembered with our first two, but I assumed she was being thorough. She would leave the room and come back with a sing-song voice of, ‘Let’s just check that sweetheart one more time,’ and ‘Baby is so wiggly, I’ll need another look at your baby’s head.’

When she came back for what felt like the tenth time, it wasn’t just her. She had a team of five people with her. They all were wearing the same threat-proof attire and standing as far apart as the ultrasound room would allow. When they spoke, I couldn’t even tell where the words were coming from. And the words were painful to hear.

Brain cyst. Blood in their bowels. Heart issue. Possibility of chromosomal abnormalities.

As a mother who has never even had high blood pressure in pregnancy, this was a shock. My heart sank as they ushered me out of the room and down a cold hallway. I sat in a room facing another masked woman who shared all the possibilities we had and the level of risk we had for each condition presented. Trisomy 13, 18, and 21 were rambled off like they were choices on a dessert menu, not diagnosis that would change the trajectory of our lives forever.

Courtesy of Abby Green

Throughout this process, I was alone. Alone with masked strangers calmly saying words I had never heard before. I tried calling Colin multiple times but he was tied up at work and had no idea what was about to unfold. I was crying so hard on the drive home I had to pull over on the highway because I couldn’t see through my tears. I felt empty. This year already had so many changes, and I couldn’t handle one more thing being out of my control.

Colin and I decided to do an amniocentesis to get the full picture of our baby’s health. This is a process that inserts a long needle through your stomach, into the uterus, and pulls a tiny amount of amniotic fluid out for testing. It came with a small chance of miscarriage that was hard to stomach but I needed to have answers. I went to this appointment, alone again. And to that day, it was one of the hardest days of my entire life.

Courtesy of Abby Green

The process is quick and Colin waited in the car for me to be done. I remember the overwhelming risks. The number of people in the room and the uncertainty of the results had me in knots. The male doctor let me know what the procedure would entail and I couldn’t even hear the words. My mind went blank and I just wanted it to be over.

Seconds before they stuck the foot-long needle into my stomach a woman entered the room. She introduced herself as ‘Barb’ and asked if she could hold my hand through the procedure since my husband couldn’t be there. The warmth of her hand through the latex gloves immediately put me at ease and had me crying tears of gratitude for her presence. I later found out she was the head of the department and could have been anywhere that hour… but she decided to be with me in that scary room. It was proof God sends angels when he can’t be physically present.

The recovery was days of dull pain. A pain that felt like I got kicked in the stomach with metal cleats and emotional pain of the unknown. Our four-year-old, Lucy, asked, ‘Mama, is our baby sick? Did Greenbean not wash its hands?’ We had to give a toddler explanation of a diagnosis vs a pandemic when we were already hurting.

Melissa Winters Photography

The last week in April came and we were due to get our results… it was a week like no other. On Monday, we found out that Colin’s step-dad had COVID-19. It was the first person who was close to us to contract the virus. He was okay but had some pretty heightened symptoms. The next day, I turned 34 years old. We celebrated like there was nothing dark on the horizon with mocktails, great food, and a nature walk. Then on Wednesday, we got THE call.

I saw the number come in from our genetics counselor and I rushed downstairs to answer the call with Colin. She had a few sentences of small talk then got right to the point. ‘Your baby will be born with Down syndrome.’ I remember saying, ‘Okay’ about a dozen times and staring at Colin for reassurance. He was so strong and made me feel strong, even though I had fallen to the ground in weakness.

Over the next few days, I stared at a wall for long stretches of time. I sunk into my feelings and went through every scenario in my mind. Colin played video games and went to Google. I remember talking with my therapist often about how he wasn’t giving the diagnosis enough attention and she reminded me we all grieve in different ways and different timing. Where I wanted to feel it and move on, Colin would take rests and breaks. It was hard to support him through this because we were so different, yet somehow we grew closer together. Probably because our bubble was small with the pandemic and we didn’t have many others to go to.

Over the next few months, I had twice a week NST stress tests and growth scans, heart check-ins, genetic counselor meetings, on top of my normal Midwife checks. It was the busiest pregnancy I could imagine and we got more looks at our third baby than I ever would have pictured. It was full. I didn’t want it to be full. I knew life was going to be chaotic after our baby was born and was hoping to have rest time before. I didn’t get this in the least.

Around week 34, I went in for a routine appointment and discovered our baby was breech. Of course another thing not going as planned! Since an unmedicated vaginal delivery was my hope, I did everything possible to flip our baby. Handstands in the pool, acupuncture, ice packs, peppermint oil, Spinning Babies, chiropractic, and even a few rounds of moxibustion where they burn plants next to your pinky toes. This baby was not budging.

At week 37, I went in for an ECV where they manually flip the baby. It has a 50% success rate but I was willing to at least try! They offered a spinal block to help the procedure go more smoothly, which I begrudgingly accepted. I don’t do well with pain meds but I was willing to try anything to help this baby come out head first.

Courtesy of Abby Green

One doctor lifted the baby out of my pelvis, and the other spun him around. The procedure was done in 20 seconds! Between the low muscle tone that humans with Down syndrome have and being small, Greenbean flipped easier than any baby in the history of the hospital. Everyone cheered until I stopped the celebration announcing I was warm. Then I was about to vomit. Then I was seeing stars. And finally, I was no longer talking because I had blacked out.

The last thing I heard was talk of my blood pressure dropping from 110/70 to 90/65 and stopping around 60/40. Phrases such as ‘Patient is crashing and baby is unstable’ from the doctors and the loud beeps of warning were echoing in the room. They flipped me onto all fours, which was no small feat since I was blacked out and couldn’t feel or control my body from the waist down because of the spinal block. They had two people there just to hold me up to bring my blood pressure back up and save our baby from harm.

I eventually came to and the baby had stayed head down. Greenbean was a warrior. I was able to leave as soon as the numbness wore off. However, it never left. My legs were numb for hours. We tried everything from walking to massage leg lifts, but that spinal block was solid. Finally, 8 hours after I arrived at the hospital and after a 20-second procedure, I was able to leave.

When we got our diagnosis, many people warned babies with Down syndrome many times come early. So at 30 weeks, we were ready. When we were inching towards our induction date at 39 weeks, I started to get antsy again. I had heard horror stories of Pitocin drips and having to wear a mask in labor was terrifying.

Courtesy of Abby Green

Again, I tried everything to get Greenbean to enter our world before having to go in and medically induce him. But he was comfy inside. On the Friday before his scheduled Monday induction, I requested a membrane sweep, acupuncture, and sent my last email for work. 2 hours after I set my ‘Out Of Office’ on email, my water broke. It broke as I walked our older two kiddos upstairs, holding each of their hands, knowing it was one of the last nights we would have as a family of four. We took our time reading books and telling them each how special they were.

All night long, I rested between infrequent contractions. Nothing was too powerful. I was actually hoping it would pick up so we could meet our baby. After 12 hours of no progress, we packed up the car to go into the hospital, knowing our lives were about to change forever. I was COVID tested right when we arrived and then brought to the most beautiful birthing suite. I got an L&D nurse who knew me from the podcast and my favorite midwife was on call. It was perfect.

We tried walking, a breast pump, and even making out (it increases oxytocin, and contractions ironically) but still, contractions were infrequent. Finally, 17 hours into labor I got hooked up to Pitocin. It was what I was trying to avoid in the scheduled induction but still ended up being a big part of our story. Hours went by and they increased the Pitocin. Eventually, my midwife joined the room and had a very important conversation. She said, ‘Abby, I understand you feel safe with the baby on the inside. And we are going to do everything we can to keep your child safe in your arms as well.’ It was the push I needed. I had been holding onto the feeling of inadequacy as a special needs mama and wasn’t allowing Greenbean to enter the world because of it.

After this conversation, things picked up in a big way. Contractions were consistent and long and on Pitocin, they were very intense! I alternated from the bed to walking to the tub with the help of my L&D nurse, Colin, and doula. They were an incredible team and I felt so supported.

Shortly after, I started to feel ‘pushy.’ I was nervous to even say it out loud, fearing I was crying wolf and would still be laboring for hours. Alas, I was fully dilated and Greenbean was about to be born. The midwife and pediatric team had to run to the delivery room to make it there on time. On all fours, Greenbean was born into the world in just a few powerful pushes. Colin announced we had a BOY and as I pulled him to my chest, a sense of calm washed over me.

Courtesy of Abby Green

It wasn’t until that very moment, I knew the path we were on was always the plan. It was controlled and well thought out, and always the journey we were meant to be on. It was a dark journey at the start but as we named our son Owen, which means young warrior. All we saw was light and the beauty that was all around us.

A pandemic can be scary, a diagnosis can be too. But in all of these situations, there is beauty that can come of the unknown and strength that comes from walking a path harder than the one you would have chosen for yourself.”

Courtesy of Abby Green

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Abby Rose Green. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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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