“When the doctor walked in, she immediately sat down next to me. I recall thinking this was different from our past few interactions. A slight tilt. Sometime in my second trimester, I had been referred to the high-risk pregnancy center’s maternal-fetal medicine specialist, due to my ripe old maternal age of 34. I remember the jovial banter with the genetic specialist at intake—’Oh, you are only here because of age, no other issues? Easy peasy!’ It was my third pregnancy and was following the textbook protocol of my previous two. Suspect pregnancy, pee on stick, see those beautiful two lines, and start dreaming all the dreams for this baby.
No morning sickness, per usual, and then onto the 20-week scan, where we would hear for the third time, ‘It’s a girl!’ Ahhh, my trifecta is complete. Three daughters! Thank you, God. The anatomy scan came and went: ‘Baby looks great!’ Because of my maternal age, I went back in for another ultrasound at 28 weeks. The doctor’s office was located in the same block as my work office, so I scheduled the appointment during my workday, which also happened to land on my oldest daughter’s 5th birthday. I remember lying on the table in the dark ultrasound room, having informal chitchat with the ultrasound tech. My mind was already a few hours ahead, though. ‘What’s the address of the bakery where the cake is?’ I thought it was on my way home from work, but now that I think about it I think it’s on the other side of town.
‘How tall are you?’ the tech interrupted my thoughts and asked. I answered, ‘5’10.’ ‘And your husband?’ ‘6’3.’ (He will argue for 6’4). She was measuring something, a leg it looked like. ‘The baby’s femur is measuring under the tenth percentile.’ I remember replying, ‘Maybe I will finally have a petite one.’ (My two other daughters are off-the-charts tall.) We continued to exchange pleasantries, she finished the scan, I got situated and waited for the doctor to come in. When she came in, she immediately sat down. I watched her twirl her gold inscription bracelet as she spoke. Her tone was calm, serious. And in this moment, the world tilted, forever.
‘Soft marker for Down syndrome… probably nothing… blood test to confirm…’ My ears started ringing and she was still talking, but I only saw her mouth moving. ‘Do you have any questions?’ she asked. Questions. How? Why? Wow. I had a thousand questions, but all I could muster was, ‘How does this increase my chances of my baby having Down syndrome?’ She replied, ‘From about one in 320 to one in six.’ The wind felt like it was knocked out of me. My eyes must have showed it. She again, gently, said, ‘I am sure everything is fine.’ I was sure of things in this moment, too—I was sure my daughter had Down syndrome. Not because I am a ‘think the worst’ type of person—actually, I am quite the opposite. I truly wasn’t convinced this was ‘the worst’ or even bad news, necessarily. But I just knew.
I steadied my hands and texted my husband, who was in New York for work. Then I walked out of the dark ultrasound room and office and into the sunlight. I looked straight up to the blue sky, felt the sun on my cheeks, and cupped my belly. I talked to God. I prayed for fierce protection over my daughter, for peace in accepting her diagnosis, for strength to be all she needed. I focused on each step. I smiled at the nurses outside taking a sunshine break. My head was swirling. I was unsure of so much, but I was so certain of so much at the same time. I will never regret who my daughter is. I will love her unconditionally. She kicked and twirled, my most active baby. I started talking to her. ‘I love you, sweet girl. I’ve got you, forever. I already know you are like your Mommy—clever, holding this secret from me until now!’ Tears welled but never dropped.
It was less than a 5-minute walk to my office, but somehow it took me 30. I entered back into the fluorescent office light, shedding the role of pregnant mom and back to the title of senior attorney. But the world had tilted. And no one knew. I had a few court hearings to attend and a 5th birthday to celebrate. Despair could wait, disappointment could wait. But… they never came. Later that night, when the birthday girl and her little sister were safely snoozing away in dreamland, I was able to talk to my husband, my safe place. ‘What if she does have it?’ I said. ‘Could we handle it?’ He answered swiftly, ‘Yes.’ No caveat, no hesitation. ‘She is our girl, she will be awesome regardless.’ We prayed together, thanking God for giving us another baby. ‘Why not us?’ we said. We have so much love to give her, so much life to offer her.
The tears finally fell. But not of despair or disappointment. A little bit shock and awe, and a lot of gratitude. A whole lot. For the next 9 weeks, we prepared to welcome our precious girl. We told our parents and close friends of her expected diagnosis. We were engulfed in support. I joined a tribe of other soon-to-be mama’s expecting their little ones to be born with Down syndrome. I immersed my social media feeds into following families further ahead of me on this journey. I talked to my girl, I prayed over her. Until one sweet, sunny day in May, a 6-pound, 13-ounce little baby named Braelah was placed on my chest. We locked eyes, she snuggled her little body right into my neck, and I became a part of the club we in the Down syndrome community call #TheLuckyFew.
I remember hearing this phrase and seeing this hashtag trending when I received our prenatal diagnosis, and at first, it was a bit mystifying. Lucky? Most parents did not dream this dream for their child, an unexpected diagnosis that often came with an accompaniment of challenges and extra medical complications. But then I met my daughter. The strongest person I know. I watched in awe as she conquered her open heart surgery at 4 months old, then rolling, sitting, crawling, walking, and now running! I cheered with her as she learned the skills of self-feeding, mimicking, sign language, and spoken words. Each milestone cherished. My heart swelled with pride hearing my 5-year-old daughter describe to her friends her baby sister was born with something extra special.
I had to choke back tears hearing my 3-year-old daughter’s preschool teacher describe her as the kindest and most inclusive student in the class—a trait shaped in part from being Braelah’s big sister. Perspective, it’s a gift, one not all of us are lucky enough to receive. But she brought it to me. Through the lens of her diagnosis, she softened my world, my empathy. And over time I couldn’t imagine living in any other world than my tilted one. Don’t get me wrong, there is still worry and heaviness. Momming is hard. Momming is constantly worrying you are not doing enough. Add in a child with a disability, and this worry only gets amplified. But there is also joy. So much joy. The kind of unbridled, heart-swelling, laugh-out-loud joy you experience around the dinner table with too many bottles of wine and all of your best friends. There is this. And lots of it.
Science might never tell us why an extra cell division results in a third copy of the 21st chromosome. But there is so much to learn from those in our world with Down syndrome. My daughter does not suffer from her diagnosis. She is worthy of life, of love, and of opportunity. She loves shrimp and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she can beat her sisters in a dance-off, and she will fight you for her favorite garbage truck toy. She will stare through your eyes into your soul, lay her head on your chest, hold your pinky finger, and you will feel like you are floating. She is absolutely beautiful. She is whole. She is exactly who she is meant to be.
Recently, we were at the beach. I sometimes catch myself staring at her in wonder—awe, really. She was having fun with her sisters, playing in the sand. They were dumping buckets of water on each other, squealing in delight. I looked straight up to the same blue sky and felt the sun on my cheeks and then gazed out to the water. But the horizon wasn’t tilted, after all. It was perfectly even. This is how my world was always meant to be. And I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brittney Salvatore-Perkins of Las Vegas. You can follow their journey on Instagram. 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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