‘You’re measuring 17 weeks, not 6.’ I went from having a choice to becoming a mom. I was in a dark place.’: Single mom births baby with Down syndrome, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’

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“The story of how our son came to be is one that is confusing, shocking, messy, and full of emotional ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change my experience for anything. I called to make an appointment with my doctor on January 29, 2020, to get checked for a possible Urinary Tract Infection. They got me in that morning. This wasn’t anything abnormal for me, as I have a history of UTI’s and Yeast Infections due to autoimmune issues and heavy doses of Prednisone over the last 5 years. I was expecting the doctor to give me some antibiotics and Diflucan, then go home. After a urine sample, I was showing no signs of infection. I had weight gain, anxiety, and no period since November. My doctor NEVER thought to administer a pregnancy test. Most people would say, ‘No period? How would you not know you’re pregnant?’ I had gone off birth control AFTER I conceived, due to trying to treat a systemic yeast issue from years of Prednisone. I had an appointment with my GYN February 11 to discuss all these issues but the pressure on the bladder led me to the doctors sooner than that.

I had an uneasy feeling something wasn’t right. I decided to go to Urgent Care for some STD testing just to be safe. I’ve never had an STD but I read that some may mimic UTIs. As soon as they called me back, they administered a urine test. The nurse, Danielle, had ordered it before the doctor even approved it. After talking to the doctor about my symptoms for a few moments, she said to me, ‘Do you know if the nurses did a pregnancy test as well?’ I told her I wasn’t certain. She left the room and not even 30 seconds later, they both walked back in to tell me I had a positive pregnancy test. I was estimated to be about 6 to 8 weeks, based on HCG levels. I collapsed, started crying hysterically, and was in shock. I never thought something like this would happen to me. The ‘unplanned pregnancy.’ People always have something to say about them, and I grew up in a small town where everyone gossips.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

After processing the initial shock of the news, I decided the best course of action for me was to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood. I contacted the proper channels of all involved and we all felt that was the best decision. I have always been pro-choice but I never thought I’d have to make such a hard decision myself. Danielle helped me with calls, got an appointment for that Friday, and I was on my way. She wrote her personal number down on my discharge papers. At the time, I was living in New Jersey for school and my family was back in Pennsylvania, 2 hours away. I texted her that night after gathering the courage to call my dad.

Telling my dad I was pregnant was the hardest thing I ever had to do. He received the news a lot better than I thought he would. He was supportive of my decision and wanted me to do what was best for me. Having his support helped so much.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

The next morning, I woke up with such an uneasy feeling at 5 a.m. I felt as if someone was sitting on my chest. My roommate’s mom came into my room and we were talking about everything. I finally called my mom and told her what was going on. I was having second thoughts about my appointment with Planned Parenthood. She and my dad asked me to reconsider my decision and go to the hospital to get more tests done. I was told at 17, it could be very hard for me to conceive someday, due to an ovarian cyst bursting. This may be my only chance to have a child of my own. I didn’t want to throw that away just because the time wasn’t ‘right.’

January 30th, 2020 is a day that is engraved in my memory for the rest of my life. I went to the emergency room later that day after talking to my parents. I had intentions of getting an ultrasound and bloodwork instead of waiting to go see an Obstetrician. The doctor checked me for an ectopic pregnancy at first, followed by bloodwork. My HCG levels in my blood still showed I was most likely 6 to 12 weeks pregnant. I was at the hospital alone and my phone was going to die. I left my phone in the room to charge. After what seemed like 15 minutes, I noticed the ultrasound was taking longer than I’d expect. I finally looked over at the screen and the probe was over the baby’s face. I saw a full set of facial features. I had an internal panic attack and nervously asked the technician, ‘Can you tell me anything?’ Usually, only doctors can discuss test results with a patient. Her words are forever engraved into my brain: ‘You’re measuring 17 weeks, not 6 to 12.’

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

If I’m being honest, it was traumatizing to hear those words. I went from having a ‘choice’ to having a baby, whether I wanted to or not, in 5 months. She gave me an ultrasound picture to take home and wheeled me out into the hallway. I sat there for 10 minutes with no one around, just staring at this picture of this baby that was inside me. Part of me was excited in some weird way but the other part was absolutely terrified and disappointed. I felt a wide range of emotions. My life changed drastically twice within 24 hours. I made a promise to that baby I would do whatever I had to do to be the best mother I could be given the circumstances.

After doing some calculations, I figured out I conceived around mid-October. I was home visiting for a hometown tradition called ‘Farmers Fair’ and every year, we have a town-wide high school reunion. Rowen’s dad and I had gone to school together since grade school but never really hung out until 2 years post-high school. It was always very casual between us and we’d only see each other when we were home. I hadn’t talked to him since I saw him four months ago, so calling to tell him I was pregnant was terrifying. I debated never even telling him but I knew at some point, someone would piece it together. How do you tell someone that four months later, there’s a baby? As a normal part of processing, we threw around a bunch of decisions and plans. We were both baffled. I didn’t know I was pregnant for so long.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

I had been in a car accident on November 1, 2019. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance and protocol is to do a pregnancy test. At this point, I would have been 2 weeks pregnant. I should have been able to get a positive test by November 1 but for some reason, it didn’t show up. My face broke a windshield in the accident so I had a broken nose and a concussion. The months after my car accident, I suffered from what I thought was nausea and anxiety caused by head trauma. It was my fifth concussion. Every time I went out with friends, alcohol made me nauseous and I was always wanting to go home early. I had some mood swings and was fighting with my roommate more frequently. It must have been those hormones. I had gone off the birth control the day of the accident so when I never got a period, I never suspected anything abnormal. After about 2.5 months, I called my GYN and got an appointment to be seen and that led me to the events above to discovering I was actually growing a baby. After both of our families knew, it was a matter of us all working together to prepare for a baby in 5 months and just accept what was happening. Since we weren’t together, we both thought it was fair to do a paternity test at birth just so neither of us ever second-guessed. I am so grateful for my family’s support and most importantly, Rowen’s father’s family’s support. Without both our families working together, I’m not sure what I would have done. I am very thankful for the relationship I have with Rowen’s dad’s family.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

After having some time to process all of this information over the weekend, I went home to visit. I made an appointment with a new OBGYN office in New Jersey. No way was I going back to the medical group who failed me. A week after I found out I was 17 weeks pregnant, I had my first prenatal appointment. Everything was good with the baby, his heart was healthy, and we discussed care going forward in the last 5 months. I got all my prenatal blood work done and the doctor asked if we’d like to do genetic testing. It takes cell-free DNA from maternal blood and is able to tell the sex of the baby by anatomy scan and also screens for any possible genetic disorders. We agreed to do the test because I wanted to know the sex of the baby.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

A week later, I got a devastating phone call. The doctor called and told me my test results came back at a 50% chance for my child having Down syndrome. At this point, I didn’t know the sex. I asked for the test results to be posted to the portal so I could take a look. I was in denial. I started sobbing hysterically as I called my mom. Not only was I traumatized by the fact I was 4 months pregnant, but I now possibly was giving birth to a special needs child. I got on the portal to look at the results and saw I was having a little boy. I had a mix of emotions. I was scared, disappointed, unsure of the future, wanting this all to end, and yet, somehow excited to be a boy mom. Finding out the gender of your child is supposed to be an exciting and happy time. I loathed telling people what I was having when they asked, because I just didn’t have the courage to mutter the possibility of Down syndrome. I was almost ashamed my body couldn’t conceive properly. I researched for hours upon hours that night and days after, trying to find comfort in the message boards. I researched how often this happens in young moms, what causes it, or if it was something I did. I was worried Rowen’s dad wouldn’t want to be a part of his life anymore. Down syndrome happens at conception and it is not caused by behaviors early on in pregnancy so I had to convince myself it wasn’t my fault.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

The next steps were to meet with a genetic counselor before my anatomy scan. After the anatomy scan, I would discuss the results with the doctor. My parents drove out to New Jersey for this appointment with me. They couldn’t get all the pictures of my son’s heart so they sent us to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Fetal Heart Program to get higher resolution pictures, due to the high risk of Down syndrome. About 50% of Down syndrome children have a heart condition. The anatomy scan results showed he was growing as normal and had none of the physical markers of a Down syndrome child. His fetal echocardiogram also showed no issues with the heart. The doctors still recommended we get an amniocentesis but I declined. It wasn’t worth the risk of losing him. I promised to love my baby no matter what. God chose me to be his mother for a reason and I was going to do everything I could to be the best mother I could possibly be, even if this wasn’t what I pictured as my first pregnancy to be like.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

A month or so went by and after all the testing came back ‘normal,’ I had a few weeks to be excited about being pregnant before the pandemic started. I had planned to move back to Pennsylvania in June after my semester was over but COVID-19 had other plans. With the prior events and then the pandemic, I never truly got to enjoy my first pregnancy. I was always anxious, scared, and on edge, and there were so many unknowns. I was quarantined and not allowed to see friends, so I was depressed after the series of traumatic events. There was a time I was in such a dark place I wanted to give Rowen up for adoption and I was suicidal often. Not many people know this. I wasn’t sure I was able to have a baby shower, maternity pictures, or any of the exciting things people do with their first pregnancy. Luckily, COVID restrictions were slightly lifted by June and my childhood best friends threw me the most amazing baby shower. Things were starting to finally look up my last 2 months of pregnancy.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable
Courtesy of Victoria Hable

My friends had my shower on June 13 and I had really bad what I thought were Braxton hicks at the time after my shower. I still chose to go out with my friends, even though I was in severe pain. I later found out those were prodromal labor pains… my water broke at 4:30 a.m. three days later. Rowen was born later that night at 10:50 p.m. on June 16, 2020. He was 3 weeks early. I had an extremely easy birth and labor. Rowen’s dad was in Atlanta for work at the time and he made it back in time to be there to see his son born. He was such a great support person for me during birth, and I can never thank him enough for making my birth experience a positive one. He took videos and pictures as Rowen was born and was a great support during my postpartum period.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable
Courtesy of Victoria Hable

After the euphoria of giving birth and the pain medication wore off, I was finally able to take a good look at Rowen the next morning. I instantly noticed he had slanted eyes, a classic physical feature of Down syndrome. I remember the nurse in the middle of the night having a discussion with me about a family friend who has Down syndrome, and she asked if I’d love him any different if he did. I think I was still out of it from birth because I was talking like he was born without it. The nurse already knew but couldn’t tell me. I didn’t want to alert his dad, so I started frantically googling pictures to compare.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

About an hour later, the audiology department was in our room and the pediatrician finally came in. He said he’d like to talk to us and asked for them to come back. I already knew what he was about to tell us and I had tried to mentally prepare myself for it as much as I could. I was convinced I was having a ‘normal’ healthy baby for months and it felt like now my life had been turned upside down. Everything I pictured went out the window. My future with my child wasn’t going to be like my friends and their children. Every possible thought went through my head.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable
Courtesy of Victoria Hable

I had always prepared myself in the back of my mind for the possibility of that news. I processed every emotion you could imagine since Rowen has been born. I thought about how he would most likely live with me for the rest of his life, not go to college, or get married like a normal kid. I’ve grieved the life I thought we’d have as a family and I honestly think I always will in some way. In order for me to move forward and be the best advocate for him, I needed to grieve all of these things.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

I wouldn’t ever change a thing about our story. Every moving piece has taught me something. It’s taught me patience, how to trust, live in the moment, love, and most importantly, trusting God has a plan for everything. Rowen is the most loving little boy you will ever meet and he filled a void in my heart I have been so desperately trying to fill for most of my life. I need him more than he needs me. Rowen is now 2 months old and he’s reaching all of his milestones. We’ve had a plethora of doctor appointments since we brought him home but thankfully, every single one has ended in good news. He has essentially no health issues other than a minor issue with constipation, which is common in Down Syndrome children. I will take that any day compared to having to put him through open-heart surgery.

Courtesy of Victoria Hable
Courtesy of Victoria Hable

Our story is messy, confusing, and a lot to process but that’s what makes it so special. In my eyes, things like this don’t just ‘happen’ to people. The quote ‘everything happens for a reason’ is so cliche but it is so fitting in the first few chapters of our book of life. Rowen’s dad and I have so much confidence he will thrive in his years to come. We will do whatever it takes to make sure he has a good quality of life and create our own ‘normal.’ When I started to tell people Rowen was born with Down syndrome, I had another mom send me a poem called ‘Welcome to Holland.’ It’s about being new parents and thinking you’re going to follow one journey, end up somewhere else, and somehow the view is more beautiful than you could have expected. It’s a staple poem in the Down syndrome community for new parents who receive the shocking news. I’m happy and grateful to say we went to Holland instead of Italy. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Courtesy of Victoria Hable

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Victoria Hable. You can follow their 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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