June 20, 1990, I discovered unconditional love; I recognized a new purpose. I became who I am. I was pregnant at 19, but not afraid, children were always part of my plan. I was in a tumultuous relationship with an intelligent and creative college student. Unmarried, we played out the typical “for the baby” mode of attempting a future together.
It was a difficult pregnancy. Unrelenting nausea, fatigue, and more serious complications made it impossible for me to work; I relied upon others, including the government, to help me to live through this time. Still, I considered this all to be a temporary setback – really just an access road back to the main path of my planned future.
Six months into the pregnancy, I said to my mother, “I don’t know why this baby and my body don’t agree, but I can tell you one thing: he’s a fighter.” I felt my sickness was proof that he was hanging on.
“You’re sure it’s a boy?” my doctor asked, in the age before early and frequent ultrasounds.
“Oh Yes,” I answered, “Only a man would give me this much trouble.”
From my friends, “Aren’t you afraid of labor?”
“No. After all of this? Once you start labor you know, we’re at the finale’. No matter how bad labor is, at the end, you get to meet your baby. No matter what, you win.”
My doctor and I disagreed over due-date. He marked the due date as July; I said June. “I’m the mother. I was there,” I told him.
In the end, my body and my baby worked together and my water broke at 5:00 a.m. on June 19th. At 7:00 a.m. June 20th, my son was born. It seems to me that, regardless of what was to come next, this would have always been the most important day of my life. I got to hold him for a moment; I counted ten fingers and ten toes. He was the most precious boy ever born. I called my father to tell him that he was Grandpa Mark to a beautiful boy named Marcus, so named out of love and gratitude. All was going according to plan.
At about 8:00 a.m., the doctor came into the room and told me there were some concerns. Marcus didn’t score well on the initial Apgar test and the doctor discovered a heart murmur. These were only two of the many signs indicating that Marcus has Down syndrome. Then the doctor handed me a book about Down syndrome. Without remorse, that moment passed into a flurry of commotion. There were now specialists assigned to Marcus, and they visited the room in rapid succession. Concerns with his blood, his heart, and his eating. There was talk of LifeFlight to another city for better intensive care and possible surgery.
I lost track of time. Still June 20, I have not slept from a twenty-five-hour labor, but have taken the hottest shower of my life, been given a book that is supposed to summarize my child, told all of my relation who travelled to see us this news that I do not understand. Now he is in intensive care and not eating. Against minor protests by my nurse, I walk through the halls to find my son. The nursery is bright and open with large windows for proud parents to show off their newborns to visiting well-wishers. The intensive care room is smaller, just past the nursery with only one window, 3 wooden rocking chairs, and what looks like plastic encasing each infant.
The nurse moves quietly doing her duties and even the monitors whisper their notes. It is suddenly like walking through cold water until I reach Marcus. Tubes and wires I don’t know the purpose of come from his skin. There is a receiving blanket on a small shelf. I open his “case”; wrap him (and his wires) in the blanket. We sit in a rocking chair and I quietly cry.
I say to the nurse, “You must think I am a terrible person. I am holding the most beautiful child whom I love. Yet still, l sit here with him and cry.”
She replies kindly, “We all wish we could cry with you.”
Sitting in this small room surrounded by cold equipment meant to save and protect – I am terrified. What is going to happen next? Where will I find the strength to fight? And who or what will I be fighting anyway? The path is so unclear; how will I know the right thing to do? To choose? To be?
Then I had a chat with Marcus.
I reminded him, he’s the fighter. I reminded him that he did not put me through nine months of torment so that he could give up. My little man and I, we will take this one step at a time. I thought my heart could explode. I ached with joy at having my child in my arms. And I shivered with fright that any pain or misfortune would be coming to him.
The thing is, when living the most important day of your life, you have to just run with the bulls and live it. The clarity of purpose that comes, and the lessons being soaked into your being, are the new answers to who you are, answers that are different from the day before.
The medical questions connected to Marcus taught me immediately the value of every moment. I was suddenly a different parent than I thought I would be. Together we found boundless strength and joy. I learned that life is about new awakenings and ongoing gratitude as opposed to, well . . . I’m not even really sure what the plan was before.Together we found boundless strength and joy. I learned that life is about new awakenings and ongoing gratitude as opposed to, well . . . I’m not even really sure what the plan was before. Click To Tweet
Epilogue: Marcus is 18 years old now and continues to fill my heart with joy. We have been through heart surgery, schooling battles, ongoing therapies and specialists, many frustrations and more laughs than can be counted. The other day we were at the mall and we stopped at a bench where I could tie his shoes (People sometimes look sympathetically at an act like that.) As I stood up, Marcus took my hand. The stars in his eyes light up as he says, “You’re the greatest mom in the whole world.” How many moms of an 18-year-old get to hear that? I wonder.
“You’re the best, too, buddy,” I say.
“I love my mom,” he smiles and we hold hands. This is the ritual we have every day. This is not the ritual I planned, but the Marcus decided we should drop the original plan. The path we have taken together has proven to be a much better trip than I imagined, more adventure, more joy, and more grace than I ever planned for.
This Essay was written in reply to the prompt “The Most Important Day of Your Life” about...Oh my God, could it be
seven TEN years ago? Oy. It was originally posted on the site May of 2013. Brought to you today as my contribution to the Mother’s Day reminiscings. I’ve always loved a good “birth story.”