Your cake is in the oven (rainbow, just like you asked for) and you are out with your Daddy this morning on an adventure.
This afternoon friends are coming over to celebrate you.
You are five years old today.
I still can't quite believe it... that five years have passed since your entrance into our lives rocked us in the most incredible ways. Your birth-day is one of the most important days of my life. The day the world swallowed me whole and spit me out the other side. The day my heart cracked open to reveal the beating core for all to see.
The day I was born to be your mother.
I remember the day before your arrival... surrounded by friends & family for a baby shower... I spent the afternoon being pampered with little tea sandwiches, sweets & lots of presents. Later that day I was so tired and napped for a couple of hours. I remember your Daddy made us dinner and we talked about all of the adorable little clothes & toys that were waiting for you. I remember putting in a load of laundry that contained swaddling blankets, colorful sleepers and the worlds tiniest socks, before I went to bed early. You were due to arrive in just under five weeks... plenty of time to get everything ready.
I woke up at midnight & could not fall back to sleep. Remembering the load of laundry in the washer, I got up to put it all in the dryer... stopping in the bathroom on the way. As soon as I got in the bathroom I felt a rush of wet down my legs. I stood frozen for a few seconds, not sure what was happening or what I was supposed to do. As I moved to grab a towel, another rush. My brain finally clicked in as I realized my water had broken. My heart started pounding. I called for your Daddy who was fast asleep, "Babe! Babe it's time." He half-woke, just enough to say, "Ok. Time for what? I'm sleeping." Two seconds later, his brain caught up & he jumped out of bed & was by my side. I told him to call the hospital & it all began.
The rest is a bit fuzzy... the contractions kicked in pretty quickly... but I remember trying to put together a bag of stuff for the hospital. The list I had printed from one of the baby sites suddenly seemed so complicated and I kicked myself for not having a bag packed already. I remember stopping on my way out the door to move your clothes from the washer to the dryer, wanting everything to be perfect for your homecoming. I remember on the drive to the hospital that the night sky was the darkest blue-black, with no moon in sight, clear and filled with sparkling stars. I remember feeling so excited and scared and full of love for you. The baby I had not even met yet, but loved with my whole heart and soul. You had been my passenger for 35 weeks and 5 days... a part of my body about to be released into the wild world.
At the hospital the labor progressed, but the doctors became worried when your heart-rate began to drop with each contraction. Eventually it was decided that I should have an emergency c-section. Luckily for me it was also a shift change & the intern coming on call wanted to wait & see a bit longer. I was prepped & wheeled into the OR "just in case" and spent the remainder of labor and delivery on my left side, a position you seemed to prefer. I remember proposing marriage to the epidural man... I have never felt so grateful for modern medicine as I did at that moment. The internal heart-rate monitor they had on you made the most distinctive "tock, tock, tock" sound... like a deep metronome keeping us all on beat.
As the epidural kicked in, you stabilized. All of the doctors and nurses went on about their business... checking on me occasionally. I will never forget the moment you were ready & I wanted to start pushing. A deep, animal instinct taking over... I knew exactly what to do. And I was going to do it NOW. Things happened quickly, but you had different plans.
Shoulder dystocia... one of your shoulders got stuck... I really don't remember much of this part, thanks to the magic epidural, but I remember when the mood of the room shifted from a routine delivery to a medical challenge. We were on the verge of an emergency, but as luck would have it the attending doctor was also the head of the OB department. Skilled & experienced in such challenges, you were eventually pulled from me with forceps. Not exactly the calm, natural-ish, welcome I had hoped for you, but the job was done. I can't remember if you cried right away. I remember my tears flowing, hot and sticky against my cheeks as I waited to see you, to feel your skin finally outside my own.
Because of your dramatic entry & early arrival you were whisked off to the NICU right away. I remember saying to your father, "Stay with him" as I sent him after you. I spent almost an hour more in the OR, being stitched back together, anxiously waiting to hold you in my arms. Little did I know that this would be what now feels like my last hour of "before". Before I knew anything about Down Syndrome... before I knew that I am so much stronger than I ever thought possible... before I knew that sometimes having your world crumble around you is just what you need... to see with new eyes that there are many possible worlds, each beautiful in their own way.
Once I was out of the OR I remember the joy of holding you in my arms, of looking into your red squishy face, of feeling the waves of emotion rush through me in place of the contractions that had previously overtaken my body. I remember when your Daddy sat down on the bed next to me & said those words. Those words that still make my eyes hot with tears. "There is something I need to tell you." I hated those words. The ones that made all of my dreams for you dissolve away like sugar in hot water. "They think he has Down Syndrome." We had been given the odds of 1 in 586 for down syndrome from the many screening tests during my pregnancy. The words hung still in the air. Shock set in and I forgot how to breathe. I can't remember if I was holding you at the time... I think I was. It pains me now to think that at that moment I might have seen you differently. That some of that love that had been surging through might have briefly left me. We cried & held each other... that I remember. So many tears on what was supposed to be the happiest day of our lives.
Daddy had kept those words to himself for almost an hour and a half. He said he wanted me to meet you unprejudiced, and I did, which made the reality that much harder initially. He spent the next several hours in the hallways of the hospital calling family and friends and telling them of our bittersweet news. It was hard to hear I'm sorry instead of congratulations on that special day. That afternoon he built our love nest... with each phone call, crying with loved ones, we started to come through it quicker than we thought possible. There was still so much to digest, but the process started early and we salvaged those precious early moments that could have so easily been lost to grief and despair. There was mourning for the child we thought we were going to have, and the plans we made, but by accepting our new reality early on, we were able to bond with and appreciate you fully from the start. It was no one's fault, it just was.
The rest of that day is a complete blur. I remember that the pediatrician's name was Dr. Dewey... the name of our black lab who waited for you at home... a sign that made us both smile. I remember that as long as you were in our arms, the sense that everything was going to be okay kept us warm, safe, hopeful. When they took you back to the NICU the next day is when fear tried to take over. You spent the rest of the week in your personal tanning bed... the bilirubin lights slowly doing their job, your jaundice fading with each passing day.
Leaving the hospital was a crazy mix of relief, elation, fear, hope... each in equal parts. We were so excited to be bringing you home, to start learning the landscape our our new world. But the structure of the hospital routine also gave a strange sense of safety, comfort, shelter from the real world. I remember your Daddy driving so cautiously, so carefully... I had to tell him to speed up at one point on our journey home. Walking into our home with you we were met by a welcome sign made by our neighbors... one that hung in its place of honor for many months (okay, years!) before we finally took it down. The next day, instead of the planned father's day baby shower, our friends, family & neighbors gathered to meet you, to cover you with kisses, to marvel at your beautiful almond eyes.
Our nest fully feathered, we were safe, warm & hopeful.
Happy birthday, sweet girl.
18 hours ago