When I found out my friend was (finally) pregnant for the second time, I was overjoyed. When she told me she was pregnant with twins, I was ecstatic. When she told me the genetics testing indicated that one of the babies might have Down Syndrome, I told her not to worry, this is not uncommon news during a twin pregnancy. The genetics counselor told her the same thing and threw out the results from the blood work, calling it useless. Later in the pregnancy, a fetal cardiologist detected a heart defect common in children with Down Syndrome. Although the ultrasounds showed nothing that confirmed this diagnosis, nothing ruled it out either. I held on to slim slices of hope, I tried to reassure my friend. This couldn't be happening.
I went to visit my friend and her just born babies in the hospital. At 6 weeks premature, they were so very small. Barely 4 pounds, two little human beings lay in separate incubators, entangled in wires and tubes. While the nurse on duty spoke to my friend about how much her daughter was eating and gave her an update on her progress, I peeked in on her son. I looked for obvious signs of Down Syndrome, but I really didn't know what to look for. Then, I did something I don't normally do.
I prayed that the results were wrong. I prayed that if it was possible to put together an entire universe that ebbs and flows with pinpoint precision, surely this child was created with the same care and attention to details. I prayed as I spoke quietly to her son, "Welcome to the world, little man. You have some incredible parents and an older brother who love you like you can't possibly imagine. You just have to get stronger."
My friend came over to introduce us. "He's beautiful," I said, "I don't see it." She showed me the fold on his ear, she pointed out the shape of his eyes which wasn't obvious because they were closed. She told me he was karotyped at birth.
He has Down Syndrome.
One of the great mysteries of having twins is the onslaught of curious questions by complete strangers. "Are they identical?", "Did you have help?", "Do they have ESP?", "Are they related?". People mean well, I suppose, but stupid questions come with the territory. It's not always welcome when combined with exhaustion and postpartum hormones.
Apparently, stupid questions come in all flavours when you are the parent of twins, and one of them also has special needs. I'm sure I am guilty. Other than knowing that Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21 is the result of an extra copy of the 21st chromosome, I was pretty clueless. I've learned quite a bit more from my friend's relentless efforts to educate and spread awareness through her blog, Down Wit Dat. I'm proud of her. I'm proud of what she's doing. I'm proud to support her efforts to improve the world her son will grow up in.
Seven months have passed since two very tiny infants were added to this world. I still don't see Down Syndrome when I look at the face of her youngest son. I know it's there, but there's a great deal more worth seeing. Strangely enough, her youngest son bears a striking resemblance to my grandfather with his round, bald head and his sincerely kind blue eyes. When her children smile, I see their mother's strength and dedication, their father's generosity and humour. There's also an unspoken understanding that will undoubtedly blossom into a protectiveness reserved only for the closest of siblings. When my friend and her husband are with their children, there is really only one thing I see.
For the month of October, Down Wit Dat will be blogging daily in honour of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and will continue to do so for November 1 - 7 as well. Check out the Down Wit Dat page on Facebook.