Madelyn Elizabeth Williams, 1/27/10
I have often thought about writing Maddie's birth story, to have it down somewhere so that I could release it a bit. That day was filled with so many different emotions and it's still a little hard for me to make sense of all the things I was feeling that day, and sometimes still feel today. When I think about her birth there is always a "before" and an "after". Somewhere in there the world, and my view of it, changed.
Madelyn has Down syndrome. I said it, or rather, wrote it. Looking at the words on the screen and reading them still seems like some sort of dream to me. Down syndrome. In the early days after hearing this, my mind would race and play that sentence over and over in my head. Madelyn has Down syndrome. Down syndrome. Down syndrome. Down syndrome. Over and over. It makes me feel breathless. Not as badly as it did in the hospital when the pediatrician said it, but similar. Down syndrome. It's like ripping a bandaid off, reapplying it, and ripping it off again. It doesn't sting as badly as it did the first time, but it still hurts. Those two words pop into my head randomly during the day. Not as frequently as they used to at first, but it's still a daily occurrence. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I'm just the mother of two children, then it comes and smacks me in the face, Down syndrome, and I'm breathless again. It always takes awhile for me to get my breath back. I don't ever want to tell her birth story to the point that I am numb about it, but releasing it a little so that I can breathe sounds a little freeing to me. So here goes:
I knew early on that Maddie was going to be a lot different from her brother. I had all-day morning sickness and nausea with Aiden, and with Maddie it was worse. However, with Maddie I began to lose weight. I didn't start putting on weight until somewhere in the 3rd trimester. By the time I delivered, I had only gained an additional 7 lbs. from my starting weight. The midwives were never concerned about Maddie's weight, and said that she would get all that she needed from my body and that I shouldn't worry.
Maddie moved much differently than Aiden. It's funny how much you can tell about your child before they are born; how their movements tell you a story about them before they are even brought into this world. Aiden was very active, pushy, demanding, and never backed down. Maddie was a little gentler, slower moving, and more cautious. She never pushed back and mostly just moved in my belly with glided movements.
I also had Braxton Hicks early on in my pregnancy with Maddie and knew that she was going to be early. How early, I was unsure of, but I knew she would be early. With Aiden I thought I was going to be pregnant for-ev-er (and he was 8 days late)! So when I went into labor on January 27th, two weeks early, I wasn't surprised (never mind the fact that I was walking up and down two flights of stairs with a two-and-a-half year old on my back while carrying a basket full of laundry all morning).
I always wanted a little girl, I dreamed of having a little girl. The day I found out that we were having one was one of the happiest day of my life. I couldn't have been more ecstatic. I was soaring for the rest of my pregnancy. All my dreams were coming true. Things were perfect. Normally, I am a worrier. I worry about things that aren't likely to happen, I focus on them, obsess about them, even though there's usually nothing that can be done to prevent it. So it was unusual for me to feel like nothing could go wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the shock I was about to receive. I was about to be blindsided and I had no idea.
There were things that happened during Aiden's birth that I wanted to make sure I avoided again for Maddie's birth. With Aiden I had a C-section and I'm still not entirely sure why. So for my second pregnancy I switched to a group of midwives, who were wonderful! I also did not feel like I had any choices or support during my delivery with Aiden, so I hired a doula for Maddie's birth as well. This birth was going to go my way; I was determined to have a successful VBAC and was going to stack the odds in my favor.
Early that Wednesday morning, I got up and started doing laundry. I knew I was getting close to my due date and wanted to make sure I had some essentials clean so that I could pack them in advance for the hospital. Aiden didn't like to be left alone upstairs while I was doing laundry, so I put him in the baby carrier on my back and took him to the basement with me. While going down to put in the first load of laundry, I started to feel contractions, but just thought they were more Braxton-Hicks. I came back up and Aiden chose that day to decide that he wanted to start peeing on the potty. At first I thought, "Sure, nothing else is going on today. We'll try it." The morning continued on, laundry, big boy peeing in the potty, up and down the stairs, more Braxton-Hicks. After a little bit, my friend, Lindsay, called. I decided this was a good time to lie down, drink some water, and relax a bit since the contractions weren't going away. Half way through our conversation, I realized that the contractions were getting stronger and more frequent. It was time to hang up, put Aiden's diaper back on and call Grant, the doula, and the midwives to give them all a heads up.
With the anticipation of her impending arrival, I was growing more and more exited, building things up in my head. Imagining the first time we would get to look at her, the first time I would be able to hold her, see Grant hold her, listen to her cry, and the first time Aiden would get to see his baby sister. I was on cloud 9, and nothing could bring me down.
I labored at home for a few hours, Grant came home and helped me finish packing, and our friend Meredith came over to stay with Aiden while we went to the hospital. The doula was going to meet us at the hospital in an hour, since we figured it was going to take us that long to finish packing, drive to the hospital, and get checked in anyway. The contractions were 5 minutes apart and intense. Things were happening fast, or so I thought.
They checked me at the hospital when I came in, I was only 2 centimeters dilated. Originally, they wanted to send me home to labor for a little longer, but I knew, I knew this was it, that there was no going home; my baby girl was coming. They decided to let me labor at the hospital for a couple of hours and recheck me later.
We wandered the halls, and each floor of the hospital, stopping for contractions. The funny part about it was that we were at the WOMEN'S hospital, where babies are born everyday, and yet, when I was walking and laboring in the hallways, people would stop and ask if I was alright. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, all stopped to ask if I was ok. I thought, "Of course I'm fine, I'm just in labor! How have you not seen this a million times before?!?"
The contractions were getting more and more painful and coming one on top of another. The midwife rechecked me and I hadn't made much progress. They decided to give me some morphine to help me rest for a little while. Their theory was that the morphine would either stop the contractions all together and I could go home, or that they would relax me enough that I would dilate more and be rested for later when it was time to push. Either way, I was supposed to be asleep within a half hour.
Grant decided this would be a good time for him to go and get something to eat so that he would be ready for everything else after I woke up. I agreed that this was probably the best time for him to go and our doula agreed to stay with me. I lied down on the bed and tried to relax. The room was quiet, the lights were dim, and my eyes were shut. However, the pain wasn't subsiding and I was only growing more uncomfortable. Fifteen minutes later, as I was trying to breathe through the pain, I had our doula talk to the nurse. The nurse blew us off and told us that I needed to wait another 15 minutes. Grant eventually came back and when he did he found me writhing in pain on a collapsable bed that was falling apart in the triage area (because I hadn't progressed far enough to be taken back to labor and delivery). Our doula asked the nurse to please page our midwife so that we could see what was happening. The morphine was having the opposite effect. In the half hour between getting the morphine and the midwife coming back in, I had dilated 7cm, but I could feel every single intensified contraction that went along with it. I was at 9cm and I felt ready to push. There was a huge commotion due to the fact that I hadn't been moved into the labor and delivery suite yet, and as I was yelling that I needed to push. I had the midwife, the doula, Grant, and the nurses telling me not to.
We got back to Labor and Delivery and I was finally able to push. I'm not sure how long I pushed for, but what I do remember is that Maddie got stuck, just as Aiden had, and her heartbeat was dropping quickly. They were telling me again to stop pushing. I felt like they were telling me that I had to stop a train, mid-track, with my bare hands. There was no way I was going to be able to stop it. They pushed her back up inside me to turn her a little hoping this would help her out. Her heart rate slowly began to come back up and they let me push again. It didn't take long. Her slippery little body was placed on my belly and she was here. After 8 short hours of labor, she was here.
I cried. I cried because I was happy to finally see my daughter, to hold my daughter in my arms, I cried because I had found new strength within myself by having a successful VBAC, and I cried because this was how I had envisioned Aiden's birth and I felt like I was making up for what had gone wrong during his birth.
I lied there, holding my sweet baby, crying, and admiring her. The nurses took her and cleaned her up, got her apgar scores, and handed her back to me. She was the tiniest little thing I had ever seen, weighing in at 5lbs. 15oz. She was wrinkly, and squished, and I remember thinking she looked like my baby pictures.
I could tell something was different about her, though. At first I thought that she looked different from Aiden because he had been a C-section, or that he was bigger, so I didn't say anything. I examined her a little closer and asked why her ears were both folded in the middle. The midwife assured me that it was because of labor and that there was nothing to worry about. I was told that they would correct themselves and that Madelyn was fine, I shouldn't worry about it. But, I knew something was different. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but there was something that someone wasn't telling me.
We were taken back to a recovery room and spent an amazing first night together as a family. I was so elated that I stayed up until about 2am just looking at her, admiring her, and cuddling her. With Aiden, I had been so scared of him and of myself as a mother. It was wonderful that night being able to know that I didn't need to fear my own mothering abilities with Madelyn. I knew what to anticipate with a newborn and knew that I would be able to rise to the challenge. Instead of feeling that panic I did with Aiden, I felt calm and content with Maddie. I was ready, and confident, and just wanted to take my little peanut home.
Maddie was already such a different baby than Aiden had been. She was quiet, and calm, and never fussed. She was just as content to hang out with Grant or in the bassinet as she was in my arms. She was beautiful and perfect and I was soaring!
I felt great physically after giving birth as well. With Aiden I was sore for weeks and recovery was a long and slow process since I had had a c-section. But, with the VBAC, I was up out of bed 5 minutes after giving birth. I got to change Maddie's first diaper, something I couldn't do with Aiden because it hurt too badly to even shift weight in bed, let alone get out. I got to give her her first sponge bath, something the nurses did with Aiden. And, it didn't hurt to nurse her since there were no stitches for her to lie on. Maddie and I were bonding so quickly. I felt that I missed out on all of those things that had seemed to take longer with Aiden.
The next morning, I remember the nurse coming in and checking on us. I had been up early, took a shower and got out of the hospital gown into some normal clothes. I even put on a little make-up since I knew we'd be having visitors and there were lots of pictures to be taken. The nurse came in twice that morning to check on us and I remember vividly her saying, "I just don't know where that pediatrician is. He's supposed to be here this morning and he knows he needs to come to your room." She said it so emphatically that it made me feel a little uneasy. Something was up, there was no reason that she would need the pediatrician to come in so quickly in the morning. It was a giant red flag, but when I looked at Maddie, I just saw a perfect beautiful little girl... what could be going on?
When Aiden was born, the pediatrician came in and told us that he had a heart murmur, and would need to be seen by a cardiologist. I thought maybe she had the same thing, that's what I prepared myself for. Nothing major, she'd get checked out and I was sure, would be fine. There was nothing to worry about.
Eventually the pediatrician came in. I was excited to see him and have him tell me that my little girl was perfect, that he didn't have any concerns and we could go home as soon as we wanted. He seemed a little uneasy, hesitant, and I thought, "Here we go... heart murmur... cardiology... yeah, yeah yeah, we've been here before, things are fine, nothing to worry about, I'll set up my appointment as soon as we get home."
I was smiling, laughing, joking, why wasn't he? He sat down and started to speak, "Your daughter has Down syndrome." The air was sucked out of the room. Trying to catch my breath, "What?". "Your daughter has Down syndrome." I was gasping for air. "Do you have any questions?" "What?" "Do you have any questions?" I couldn't understand what he was telling me. How did he know? How could he be sure? Did he have the right room? Where is the air, and why can't I breathe? I'm dreaming, this isn't happening. He's not talking about my daughter. I was in shock. I looked at Maddie, and thought, "He's lying. He doesn't know what he's talking about." What he said after that is too fuzzy to remember, but before I could talk he was gone. He just left. He couldn't deal with telling us and he left before we could ask any questions, before it had time to sink in, before I could feel the pain, before I could breathe.
I wanted to throw up. I wanted to take my daughter and leave, I wanted him to take it all back. He had to be wrong. No one came into our room for a while after he left. I sobbed. I looked at Maddie, this couldn't be true. How could I not see what he was talking about? I had worked with a little girl who had Down syndrome when I was in high school and Maddie didn't look like her. She looked like my baby pictures.
The pediatrician had said something about a chromosomal test, he said that it would come back positive, but I could hold out hope. I looked at her ears, I looked at her neck, I looked at her eyes. I could see it. I knew. I knew he was right.
Immediately, the guilt came flooding in. Had I done this to her? If I hadn't wanted another baby so badly, would this have happened? What kind of life was this precious baby going to have? Would she hate me if she couldn't have the kind of quality of life that "typical" children had? Was she going to have to work harder and get less in return? Was Aiden going to blame me and hate me when he was older because he was going to have to be her guardian? Would he willingly give up opportunities to take care of her? Did I want him to? Would he hate me because he didn't have a "typical" sibling? Is she going to get made fun of? Is he going to get made fun of? How do I help them cope with this possibility? How do I teach them to rise above it? How do I navigate this new "special needs" world? Was my family going to be disappointed in me, and in my new family? How was this going to change us? Would we crumble under the pressure? Was Grant going to blame me for this the way I was blaming myself? Was Maddie feeling all of this pain along with me? Could she sense how I was feeling? How could I be so crushed, but still so in love with her at the same time?
I wasn't ready to tell anyone. I couldn't find the words to tell family. I didn't want anyone I told to tell anyone else. I wasn't ready to have it out there in the world. What people needed to know was that we had a darling little baby girl and that she was healthy, and sweet, and perfect. I needed people to respect my timeline for letting the news out. I needed to be able to feel supported from the core people we told before I was ready for the news to get out. I needed to control it because I felt like I was in a tailspin. My whole world had just been thrown upside down.
My Mom was with Aiden and I couldn't tell her first. I had to wait until Aiden was down for a nap before I told her. I didn't want him to worry, or be sad, or know that there was anything to be sad about. I called my step-mom, I needed my Dad to know, but knew I wouldn't be able to form the words if I talked to him. My stepmom, Barb, was in the middle of Meijer, grocery shopping when I spewed it out. She sat on the phone with me, cried with me, hurt with me, and then said, "We're just going to love her to pieces, the same as we would have done before, and she will know that." Relief washed over me. It made me feel stronger. Barb was there carrying me through, others quickly joined her, my Mom, Grant's family, Aiden, my Dad, friends and extended family. They were there loving us and loving my little girl, when I felt like there was no moving forward.
Aiden finally came to meet his baby sister. It was magical. He showed me the true meaning of unconditional love. He loved her instantly and magically. He showed no fear. He was so proud of her and to be a big brother. She would never be seen in his eyes as anything less than she was... his baby sister. He showed me there was nothing to be afraid of, and that it was okay to love this little baby because she was mine. She was the same baby I had bonded with for 9 months. The same baby that I had read and sang to at night while I was pregnant. She was my little girl. He gave me strength and showed me the way.
The next couple of nights were filled with a lot of grieving, feelings of guilt, and gut-wrenching pain, but every time I looked at Madelyn, I was filled with love. I've said it before, but it was never, ever hard to love Maddie, to love my little girl, but learning to love the Down syndrome has been a process. In the beginning it was hard to see the future, to know what to wish for for my daughter and my family, but as the year has passed, that's become a distant memory. I have learned, from watching other children and adults with Down syndrome, that Madelyn can lead a fulfilling, meaningful, life, and I am so lucky to be able to have a front-row seat to watch her bloom. Maddie has opened up a whole new world for me and as this first year of her life comes to a close, I can honestly look back and know that there is nothing I would change about her. We are so lucky that she chose us to be her parents, to be her family. And, even though I know it won't always be easy, what I do know is that we will always love her, just as we did before she was born.
Happy Birthday Sweet Little Madelyn!