The woods

There’s a saying that when all is well and a situation is better, you’re “out of the woods.” I don’t know what’s so wrong with the woods; I love being locked deep within a curtain of tall trees and beautifully-scented flowers, the sound of birds chirping around you and the sun masked by the green canopies above you.

But it’s a lonely place, a scary place, too. There is darkness; mystery; uncertainty.

I’ve been in and out of the woods a lot of times in my life. It’s what makes me the person I am today, for better and for worse.

My mother passed away when I was 10 years old — when life is about the next field trip and your circle of friends. I spent at least another 10 years fluctuating between missing her and hating her and wishing with all of my heart that she was in this miserable forest with me. And gradually I came out of that place. Gradually, I came out of the woods.

And there were the seven-plus years that I destroyed my body; where every meal was a battle and the fewer the calories, the better I thought I would feel. I was told by strangers, and then professionals and then acquaintances and then the people I loved most that I was losing a fight against myself. And I emerged. Perhaps not ever completely. I’m close enough to the edge of the forest to feel that I’ve overcome, though. One day at a time.

I lost myself to a man who never deserved me once and in doing so, I wasted a lot of time and have a couple of years that make up my only true regrets. That time, I came running out from under the trees… and funnily enough, into the arms of a country boy who loves me and holds my hands every time I’m scared.

We fell in love, we got married and we got pregnant.
And then our family “got” Down Syndrome.
And I retreated deep into the woods. As far in as I could go; where it was so desolate that not a single owl could be found; not a single bit of green; all black.

I don’t know if Down Syndrome is something you can ever use “out of the woods” with — Zack has been doing amazing every step of the way and we count our blessings when we hear of side effects and huge health ailments we haven’t had to experience. We work every moment on exercises and therapies — praying he’ll walk; hoping he’ll talk; wishing for a happily-ever-after. Maybe he won’t walk until he’s 20. Maybe not until he’s 5. Maybe not at all. That’s the thing about Down Syndrome — it’s a road map without words or highways or a key to use. Squiggles in a general direction; detours you are never prepared for but you take just the same. There are a lot of woods.

It has taken me two weeks to write about our visit to the specialist. I tell myself I’ve just been busy, but maybe it means I’ve been trying to find my way to a clearing in the woods, where the air is lighter and the sun is brighter and my country boys are in front of me in a valley of flowers.

We found out two things about Baby Z2B 2.0 on Jan. 3:
– That our newest addition is indeed a little girl.
– And that she has no visible markers (via Phase Two Ultrasound) of Down Syndrome.
A 28-year-old mother typically has a 1-in-1,000 chance of having a baby born with DS. A 28-year-old mother whose first child was diagnosed with DS has a 1-in-100 chance of having a second child born with DS. But a 28-year-old woman with no visible markers on her second baby’s ultrasound has a less-than-one-percent chance of having her second baby born with DS.

It should have been relief. Those perfectly-beating heart chambers and the ability to have both our babies born in the same hospital; no need for specialists, no need for another 20 weeks of worry. But, why then, was I still holding my breath as we walked to the parking lot and in every moment since then?

I’m afraid that declaring Little Miss “out of the woods” is the worst thing I could do. My chances weren’t that great of having DS the first time around and it was never picked up on any ultrasound or test with Z-Man prior to his birth. So who’s to say DS isn’t lurking in our little girl as well? Who’s to say we won’t see the same tests on her Birth Day; won’t make a decision to send a chromosome test away for the delivery of bad news an agonizing week later?

If I declare our daughter “out of the woods”, aren’t I declaring Zack to forever be trapped in the woods by himself?

The ultrasound reduced our chances but did not give us a yes or a no. It did not make easy the planning of our futures — all four of us. I will still go into a delivery room sometime in May not knowing the biggest question on my mind.

But I do know one thing — this little girl is loved; loved as much as a mother can love her child, perhaps setting a new world record, just like we do with her big brother. I know she and Z-Man will both be given an equal, solid, strong foundation with which to build their independent, lesson-learning, woods-clearing lives.

I am brave enough to tred slowly, cautiously, toward the forest’s edge. Branches breaking beneath my feet with a crunch-crunch noise that makes my little boy giggle; snow accumulating on a little girl’s pink boots. My gloved hand wrapped tightly to my best friend, his brown-green eyes looking at me with a joke dancing in them.

I hope my bravery lasts for a few more months. I hope we don’t get hospital room no. 157. I hope that unlike her brother, Little Sister will come into this world screaming like Hell. And then I hope our little family of four lives our own version of happily-ever-after, whatever that means and includes; I hope we pick each other up and run into the woods for explorations, always returning to a trusty clearing.

We have purchased no plane tickets to Italy and have not studied a word of its’ language, just in case we wind up in Holland again.

We ride on the wind, trusting it’s every sway to take us to where we belong and where we can handle anything and everything we are given.

Where inspiration comes in many forms.

I hope that Scott is able to look up at me on the day of our daughter’s birth, tears in his eyes, mouthing the words and phrases I’ve imagined since our ultrasound two weeks ago:

“She is healthy. She is good.”

Please take a moment to reflect on another beautiful little girl and to help her Momma’s quest to make a real difference. It’s Kelle Hampton’s 2 for 2 National Down Syndrome Society fundraiser and it’s for all of the Nellas and Zacharys and BabyZ2B2.0’s out there.

It’s all about acceptance. Of your situation and of the many, many people that will make up your life and our world.

It’s about knowing when you need to come out of the woods, even if life doesn’t bring you there itself.

Christmastime Adventure 2011

Any hardships or difficulties in driving through the night or putting an extra 1,000 miles on the vehicle a couple of weeks ago was easily and happily overcome by the intense and incredible love, peace, relaxation and pure joy we experienced along the way. We crossed state lines and purchased a portable DVD player and Blue’s Clues DVD to save our sanity, but we added a large menagerie of beautiful memories and snapshots of our loved ones.

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We already knew that Zack was adored and understood and truly loved by cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, but it doesn’t take away from how beautiful it is to see that love unfold in front of our eyes. To see the inhaling of his baby scent; the babbling right there with him; the sharing of favorite toys and precious moments.

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My family — both sides– are passionate creatures. We love tirelessly and sometimes, that crazy love comes in crazy forms. But if your family doesn’t have a bit of crazy in them, I just don’t know how you can love ’til the ends of the earth; how you can share your heart with someone else.

Love came in many forms that week in Massachusetts and New Jersey. I felt so at peace, as always, driving past the colonial homes and rolling hills of New England. Despite the fact that I never lived there, it’s where I feel most in a state of pure comfort; where my soul rests and grins.

We quietly celebrated as my strong, amazing aunt checked yet another milestone off on her unexpected journey. And we were given a lot of Chicky Kisses. No one was spared!

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And my two guys did nothing but help my love for my family grow. I embraced the extra seconds and minutes and hours and days with them, from first-morning babbles to lights-out. And I watched my husband be the amazing father that he is. And that Little Man of mine was the star of the show everywhere we went, practicing his standing, sharing his babble-y thoughts and giving cuddles and snuggles to all with open arms.

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Like any vacation or special occasion, it did of course end too quickly. But I came away feeling oh-so-blessed and oh-so-loved. We are already talking visits and get-togethers and summer vacations and train rides. And I hope it all comes true.

Because feeling this loved, loving this much, shouldn’t happen just once a year.

A letter to my littlest love

Dear Baby Z, (Version 2.0)
Hello, my darling. Momma loves you.

Your daddy and big brother and I are going to see movies and pictures of you today and I wanted to write you a letter before we “saw” you for the first time.

You see, the very good doctor is going to be looking for things that are wrong with you.
But I already know that you’re perfect.
You could have three eyeballs or 12 toes or a large heart or a small heart or a sick heart and you will still be loved with all of my heart. You could be a little boy or a little girl and I’ll love you all the same.
You could have a name like Down Syndrome attached to your world. And guess what? Momma will love you and will do everything in her power to give you the best possible life, bigger than anything you could ever dream.

I need to start by apologizing to you, dear baby. You see, I’ve been unfair a few times. Aside from the Cokes I drink on long days and all the Mexican food I put you through a couple of months ago, I’ve also spent way too much time thinking about all those things above. I’ve spent more time wondering if you would be “okay”, knowing it didn’t really even matter, rather than talking to you, rubbing your little home and meeting you in a quiet, pensive place. I’ve sung Christmas songs since mid-November and have blasted Eminem too many times for your innocent ears to hear.

But do you remember the first time I told you I loved you? The day we found out you were going to be in our world, that September day that seems so long ago? I meant it then, but it’s grown in four months and, some days, I just want to scream it from the roof, even if I’m afraid of heights.

You have so much love waiting for you outside of that squishy place you’ve been calling home.
We have a house that we have made our own, with nooks and crannies for you to play and hide in and plans for a really lovely nursery we hope you’ll enjoy. You have a backyard and a great little quiet town with neighbors who will always wave “hello” when we go for a walk. You have three kittens who will tolerate petting and tail-pulling (although you’ll eventually get yelled at for that one) and two puppies that will keep you giggling when they go running past you.

You have a Daddy who is one of the funniest people in this world. He makes your Momma laugh all the time. He’s a little too manly for kisses and hugs sometimes, but never too macho to sneak in a back rub, a pat on the head and a whispered “I love you” when he thinks no one is listening. He loves sports and his little yappy doggy and most especially you, your brother and your Momma. He listens to a lot of country music and does a fierce imitation of Shania Twain on karaoke, but we love him just the same. I don’t believe there’s a better Daddy in the world.

And you have the world’s best Big Brother. Zack is going to be about 22 months older than you. I hope you two will be best friends forever. I hope you will help each other and love each other; call each other when you’re older and living apart and watching the stars together in the backyard when you’re kids. Zack may have a tough road ahead of him and I hope that you are patient and understanding and supportive. These things already have and always will get our family through the toughest times. There may come a time when you’ll have to show Zack how to do things, even though you’re younger than him — I hope you don’t mind, and I hope that you’re a great teacher! And there is a chance that you and Zack may have a lot in common, and if that’s the case, your Momma and Daddy will be ready. Your brother already has a very sweet, snuggly personality and has the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.

I wonder what you’ll be like.
But I don’t plan any big plans for you. It’s not fair. To anyone.

I have dreams. And sometimes, I have nightmares where I worry about you and your brother. I cry a lot for you and I haven’t even met you. But I cry out of love. And lately, I’ve been laughing a lot more than I’ve been crying.

You have a lot of people waiting to meet you… friends and cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents all over the country just thinking happy thoughts for you and eagerly anticipating your arrival this spring. There are a few people who you’ll never meet; people I will tell you about all the time; people who loved you before they ever knew you; people who will always be a part of your life.

But for now, my love, relax and enjoy the ride. Sometimes I walk too far and drive too fast, but I’ll try to keep things comfy for you.

I can’t wait until I meet you.