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.

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