Bravery

Sometimes I need to be reminded that I’ve done some hard things. I have survived. I am brave. I am brave because….

I hung up the phone, the news of a Down Syndrome diagnosis for my baby still ringing fresh in my ears. I took a deep breath, basked in a moment of acceptance and relief, and then continued on my day, keeping my personal life and professional life separate. I continued seeing my patients that day, all pregnant with healthy babies, all while holding my news secret.

I said yes.  Yes to a baby with special needs.

I walked into the CT Down Syndrome Congress annual conference, scared but trying to keep an open mind to learn all I could about what life is like parenting a child with Down Syndrome.

I left the hospital with a likely life limiting diagnosis for my baby, choosing minimal fetal monitoring until the baby had any hope of survival, knowing that I was choosing to preserve my fertility over heroic measures for a baby that would likely die, knowing that I might forever struggle with guilt if she was stillborn before the set date we were willing to intervene.

I told the doctors to take out the vent and held my baby as she died.

I held my lifeless baby.

I handed my baby to the nurse, never to hold her again.

I left the hospital empty handed.

I continued to live life.

I went to my first support group, though I cried tears of fear in the hallway before going in.

I went back to work and told hundreds of people, “my baby died,” and continued to care for them with a smile.

I chose a new career path.

I talk about my baby to strangers, to try to break the silence.

I try to ask for what I need.

I had had another baby despite crippling anxiety that I might lose him too.

I’ve been to baby showers.

I’ve held babies.

I write about my feelings here, for all to see.

Why are you brave?

The Gyn experience

Caring for women in my job involves talking about fertility and reproduction- past, present and future.  I’m seeing prenatal patients and though that’s hard in its own way (I can’t bring myself to ask if they are having a boy or a girl, what the baby’s name is- as I used to do in a gushing, excited way), gyn patients still have their own obstacles.

“He’s the kind of baby you don’t show a teenager,”  she said of her one year old.   She meant that he’s so well behaved, such a delight, it might inspire a teen to think having a baby is easy.  I delivered that one year old and so she excitedly showed me photos.  “Let me show you the cutest kid you’ve ever seen!”  I tucked my head behind the curtain to purell my hands and literally grimaced.  I didn’t want to see her baby.  I just wanted to do the pap smear and call it a day.  But that’s not how it works.  Of course she has every right to show off her child, especially to me who was the first to welcome him into this world.  Fake it til you make it.  I hate that mantra, I think only because I have to do it so much these days.  I hate not being genuine- I’m not even that good at it.  I took a quick breath and smiled as she showed me his chubby cheeks and blond hair.

How do I look at these babies and quell the inner voice in my head?  Mabel had blond hair.  Mabel had chubby cheeks.  I never got to see Mabel smile.  Mabel will never be one year old.

Another gyn patient asked general questions about fertility.  Life doesn’t always turn out how one expects it.  Long term relationships end.  Some women find themselves single when they thought they’d be starting families.  I sympathized with her, my heart really aching that she’s not where she wanted to be.  But her attitude was good; she was able to talk realistically, with a smile even, about how some friends are having babies while others are talking of freezing eggs.  I was impressed, thinking that I need to learn her perspective- frustrated, hopeful, realistic.  I wanted to say, “yes, I totally get it!  You think and hope your life will turn out one way and then suddenly you’re in your mid thirties and life is not at all what you pictured!” We may have very different circumstances, but we share that same thought.  I simply affirmed what she said and hoped she could see the true understanding in my eyes.