Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eslea's Birth Story

I post this on the exact time of Eslea's birth minute: 10:18am.
As I sit here waiting on my precious four month old who at this very minute is undergoing open heart surgery, I can not help but rejoice in the way she has changed my life forever. It amazes me how much I love this child when there was a time I honestly thought I never could.
So my friends, with that thought I would like to share with you...

the story of Eslea's birth.

How do you begin a story like this? Something that is so hard to put into words. Something that when I look back on it now I still cry. Not for the same reasons, but for the pain I was in and had to face. I have reviewed this story over and over again in my head. I have written it down and rewritten it hundreds of times. What do I share? Do I share it all? Do I confess the darkest emotions and thoughts that I tried to bury deep in the crevices of my broken heart?
It has been 4 months since my baby girl was born and I have changed. So before I begin, I must clarify that some of what you will read may surprise you. I adore both my daughters. Even the thought of losing either of them causes my world to stop existing. Yet, my goal is to recount the exact feelings and thoughts I had during the time it took to finally reach the point of love and acceptance. Although I no longer have such drastic thoughts, I chose to share them because I know that I am not the first parent to have these emotions and I know I will not be the last.

The Before
It took four weeks to reach the point of acceptance. Four weeks from the minute Eslea came into this world. The before was different. I was different.
My pregnancy was relatively uneventful. I had a quad screen which came back negative. The tech did a measurement of her nuchal fold which came back within normal range. We elected not to have further testing, because I thought it didn't matter.
Eslea was my daughter and I knew her already. I had spent hours picturing what she would be like. I knew she would have blond hair and blue eyes like her sister. She would have her daddy's eyes and my lips. Like her sister, she would get breast milk for at least the first year of her life. She would take dance, swim, and gymnastics. She would grow up to be a doctor or lawyer or activist or something equally fantastic.
The only news that scared me was that she was breech and no matter how many hours of crazy yoga poses I spent doing, she was not flipping. I dreaded having a c-section. I prayed about it for the month leading up to her birth day.

The Birth Day
Jason and I spent time laughing and enjoying the excitement of having another little girl to raise. Even having to be admitted into the hospital at midnight struck us as hilarious. Various couples lined up like ducks walking to the maternity ward with our overnight bags in tow. We spent hours laughing in the hospital room talking about what it was going to be like with Eslea. How beautiful she would be. The joy she would bring us.

Finally, the time came. It was 9am and they were wheeling me down to surgery. I remember being scared. Having to go in there alone and not being able to shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong. After what felt like hours, they let Jason in and I relaxed. It was time. It all happened so quickly. Before I knew it, the NICU nurse was standing next to me showing me my baby. I remember telling Eslea hello and watching her eyes look towards my voice. I remember having my picture taken. Then she was gone. And I cried. I missed her. I didn't even get a chance to hold her.

Because of the pain medication after surgery, much of the rest of the day went by in a whirl. But some very distinct events remain in focus. The first is the sound of the clock on the wall reminding me of the time that was passing without me even seeing my baby girl. The next was my husband coming in and out of the room to show me pictures on the camera. I remember him stopping to watch my face because he knew what I would see. He said that he saw it too. couldn't be true. That was not my daughter. Not the one I imagined. Time kept ticking. I have yet to meet Eslea.
Six hours after her birth, the NICU nurse arrives. Jason and I were alone in the room. I knew what was coming. The clock kept ticking.  Although I was yet aware but that nurse, Cathy, was already one of Eslea's angels. Cathy began by explaining that Eslea was receiving oxygen because her lungs had some fluid and she was having difficulty breathing. She also told us that a murmur was found in our baby's heart and most likely she had a defect....a cardiologist was reviewing the test. And then she paused....and said ....that our baby did "show characteristics of down syndrome...but.....she is perfect....and the most beautiful baby I have ever seen."
The clocked stopped. The room stopped. All I could hear was the sound of my own breathe.
Finally, Cathy's words broke the time warp I was in and somehow I heard her say "I know that it's a lot to take in. It's okay to cry. I would cry too." I looked up and her eyes were moist with the tears she was holding back. Time began again. And I cried.
Fourteen hours go by and I have yet to see my baby. It is 1:00 A.M. and I am ready. I don't care how much pain I am in, I have to see my daughter. So many people had seen her, yet I had not. I missed her. The NICU was empty except for one other baby and some nurses. My little girl was in the glass cube on the end. The first time I saw her she was covered in IVs, monitors and bandages. The nurse took her out and handed her to me....and I knew. I saw it. I saw what my husband already knew but was afraid to form into words. Eslea's eyes gave it away. My husband stared at me, waiting to see my response. But I didn't have one. What he couldn't see was the thoughts in my head. At that moment I was thinking that this was not my daughter. I did not know this child. This is not the little girl I had planned on. This was not the little girl I had carried for thirty-nine weeks. They were wrong. They asked if I wanted to nurse her and I said no. I wanted to go back to my room. So I did.

I have cried a lot since my Eslea's birth. But none so much as in those first 24 hours. That first night after she was born, I remember feeling numb. I remember waking up at 3 am and crying. I couldn't stop. My crying woke Jason up and he crawled into that hospital bed with me. He held me while I cried and cried. During those first 24 hours, I mourned my child. I mourned the little girl I was expecting. I yearned for her. I ached for her knowing that she would never come. I hated the people who worked at the hospital. I hated my husband. I hated everyone. I was mad. How dare they try to say this was my child. I wanted my baby. The one I had spent 39 weeks getting to know and rubbing her little head as it was pressed in my ribs. This was not her.

But, through all that, I must have loved her. Because although I couldn't believe that it was my daughter, there was an unseen force that kept pulling me back to that NICU time and time again. There was something inside me that made me want to try nursing and was proud when she took to it so easily. When her sister came to visit, I anxiously awaited Emma to lay eyes on her sister for the first time. I worried needlessly because for Emma, it was love at first sight.

Leaving the Hospital
The day we left the hospital, I was still numb. It didn't seem real. I had to leave without my true baby. I just wanted to be alone and mourn the child I had lost. But instead, I was going home with this new baby. A different one then I expected. One that I was ashamed of and scared of at the same time. Before I left, I expressed these concerns to Cathy. She listened for an hour as I cried and told her some of the shameful thoughts I was having. She did not judge. She had faith that with Jason and prayer, I would make it.
I so much dreaded the process of leaving the hospital with a new baby. It was drawing too much attention to me and this new baby in my arms. The flowers, the balloons, the wheelchair. I hated it all. I was so scared someone would see her. I was afraid to see the look in their eyes. The look of pity or whatever it is I thought was going to happen. We had almost made it into the car before it happened. What I dreaded. An older woman saw Eslea and said "she looks almost fake she is so big." My heart broke. That was the first of what I was afraid would be many comments made about this child....and I cried.
But I must have loved her...because it broke my heart to think that others didn't see the perfection that I saw. That very night I rocked her to sleep and kissed her head before putting her swaddled little body to bed.

The Next Three Weeks
It took four weeks to reach the point of acceptance with Eslea. Four weeks to the day she was born. I spent that time hanging on to dear life as my emotions went on a roller coaster with my thoughts as company. I spent time thinking about the before days. I so much wanted to go back to when it was just Emma and I. What had I done to Emma? What had I done to our family? I felt as if I had brought a burden on everyone.
I fought through so many stages during her first four weeks of life. These stages I refer to as chapters because they are so distinct and clearly defined in my mind. Every night I prayed for just one thing...acceptance. I never once prayed for things to change. I just wanted to accept my baby. I wanted to love and adore her as I did Emma. I wanted to feel like I was her mother.
The first of these chapters was Mourning. The feeling that this was not my child was overwhelming. That my child had died and now I am forced to raise this other person...or this half person they had sent home with me. Something was going to change. This can't be true. Any day now, I will wake up and it will be different.
But I must have loved her...because every night I held her close, I rocked her to sleep and I kissed her sweet forehead before putting her swaddled body to bed.

The Mourning led into the Why Me? chapter. Why?? Why did this happen to me? I don't want to have to take care of my child when I am 70 years old. This is not what I wanted. This is not the family I wanted. How could God do this to me? How could I do this to Emma? To my husband? Maybe...just would be easier if she wasn't here. If she didn't make it. If somehow her heart just couldn't work hard enough to keep her alive. Or maybe, just maybe, Jason and she could live somewhere else. I could go back to life with just Emma and me. This stage lasted the longest. It was the most selfish time of my life. It is also the hardest to admit.
But I must have continued to love her even then. Even when I was so selfish and cruel....because each night I held her, I rocked her and I kissed her head before I laid her down to sleep.

Then came the Why Her? chapter. Why my baby? Why this baby? What had she done? She was so new. She deserved the same chances and life that others would have. Why her? What have I done to her? Is this the life she would chose? I spent my nights whispering in her ear "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry". I hurt for her. I was scared for her.
It was during this stage that I made a decision. I was not going to miss another second of infancy. Despite how I felt, she was a baby. A sweet smelling, soft and juicy baby. For several nights in a row I made myself block out my defeating thoughts and just focused on her. I smelled her. I nursed her. I rubbed her. I took in her sweet baby breathe.

And then it happened. It happened in a split second. I had placed Eslea on the changing table and she was completely naked. I stepped back to look at her and numbness engulfed me. Then she cried and her arms started to flail. She was scared. She wanted someone to pick her up. She wanted me, her mother. And then it happened. Exactly four weeks to the day she was born, it finally came...acceptance. I scooped her up and thanked God for her. For the first time, I told my new precious that I loved her. I whispered it over and over again into her ear. I finally saw her for HER. The same one who I spent nine months getting to know as she kicked and twisted in my belly. It was HER. There was no longer any doubt. My precious baby girl.
That night I did the same as so many nights before...I rocked her, I kissed her, I laid her down to sleep...yet that night, finally, I KNEW I loved her.

Can I say that I no longer cry when it comes to Eslea? No. I still cry. I cry when I think about her future. I cry when I think about her struggles. I cry when I think about the pain I went through during her first four weeks. Yet the crying very rarely comes anymore. Now, I thank God for her every day. I smile...I laugh...and I whisper "I love you" in her ear every night.

We all desire for our children to be happy. For so long, I thought that happiness meant she had to be "normal". I finally realized that she is not meant to be anything more then she is already. A perfect little baby with an extra chromosome. People will notice that she looks different. She may even talk different. Through her they will learn to accept the differences in all people and most importantly, they will learn to love her.

If you have made it this far, thank you.
Thank you for caring enough about our sweet little buggie to read her story.

Edited to add: If you are reading Eslea's birth story for the first time, please leave a comment. I would love to know more about you! Plus, I really like reading comments. If you're interested, Eslea's birth story has been featured in our local newspaper. It includes updated information too. Just follow the link Eslea: Reserved of God.


  1. I'm seriously crying my eyes out reading this, hoping against hope that my husband doesn't come home and see me like this... I have no other words besides Thank You for so much honesty. And yes, many of us have also felt the exact same way.

  2. I cried while reading this too. It takes courage to say out loud the things we first thought or felt, its painful to even admit some of those things to ourself..But its all part of the healing process and moving forward. This was beautifuly written, thank you for sharing...And there are no words to say how amazing the pictures on here were!! Praying that Eslea's surgery is over and she is doing well :)

  3. 60 years old 249 pounds 6 foot tall and from New York also crying as I read this Why ? because my God is letting me share this gift of yours through your thoughts

  4. My kids are asking why I'm crying. Thank you so much for sharing; you are not alone. So much to tell you--I hope we can meet soon.

  5. You are so brave to share your honesty. Until I married Rodney and, yes, Wendy too I was drifting aimlessly thru life after going thru a divorce 7 years earlier and burying my head in the sand. That was the best day of my life. I truly believe that God had this plan for me since I had no children of my own and the last of my little neices and nephews had moved out of state several years before. I look back on the last 14 1/2 years and am amazed how quickly they passed. Wendy is the guiding light of our life and she keeps us focused on what's important. There are not too many people from Valdosta who don't know and love Wendy. She has touched so many lives. My Mother, sisters, bro-in-laws, neices and nephews adore her. She is the apple of her 4 sisters and bro-in-laws eyes. I truly believe that Rodney would not be alive today if it were not for Wendy. Yes, it is very hard some days, so hard you're not sure you can make it but Wendy gives you that smile or says "I love you" and you know it's worth it. I know I am a better person for it. It's ok to vent I do it all the time. You will be fine.

  6. I'll be repetitive and say it. I'm crying, too. It's so hard to admit some of the feelings we all have had when it comes to our babies. A lot of people wouldn't even begin to understand because they've never been there. The hurt and anger and confusion that we've all faced and the tears we've all shed. But it's necessary and I don't think we'll ever get over it completely. But our little ones will always make it all worth while in the end.

  7. Erin, your mother-in-law taught me in kindergarten! haha! like, about 26 years ago!! ;)
    This story is especially touching to me... my oldest daughter, Emmy, was born seven years ago, very premature. She stayed in the NICU two months and I also had acceptance issues. nurse CATHY!! was also an angel for us. I, too, grieved the baby I had been expecting. Emmy had an ASD closure 2 years ago and is doing great!
    You are not alone!!
    I prayed yesterday for your sweet Eslea and rejoiced to hear her surgery went well.
    Thank you for bravely sharing your heart with us, and I will continue to pray for your sweet family and for Elsea and you.

  8. Thinking of you guys these last two days, anxious for an update. Hope surgery has gone smoothly...

  9. i got here from a comment you left on another blog. tears in my eyes and on my face reading this. hard to read when everything is blurry. just wanted to leave a comment to let you know i was here and i was touched.

  10. I had a prenatal diagnosis, so I cried with this big tummy. I couldn't hardly stop crying and I feel for what you went through. What a shocker! We too had OHS with Calvin. It is a journey you'd never expect! Thanks for sharing! She is so sweet.

  11. What a beautiful story and a beautiful little girl! She is so precious and perfect and so lucky to have you as her mom! I think the part that got me the most choked up was the "why me" part. I had so many of those same emotions in that first couple of weeks....maybe if Sutter didn't make it we could go back to the way life was and I wouldn't even be sad....needless to say if he gets so much as a bump on the head or his brother is a little too rough with him I freak out! LOL

    Can't wait to read more! :)

  12. So much of this i have felt. From the first "she has characteristics of DS", to seeing all of her perfections while others see her flaws. I love my little boo more than anything. I look forward to reading this blog as your little girl is just a couple months older than mine.

  13. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. It was as if I was reading my own thoughts. I had so many of the same thoughts after my son Nate was born. I, like you, had to grieve the loss of what I expected. Today, 18 months later, I am so grateful for my son and his extra chromosome. Acceptance is the answer! Your daughters are beautiful. I had a great cry on a rainy Friday night. Can't wait to read more.

    Jen M

  14. I am crying as I finish "Eslea's Birth Story." I applaud you for your honesty and for sharing your story with others. There is no greater love than a mother's. Both of your girls are precious beyond words!

  15. I've just stumbled on your blog and you've brought me to tears. Your journey of acceptance was very similar to mine although mine happened before Ben was born. Eslea is a beauty!

  16. Thank you for your honesty in telling this beautiful story. I have a little angel as well who will turn one next week. He is my forth child but all the feelings you wrote ring true for me just the same. Hr has a heart condition as was in the nice for his first 30days of life. I don't remember when I came to accept him for who he is rather than just a baby with ds, but I love my baby with all my heart and am so grateful for all I have learned through him and because of him. He is sleeping,bit I think I will go hold him now anyway- thanks again.

  17. I cried through this entire story...tears of sadness for your difficulties, and then tears of joy when you wrote of acceptance. What beautiful words....thank you for sharing. I am planning to adopt a baby with DS. I follow a lot of blogs to learn about parenting a child with DS, as well as to appreciate how much joy these children bring. Thank you for sharing your story....Allison

  18. I am very impressed by your honesty. You have a beautiful family. Thank you.

  19. What a beautiful birth story. I too, admire your honesty. I completely relate to your story. What a beautiful family you have. Congratulations!

  20. Laurie Strickland EddyNovember 3, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    Beautiful... just beautiful! You have a beautiful family! Thank you for allowing me and my girls to get better acquainted with Eslea! She's absolutely precious!!

  21. Well, I am not generally one to post comments on blogs, but I am so touched by your story. I got to your blog from a different blog and I had to read it. My heart hurts for the pain you experienced and yet my heart smiles for you learning to love and accept your baby. I've never even met you and I know you are an amazing mother. Emma and Elsie are lucky girls. The pictures are breathtaking beautiful.

  22. Thank you for your honesty,your daughter is just beautiful and her name, well it is lovely. I feel your pain and your joy, I can relate on so many levels. I am a very proud mother to a beautiful little baby boy who has Down syndrome. Thank you for sharing your story.

  23. I just love both of you!!! Your are so honest and she is precious.

  24. Erin,
    I am 27 weeks along with our third and final baby. We found out at 19 weeks that our precious baby girl also has Down syndrome. I am finishing up my masters in education to be a school counselor so maybe that is why I feel so connected to your story. I have good days and bad days but feel like the entire thing is my fault since my husband never wanted a third child. I know that I will love her, but I worry about her future and ours as I really don't want to be caring for a child for the rest of my life. But, deep in my heart I know that she will be a blessing to me and to my entire family, and I will look back on these days and wonder why I cried so darn much :) God Bless you and your wonderful family!