M y husband, Brett, and I had wanted a second child so badly. We had lost a pregnancy, and then got pregnant again. We'd been waiting and preparing for the arrival of our daughter Nella, and finally, it was all just. . . perfect. When my labor pains started, everything was packed and ready: the birth music; the receiving blankets I'd made; the nightgown I bought specifically for the first night I'd rock my new baby to sleep; the Big Sister crown for our 2-year-old, Lainey; and the coming-home outfit. I'd hand-designed 50 favor boxes too, which were filled and all set to be passed out to visitors. My heart could hardly hold the anticipation.
We left Lainey with Grandma and headed over to the hospital, where I was quickly instructed to drop trou and gown up. I put my white ruffled skirt and black shirt into a plastic bag. Days later, the mere sight of these clothes -- the ones I wore during those last happy moments before my life was changed forever -- would bring me pain.
By 2 p.m., my contractions were coming full force, and the delivery room was full of excitement and laughter. Several of my girlfriends were supposed to go to a birthday party, but they came dressed to the nines beforehand to check on me. (My hospital, unlike many others, doesn't have an official guest policy.) I liked the commotion. I loved the feeling of having people waiting anxiously for our baby.
Two hours went by, and I was off the wall in pain, begging for an epidural. But the anesthesiologists were busy. I looked around the room and tried to take it in. . . the candles, the music, the lavender oil I'd brought that wafted through the air. I remember telling myself, "You are about to meet your new daughter." Then I heard the sounds of the song we'd chosen to play as I delivered our baby, "When You Love Someone" by Bryan Adams. And I began to cry.
My husband, my friends, my dad, the nurses, all of them smiling, cameras flashing. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed, then finally watched as the tiniest little body came out of me, arms flailing, lungs wailing. . . and then, they handed her to me. And I knew.
I knew the moment I saw Nella that she had Down syndrome and that nobody else had realized it yet. I held her and cried. I panned the room to meet the eyes of anyone who would tell me she didn't have it. And all I can remember of those moments is her face. I will never forget my daughter in my arms, opening her eyes over and over as she locked eyes with mine and stared, boring a hole into my soul.
Love me. Love me, she seemed to be telling me. I'm not what you expected but, please, love me.
That was the most defining moment of my life.