The Baby I Never Expected


Lainey holding Nella

Heidi Darwish and Laura Richardson

Nella was scooped off my chest and taken to the warming bed where the nurses nervously smiled as they checked her over. I kept asking if she was okay, and they told me she was fine. I wanted to say the words, but couldn't. So I asked why her nose was smooshed, why she looked funny. But I knew. I cried while everyone smiled and took pictures of her. I kept asking, "Is there something you aren't telling me?" They just kept smiling. The nurses had apparently called my pediatrician in for "D.S. suspicions." But they handed my daughter back to me as if everything were okay.

I cry when I think about this time, wondering what I did. I know I prayed to every power in the world that this wasn't happening. Did Nella feel love? Did I kiss her? My friends promised me I did. They said I couldn't stop kissing her.

Someone popped a bottle of champagne and poured it into our monogrammed glasses, and a toast was raised -- "To Nella!" -- as I sat there, confused, trying to take it all in. I remember feeling nothing. As if I literally left my body for a little bit. Our pediatrician, Dr. Foley, walked in, and my heart sank. "Why is she here?" I asked. They told me she was just checking the baby out, which she did. The room grew quiet, and everyone was asked to leave. I started shaking. I knew it was coming. Brett stood behind me, stroking my hair.

Dr. Foley snuggled Nella up in a blanket and handed her to me. She knelt down next to my bed so that she could look up at me, not down. She smiled so warmly and held my hand so tight. And she never took her eyes off mine.

"I need to tell you something."

I cried hard. "I know what you're going to say."

She smiled again and squeezed my hand a little tighter.

"The first thing I'm going to tell you is that your daughter is beautiful and perfect, but there are some features that lead me to believe she may have Down syndrome." Finally, someone said it.

Dr. Foley hugged me and told me she'd already had a chance to hold Nella for her examination, but now she wanted to hold her just for some snuggles. And she did. Then I nursed Nella -- a dreamy moment I had always anticipated, and yet it felt so different this time. She latched right on with no hesitation, and I realized that she had completely accepted me as her mama and I felt so guilty that I didn't feel the same way. I felt love for her, yes. But I couldn't stop envisioning this other baby, the one who I felt had died the moment I realized Nella wasn't what I expected. Still, the nursing was such an incredibly bonding experience.

Meanwhile, Brett never left our girl's side. He was quiet through it all, and I'm not sure I'll ever know exactly what he felt. But I know the daddy of our two babies, and he wouldn't know how to do anything but love them with all his heart. And he did from the very start.

Then I was told that Lainey was on her way, and I cried new tears. I hadn't even thought yet about how this would impact Lainey. Every beautiful vision I'd had of two girls growing up together -- advice-giving, cooking, phone calls, shopping, everything -- would be different now. Numbness started leaving my heart, and sheer pain started settling in. Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry when Lainey gets here.

I'll never forget Lainey's face when she walked into that room, the cute outfit someone had put her in, her wide eyes, and the way she couldn't stop smiling.

I'll always remember when Nella was placed in her arms. I watched in anguish and admiration as Lainey showed me what unconditional love looks like. What the absence of stereotypes feels like. She was proud.

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