Will My Baby Have Down Syndrome?

October 23, 2017 at 5:28 pm

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I was lying in bed one morning with my eyes closed. It was a couple of months ago, but I can’t remember if I knew I was pregnant yet. Somewhere in that place between sleep and waking, I saw the face of a child with Down syndrome. When I fully awoke a few moments later, I felt a torrent of thoughts and questions about that image enter my mind. Was it a spiritual message? Would I be giving birth to a child with Down syndrome? Or was it just a random flash of a meaningless dream?

Tomorrow I am scheduled for my first prenatal appointment with my midwife. The plan is to have my blood work done, including a non-invasive prenatal screening for chromosomal abnormalities. I hadn’t heard of this blood test until a few weeks ago. The one I will be having is Innatal through Progenity. According to their website, this test is one of the most accurate of the non-invasive prenatal screening blood tests available. And it can also decipher the baby’s gender with roughly 99% accuracy. My midwife said the results take ten days. I don’t know if I’m more excited or terrified.

The Progenity website describes the screening this way:

The Innatal™ Prenatal Screen checks for the most common chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome, that could affect your baby’s health. . . . This test looks at DNA from the pregnancy that crosses into the mother’s blood to screen for chromosomal disorders that can cause serious birth defects, intellectual disability, or other health problems. Any baby can be born with a chromosome disorder, which is usually caused by a random error of cell division very early in pregnancy. As women get older, the chance of having a baby with a chromosome disorder goes up.

I am now 37 years old. Based on some quick Google searching, it appears that my risk of having a baby with Down syndrome is somewhere between 1 in 85 and 1 in 350. In the past I never really worried about chromosomal abnormalities. For whatever reason, perhaps because of that face that flashed into my mind a few weeks ago, this time I feel like I just need to know.

I have been waiting over five years for a boy who began visiting me in dreams and visions when my 4th baby was still small. I was devastated when my surprise 5th pregnancy wasn’t him. If this surprise 6th pregnancy isn’t him either, I will likely experience an even stronger grief response. It could be a girl. It could be a girl with Down syndrome. Would I be able to take that on? These are the kinds of questions and scenarios playing out in my mind these days.

In moments of panic, I comfort myself in a variety of ways. I think about how we didn’t know how much we needed my surprise 5th baby until she was here. She has been a great gift to our family and brings light and joy to many others. If we had another surprise girl, I know that we would love her and be just as grateful for her. I also think about how families who have children with Down syndrome so often see their so-called “abnormal” child as a great blessing and gift. Reading their stories brings me comfort and peace about the possibility of raising a child with Down syndrome.

Rachel described her experience this way:

Our son’s condition led us down a path of growth and change we never would have experienced without him. . . . None of my children have challenged my selfishness as much as Sam. But is my selfishness really something I want to hold on to? Every time I am able to give him the extra support he needs with a thankful heart, God makes me more like the woman he intended me to be (Source).

Paul said this about having a child with Down syndrome:

Your child will teach you more than you teach him or her, and everything you learn is essential stuff: patience, kindness, the need to live in the moment. I believe that unconditional love owns a special place in the lives of people with Down syndrome, and all who choose to embrace them. . . . We’re only as good as the way we treat each other. Jillian taught me that. She’s the best person I know. She was born with Down syndrome. How lucky we were then, even if we didn’t know it (Source).

Gretchen was comforted by this knowledge when she discovered that her unborn child would likely have Down syndrome:

I learned there are people waiting to adopt a child with Down syndrome. People were even adopting multiples — their experience with their first child with Down syndrome was so good, they wanted another. This was so powerful. People who knew the potential problems and pitfalls still understood how enriched their families and lives would become through adopting a baby or child who has Down syndrome (Source).

This is a tiny sampling of the stories out there. I have yet to find a Down syndrome story in which the parents weren’t full of love and gratitude for their child… perhaps not always initially, but it seems the initial shock nearly always gives way to joy and love and peace.

I’m still scared. But I have faith too. Somehow we’ll be OK, no matter what happens.

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