Ignore the doctor’s call at 8:39 a.m., because it’s your day off and because does anyone ever answer those calls?
(In retrospect I should have answered. It would have saved me the mini-heart attack induced by glancing at my iPhone's clumsily transcribed version of the voicemail.)
“Dr. Zolovick…nothing to worry about but..”
Deduce how big the but is. Like, are we talking those photoshopped Kim Kardashian pictures circa 2014 or…?
I called back two minutes later and held for about five, but it didn’t take me that long to know what the doctor would tell me—I knew in my gut that this was about the Down Syndrome screening, and it was. Both of my blood tests had come back positive, and because they couldn’t get the ultrasound shot they needed weeks prior, my chances of having a child with Down Syndrome increased by something like 800 percent.
Rip the husk away.
It took nine days for the NIPT blood test, which assessed baby’s DNA, to come back. It took only hours for the fear of God to come upon me, and here’s the thing—it had nothing to do with who my daughter was or wasn’t.
I wasn’t afraid of Jemma. My autistic son has drawn my gaze to the innumerable beauties of atypical lives, and chief among them is this: humanity gathers up the terrible abstractness of medical disorders and folds them into glimmering treasures.
I never doubted my daughter’s goodness or value; my desire for this little life, kicking inside my womb, never wavered.
But I don’t know Jemma yet. At the time of the original news, we hadn’t even settled on her name. I don’t have a tangible human being to gaze at—no squirming love in my arms to assuage the terrible abstractness of medical disorders.
I had only the husk of a person I’d been subconsciously building up since even before her conception. I had only my accumulated desires for and assumptions about her life, and the husk that took years to meticulously build took two minutes to rip away.
That was what hurt—not her personhood, but the harsh exposure of my illusions as simply that—illusions. I coexisted with a terrible fear for nine days—a fear not that she’d be imperfect, but that I already was. The weight of having not one but two children with special needs hit me like a brick.
Construct another ill-advised husk.
You know it’s a hollow exercise that ultimately detracts from your baby’s humanity more than it adds to it. But do it anyway because you’re a human being who can’t help but err, and because the illusion of your own expectations is the closest thing you have to control.
In this husk, there is room for a baby with Down Syndrome. Fall in love with that baby. Imagine her beautiful little face. Imagine the wars you’ll wage for her. Mentally construct the angry letter to Babies R Us demanding they include more children with Down Syndrome on their advertisements. Maybe then other parents will build their husks with room for Down Syndrome.
See step three.
I was overwhelmingly relieved when I received the news that results showed a (seemingly) typically developing child.
I felt a little guilty that I was so relieved.
And I felt a twinge of sadness for the other daughter I’d taken nine days to imagine. Because she would have been beautiful and worthwhile, and I would have loved her fiercely.
Continue to ride the wave of mixed emotions.