Me, very pregnant, standing in front of a brown crib in a pink room with the name "ADDISON" splayed out on the wall over the crib.
"Please God. PLEASE" I can still hear myself praying as I stood next to that crib for my last belly picture. "Please let those tests be wrong. Please PLEASE let her be normal."
And yet, she wasn't.
Well, according to her chromosome count anyway. What is normal anyway? (Four kids later- I have yet to see a "normal")
I have been so excited to go to the hospital and meet each of my children. In fact, pictures of those birthing rooms bring back so many positive, glowing emotions. Saying "well hello there" for the first time. Looking into brand new squishy faces, studying fingers and toes, holding the tiny body that was mine to nurture.
But seven years ago, there was more fear and angst than there was joy. What was I giving birth to? What exact was Trisomy 21? Down syndrome? Was I giving birth to a syndrome? A disease? A mistake? Why wouldn't God stop this from happening? Did he not love me? Did he not care about our family? And then after she was born and immediately whisked away to the NICU and a very long uphill battle began for her life, the experience became even more tainted.
And so I stare at this Timehop memory with quite mixed emotions. I was about to become a mother for the first time. An occupation and title I hold quite dear. The pregnancy that had ripped me open was almost over- the end was in sight. I was about to meet Addison for the first time.
And yet looking at my eyes in this picture and knowing what was on the inside- my faith in God's plan for our family in this situation was nonexistent- this faith was replaced by a determination to control the outcome with what I deemed to be better rather than simply resting in his plan- which was, in fact, better. This faith was replaced by anger. By fear. By denial.
Seven years later I look back on this angst and shake my head. I gave birth to a baby girl. A sweet, beautiful, fabulous baby girl who continues to grow and amaze us every single day.
The very thing I was resisting, the very thing I prayed, PLEADED against- is the thing that has brought our family so much joy. The thing that I honestly and wholeheartedly call a gift to our family. A way that God shows us grace and love. Down syndrome.
Addison's diagnosis hit me in waves her first two years of life. I would be fine with it one day- struggling with it the next. It wasn't like flipping a switch and the light coming on about the joy of Down syndrome. This was a daily journey- working through a lot of physical health issues, starting her therapies, figuring out how to just be a mom and love unconditionally (turns out...selfishness is a thing. Who knew?)
There will be moments still where I get very frustrated with her (i.e. this morning when she just WOULD NOT get out the door for school), and the thought flickers into my head for a brief instant "Why? Why is this SO HARD!"
But then as I watch her navigate life, listen to her happy chatter, fold her into my arms, breathe in her essence, and realize that whatever issues that are "SO HARD" have more to do with my parenting and my patience than anything that she's doing wrong- I realize anew the gift of her diagnosis. The way it pushes me to love better. To parent more effectively. To find grace in everyday moments.
But even as I am thankful for what Down syndrome has taught me, I take it a step farther and recognize that the gift has nothing to do my version of Down syndrome and everything to do with who Addison is as a person. What this particular crafting of her genetic makeup does to her personality, to her smile, to her being, to her ability to touch hearts and lives wherever she goes.
I have blogged about this flip flop. Mostly toward the beginning of blogging. YAY Down syndrome. Down syndrome is HARD. What was I talking about- this journey is amazing!
I often wonder why I have to learn the same lessons over and over again. That the "Oh okay, God. I see what you did there!" moments don't seem to transcend to all moments. That I constantly, daily find myself needing to learn to trust in his plan. And with Down syndrome- the hardness always crops up in sync with my own selfishness. It took me a long time to recognize this as selfishness. As my own sin. It took me a long time to look back on the shock of her diagnosis and not write it off as "well, anyone would respond that way!" and recognize that this was my pride at work. My extremely selfish heart. My lack of trust in God.
Also flashing up on my Timehop this time of year, two years ago I poured my heart and soul out into a novel, Motherhood Unexpected, working through many of the emotions of Addison's pregnancy and birth while enjoying my favorite genre- fiction. In Motherhood Unexpected, the main character struggles with an obsession with perfectionism. After much hard work and prayer, I published this book. And then almost had a breakdown over the first published edition not being perfect. (long story...but in hindsight- sleep is good).
I then spent months working through something that I thought I had settled while writing the book. What? Didn't I already learn that? I spent thousands of hours crafting this novel- well, first thousands of hours learning how to craft a novel- and then painstakingly stringing just the right words together- just the right characters (who I fell completely in love with). And while writing through Claire's perfectionism and how that influenced her initial nonacceptance of her baby with Down syndrome, I prayed through my own pride in this same area and was GOOD...until some typos slipped through to the first few books.
IT'S NOT PERFECT!!! MISSION FAILURE! (never mind the next uploaded version with fixes and the hundreds of notes I am still getting from people telling me what an encouragement and challenge this book has been to them. God used it- in spite of me. I think this might be the theme of my life)
I had to completely rework and pray through this issue of perfectionism in my heart once publishing was complete.
Why can't this be a "learn this once and be done" deal?
I want to make a printable to hang next to my closet that reads "Today may I be clothed in kindness, love, and grace....accessorized with heaps of humor in just the right places." (perhaps with a picture of fashionista Addison dressed all kinds of fabulous.) Because it is my prayer every day to demonstrate kindness, love, and grace- but I so often fail with this with the ones nearest to me- my children and my husband. So often I need a "redo" button, a fresh start, a chance to take back hastily snapped words and replace them with words saturated with patience and grace.
Why? Why can't I just pray through something once and be good to go? Why am I continually learning the same things over and over again?
Perhaps I am a slow learner.
Or perhaps- it's this very struggle that strengthens faith, that causes me to lean heavily on the one who never struggles, that constantly points me back to the cross and my inability to heal my own brokenness.
Perhaps it is this daily working through things- this daily asking for help- this daily dependence on God that continually draws me closer to him.
As I look back on my Timehop picture from 7 years ago- as I'm about to meet Addison and have my world explode and become a legit special needs mom- my overriding emotion is one of disappointment- in myself.
I wish that I took one look at her sweet face and everything just clicked into place for me- the love- the hope- the faith in his plan. The beauty that is to be found in the unexpected. The joy that she would bring us. But instead I had ahead of me many moments of fighting and wondering, questioning and struggling.
But maybe this daily journey of faith and love is what was necessary to make me into the mom that Addison deserves. That all of them deserve.
Maybe I needed this struggle- this searching for faith- the daily confessing and pleading for strength-to become worthy to take her tiny hand and walk alongside her in life.
I am certainly not a perfect human being- or mom. I have Timehop to remind me. Daily.
But I am supremely thankful for each of the steps that have led me to today. An education of sorts to get to where I need to be in order to handle the day in front of me. I don't know what today holds. Grocery shopping with a toddler and a baby-so no doubt relearning all of these things over yet again.
We are just a couple weeks out from celebrating Addison's seventh birthday. She is healthy. She is strong. She is beautiful. She is smart.
And with every breath she breathes, I am reminded- God is good. I am reminded- to keep loving- keep growing- keep pushing forward because she has a lot to teach me. And a lot of fabulous living to do.
I wish I could read this post to the pregnant girl standing in front of the pink ADDISON wall 7 years ago. She probably wouldn't have listened, because she needed to live all of this out for herself. But maybe, just maybe, she would have. And that birth would have been full of as much joy as the other three. And those first weeks and months- just as sweet.