Since finding out that I'm expecting, I've discovered a popular buzz phrase that comes out in almost any discussion surrounding the baby. It generally appears when people ask if we're finding out the baby's gender, when people who know my super-ultra-girliness assume that I have all my appendages crossed that I'm growing a little one of the female variety. The universal response to all of this is a quick dismissal - "It doesn't matter, as long as its healthy," which people toss out confidently as if the mere act of uttering it will make it true.
Last week we went in for our first trimester scan. Honestly, I didn't understand a lot of the medical stuff surrounding the test, I just knew that it involved an ultrasound and anything that included a peek a boo session with baby seemed like fun to me. It wasn't until we were sitting in the waiting room with a packet describing the various test results that it really dawned on me what we would be finding out today. Down syndrome, Trisomy 18, Trisomy 21 and other congenital heart defects would likely show up in this screening. I started to get nervous, and then I thought of Eliot.
Eliot is a very a special boy who had Trisomy 18. But that was not what defined him. I found his blog years ago, through the wonder of google while looking for different spellings of the name Eliot (Elliott, Elliot, Eliott) as we were in the process of naming our cat. I did not know that google search would lead me down a rabbit hole that would fundamentally change the way I viewed people who were "different." I checked Eliot's blog faithfully, rejoicing as he overcame challenges and his parents celebrated each and every one of his accomplishments. I am not ashamed to say that I wept when I logged on to learn that after 99 amazing days of life, Eliot had left this world for the next one. A few weeks later I wrote to his parents. I was honest. I told them that I was 24 years old, that I believed in God but didn't go to church. Didn't have any scripture to quote. That I was pro-choice. That until I met Eliot, I likely wouldn't have thought much about terminating a pregnancy that I knew would end with a child who would not survive. But I told that Eliot had changed the way that I thought about the world. That he had redefined the way that I thought about ability and disability, about achievement, about the value of an individual life. Eliot and his parents made me reconsider what it really meant to live life to it's fullest and to find joy in everyday life and to understand that every situation, even the darkest cloud, has a silver lining. Years later, I still have a photo of Eliot hanging on my bulletin board as a reminder of how he changed me.
As I sat in the exam room last Wednesday, I thought back to Eliot and I found another gift he had given me that I hadn't even unwrapped yet. What if we found out that I was carrying a baby like Eliot, with Trisomy 18? What then? Well, I'm not going to be naive and say that we wouldn't be worried and upset and scared. Of course, we would be all those things and more. But I can also say that I understand that parenting any child is full of challenges. And from Eliot I learned that parenting any child is also full of joy, expected and unexpected.
It ended up that after all that, we had a clean scan. We were happily given the news that everything looked "normal" and that it looks, at least for now, that we are on track for a "a healthy baby." But I didn't quite feel the relief I expected.
A healthy baby. What does that mean, anyway? Healthy as in physically able? I mean, I suppose that we obviously hope our child is able to breathe, to eat, to have a body that functions normally, to have those ten little fingers and toes. But that doesn't mean that we get a free pass. Every child brings challenges. Maybe they are physical challenges. Maybe they are emotional challenges. Maybe they are just babies who don't sleep or teenagers who drive too fast and fall in with a bad crowd. I'm not going to say that some of these aren't worse than others - to have a child unable to live off a ventalator is quite different than a child who struggles to learn to read, for example. But parenting isn't a contest, and every challenge is relevant. I don't expect that any of it will be easy.
But the more I thought about it, the more I began to understand that to become a parent means to look at all those possibilities, known and unknown, straight on and say: "I will love you anyway. I will love you if you are a girl or a boy. I will love you if your body is perfect or if you have physical limitations. I will love you if you have emotional problems. I will love you when you are seven years old and won't eat your green beans and I will love you when you are nineteen years old and fail your freshman year of college. I will love you when you are successful and I will love you when you fail. I will love you every day of your life no matter how long your life is, and we will be happy, together, if for no other reason than we will make it so."
This is what I believe it means to be a parent, having no practical experience of my own yet. At times, I feel woefully unprepared, but I also know that perhaps this is the best thing. One day we'll leave home as two, and come home as three, and then we'll start learning the rest of it together. What I do know is this - "healthy" or not, every baby is a blessing, and every baby offers the opportunity for joy. Thanks, Eliot.