“Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way. This all happened on the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31
The sixth morning of Polina’s life was bright and clear. The air outside was crisp. The sun was already high in the sky.
I stood looking at my daughter, my hand pushed through the plastic window, resting gently on her leg, my fingers gripping her heel. I was happy because she had her eyes open.
It was a busy morning in the nursery. People rushed around, going this way and that; some were washing equipment, others changing babies, giving them wash cloth baths and putting on clean fitted sheets in the cribs. I wasn’t used to so much action. It made me tired.
About this time every morning I would meet up with the doctor on call, the one looking after Polly. I was not surprised when I heard footsteps coming from behind. Turning I saw the rock star Pediatrician.
“Dobre Utra” I said, greeting her with a smile.
The Doctor looked down at her feet and when she looked up her gaze did not meet mine. She looked passed me and focused on the sunshine streaming in through the window.
The morning after my daughter’s traumatic birth a sharp needle broke through her placid skin, diving into a vein. A vile quickly filled with her blood. Then it was closed up, labeled and sent off to be tested for an extra chromosome in her cells.
We were told it would take two weeks to get the results.
Polina’s blood was to determine our future.
I have always been afraid of heights. This fear is shared with others in my family; my father, my oldest daughter. In middle school I was the kid who wouldn’t go on rides at amusement parks. I worked hard those days, pretending I preferred the carousal or that I really did think my recording of The Wind beneath my Wings had talent, but everyone in my class knew that I was scared.
I am even a little jumpy in elevators. Anywhere you can fall.
“I am here to tell you, with disappointment, Gillian, that your daughter has Down syndrome.”
No “good morning, how are you today?” No “will you husband be here soon because there is something I’d like to discuss with you.”
Sometimes I dream that I am free falling. They say if you actually hit bottom in your dream that you are dead in real life.
I stared at the woman in front of me. I blinked a few times. I hit bottom.
My earliest memory of a person with disabilities is enclosed in fear. I was a young girl, a toddler really, at an outdoors barbeque with my parents. The whole morning I had played and swam and ate watermelon. That is, until I saw a woman with Down syndrome. I noticed she was different right away and it scared me. I found a place to hide, a tent. All day long my parents tried to get me out of the tent. They lured me with ice cream and hamburgers. I wouldn’t budge.
I looked around my daughter’s nursery room. There were cribs and nurses and diapers and equipment. But there was no place to hide.
The doctor droned on. Her painted face was hard, like a brick wall.
“So what do we do now?” I cut in.
I wanted to fling myself on the floor, bang my fists and tare my clothes but instead I stood silently, blankly. As adults we want to look together. It is one of the most nagging sins.
The Doctor talked about other health concerns. Her words had no sound. I watched her painted face contort as she mouthed words. My ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton balls. It was like I was under water.
When there was a lull I blurted out a hurried “spaseeba”, my attempts at a thank you.
A better woman would have bent down and drawn close to her baby. She would have looked into the baby’s sleepy eyes and vowed to love her and to protect her and to treasure her.
I turned and ran out of the room. I did not even look at my child. If I stayed, I might have turned to salt, like the woman in Genesis who looked back to her city as she fled. I reached my room across the hall, already sobbing and yelling. And some how I was detached, it was like I was watching a scene unravel in front of me. I didn’t recognize who this person was crying and screaming. I fell onto my bed and howled like a person getting put into a straight jacket.
In the last five days while sitting for hours in my quiet tan hospital room I had considered every scenario in my head. I played them over and over and prayed to God for strength. I knew there was a great possibility that my daughter had Down syndrome. But I had never thought about how it was going to feel.
Instantly, several women surrounded me. One nurse patted my arm. Someone handed me a small plastic cup filled with thick purple liquid. Each woman carried on her own personal monologue directed at me. Dazed, I gulped down the syrup. The rock star stood closest to my head on the right.
“Stop crying”, she told me. “Yes, it is terrible that your daughter has Down syndrome. But there is nothing that can be done. Now stop crying!” The other women nodded in agreement, still patting me and saying “neecheevo, neecheevo, it’s nothing, Gillian, it’s nothing.”