“God would never send us a special child”, I mused, caressing my pregnant belly, “our marriage isn’t strong enough.” I was deliriously happy to be pregnant at 39, for three of my five pregnancies had ended in miscarriage, and my younger daughter, Isabella was an independent four year old. Last summer, I had returned from a homeschool conference with an aching heart, longing for a translucent-skinned newborn nuzzling my neck. When my pregnancy lasted past my danger zone, I was ecstatic, and refused the triple screen blood test.” There’s nothing you can tell me that will make me end my baby’s life”, I told the doctor, putting the subject of prenatal diagnosis to rest. Or so I thought.
Five months along, I was at Sunday Mass, absent-mindedly watching the parishioners with Down Syndrome from a local group home when, from out of the blue, an internal voice said, “You’re going to have a child with Down Syndrome”. Astounded, I tried to dismiss it as a hormonal fixation, until, in line for Communion, the voice ‘spoke’ again, “I want you to accept this child as a gift from My Hand, when you receive Me.” Now I knew there was no escape. Jesus had a call for my life. How would I respond? I choked, “yes, Lord, as long as you bring my husband along for the ride”, and received His Body in tears. My husband Francisco was floored, thinking that I had finally gone over the edge, and I myself began to doubt this message, since there had been so many normal sonograms. “And besides, Lord, I’ve seen these mothers of special children, they’re saints, you could NEVER compare my impetuous personality with theirs.” That, I decided, was the clincher. God gave special children to saintly women. I was safe. Never tell God is what He is capable of doing. During the remaining months, I struggled with self-pity, and even, for one instant, regretted my pregnancy, while unknown to me, His grace was molding my heart. The time came for little Christina Maria’s arrival. At her birth, the delivery room fell deathly silent. Alarmed, I glanced over at the pink, wriggling baby in the isolette, and asked “What’s the problem?” The doctor didn’t respond. Francisco tried to tell me in Spanish that Christina was a “mongolita” (Spanish for Mongoloid), but I didn’t understand, so, on the way to my room, the nurses circled my gurney, and said, “We regret to tell you that this child has symptoms consistent with Down Syndrome”. I was ready with my response, “this child will never take drugs, go Goth, or shoot up a schoolroom. She’ll learn the Faith, and keep it her whole life. She’s my best chance at getting a daughter to Heaven, and I consider her a special blessing from God”. My answer came from a book, Pregnancy Diary by Mary Arnold, which I had read regularly for inspiration. But words are cheap. What cost me dearly was watching the other newborns in the nursery and comparing Christina’s weakness to their vitality. I resented the happy chatter of the other Moms in the ward. I was haunted by dark thoughts, and self-pity took hold of me. Just then, the phone calls began. My mother and homeschooling friends had summoned support from around the country, and I was encircled in love. I spoke with a mother from my parish who told me what it was like to raise her youngest daughter with Down Syndrome, and answered many of my anxious questions. Another friend, the mother of 11, sent an Elizabeth Ministry package for special babies, with the CD and book set entitled, Sometimes Miracles Hide, Stirring Letters from Those Who Discovered God’s Blessings in a Special Child by Bruce Carroll. That was a constant companion, reminding me that regardless of how inadequate I felt, God had indeed chosen me to mother Christina, and that she would be my means of attaining holiness down the road. God’s favorite road, the Via Dolorosa. On Mother’s Day, at Christina’s Baptism, we shared that song with the over 100 guests who crowded the Church. My heart swelled with gratitude for God’s choice of my family to raise her, and when her Godmother asked what she should pray for, I didn’t ask for Christina’s cure from Down Syndrome. I was beginning to understand that her ‘condition’ was a blessing, not a curse. Perhaps, as Fr. McCartney had said, Christina pities us, for not having the purity of heart to see what she sees.
After four years of specialists, therapists, and conferences, our family has grown in acceptance of her halting development, yet often, we are awed by Christina’s perception of that which escapes us. One day I brought her with me to Adoration. Entering the chapel, she waved enthusiastically to the Monstrance and called, “Hi, Jesus!” I was congratulating myself for having communicated that Jesus was present, although unseen. She promptly put me in my place, for, as we were leaving, she waved again, saying, “Bye Jesus!” as if He was as visible as Grandpa standing in front of her!
You know, I believe she did see Jesus, and what’s more, they already have a friendship.
This article was published in Faith and Family magazine in May/June 2007.