A Picture Worth A Thousand Words
I look at this picture now, and a flood of memories rushes forth. The events leading up to this picture are just as important as the moment it was taken. Having only slept in fitful bursts for the past 36 hours, I remember the exhaustion I felt in that moment. The anesthesia, combined with the physical and emotional fatigue of the entire experience, found my body spent and my eyelids heavy, as if weighted by sandbags. It’s funny to me now, but in that moment, all I really wanted to do was to acquiesce to the pull of my eyelids and fall into a deep sleep.
The atmosphere in the room buzzed with a mixture of joy, anticipation, relief, and seriousness. The usual crew was present — my obstetrician and the medical crew needed for a routine c-section because our baby girl’s heart wasn’t tolerating my contractions very well. But there was an additional presence in the room, a NICU team hovering to the side of the operating table, ready to spring into action once my daughter was pulled from the womb. I was both completely grateful and utterly sad at the reality of their presence.
The months, weeks, and days leading up to this moment had been filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. My spirit had run dry, and while my physical heart still beat, my spiritual heart was mortally wounded from the assaulting grief it had endured. Yet in the hours leading up to her birth, I finally experienced a brief reprieve from all the emotions. My body went into autopilot, anticipating the moment of her birth, the declaration of her health.
The room was pregnant with one loaded question, and while I’m sure the medical team already felt confident in their answer, we did not. Maybe it’s just that we could not accept the answer because we had spent months upon agonizing months petitioning God for a different outcome. Yet I also knew He had heard our prayers, and I knew the Lord was capable of even changing the makeup of her DNA, should it be His will. The incessant question pulsated within me as my the surgical team worked and I waited: Would she have Down syndrome?
My mom once described Alisa’s birth as being filled with the beating of the tympani drums. At first, it was a slow, steady beat. Boom…boom…boom…boom. Time passed, we waited, and the pounding continued. As events picked up and the moment of revelation drew near, though, the tempo quickened, always beating in time, but more insistently, more pronounced…BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM…until at last, Dr. H pulled her from my womb, and the beating of the tympani turned into a rolling, thunderous applause.
After unwrapping the cord from her neck and body, Dr. H handed her to the NICU team. A swarm of activity, whispered words, everyone mechanically doing their part. I waited, the tympani roared, and finally, a nurse turned toward me with a bundle of life wrapped in a blanket. My lower body lay limp and numb, my arms stretched to my side. All I could do was look. She brought her down to my eye-level, and the tympani rang out with one final, clarifying bang. I saw her, and I knew.
She was both known and mysterious to me. She was the life I had carried for nine full months, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. But her ears bent downward, and her lips turned the wrong direction, a natural frown. I already loved her, but as my eyes took in hers, my love, the undying love of a mother, took form, outlined in the body of our 6-pound, 15-ounce baby girl.
Many hours later, my husband and I shared a quiet moment in my postpartum room. Alisa had been taken to NICU because of fluid retention on her lungs, and we shared a moment without any visitors. Words weren’t necessary at the time, as we both knew the other’s heart. We wept, releasing the sadness and helplessness we both felt with the final answer to what had been our most desperate request. We had just given birth to a child with Down syndrome.
We are, today, three years removed from that momentous day. We celebrate another year of life given to our youngest daughter, Alisa Jane. I am the same woman who laid on that operating table three years ago. I feel the intensity of the emotions I experienced. Heavy tears swell in my eyes even now as I remember the trials we endured and the grief we carried, also mixed with the deepest of love we felt for our daughter. Our dreams lay shattered at our feet as we held a new baby girl. We had to learn to dream again.
I’ve never regretted how I felt during that season. The grief and heartache were a natural response to an unexpected twist in our lives. In fact, we named our sweet daughter Alisa Jane because we knew that even in our grief, her life would bring joy (A-lee-sa = “joy”) to us and the world. We knew that no matter what we thought about Down syndrome, she was a precious gift from God (Jane = gift from God). And today, three years later, her name has been a perfect, prophetic description of the life she has already lived.
We say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I share this picture with you today. I share it because to me, this picture does not represent the death of a dream, but the birth of a new one. In that moment, though I didn’t know it yet, the Lord breathed life into my heart once again, reviving me from that mortal wound grief had dealt me. Though I felt at times that my life had ended because my dreams were broken, in the above picture I can see now that my life was truly only beginning.
Our society has forgotten something very valuable about life: suffering is not all bad. Sure, we don’t like it, and we do all we can to avoid it. But in this broken, fallen world, there are seasons when suffering is unavoidable. Yet as those who know Jesus, we also know our suffering will never be in vain. In fact, we are told in James 1:2-3:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.”
And again, in Hebrews 12:11:
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Today, as we celebrate three years of LIFE for our Alisa Jane, we also celebrate the deeper and fuller lives we all know because of the gift God has given us through her life. The suffering we once endured only makes more pronounced the glorious joy we know because we didn’t give up or run from it. And as I share this picture with you today, I want to shout from the rooftops that Down syndrome is nothing to be feared and everything to be celebrated and treasured. Thank you, Lord, for this precious gift. And thank You for the deeper, better dreams You always had for us!
Happy birthday, Alisa Jane!!!