The Story of... our Prenatal Diagnosis of Down syndrome

It's truly all in delivery. Any news, really. Good news. Bad news. All news. And...HOW the news is delivered seems to have a significant impact on how you view the actual news you are given. 

I had a friend explain the "shit sandwich" to me once. I thought it was GENIUS! She said, "you take a positive part of the news, add the "shit" - or the not so positive part, and then sandwich THAT with as much of a "positive" statement as possible.  I remember thinking, "wow. How is this not a part of everyone's training?!" Especially medical professionals.

I'm aware that sometimes the news just can't be sugar-coated, made easier, or beautified. It's harsh. It's cold. And it's not what you want to hear. But maybe, just maybe, acknowledging the humanness of the person who is receiving the information might lend to remembering how much of an impact the HOW of the WHAT you are delivering as a practioner might make or break that human and their experience.

The Story...

Let me share my story. The most significant new delivery story I have ever gotten to tell in my life.

On the chilly spring morning of my daughter's 19-week anatomy scan, my friend at work cheerfully said, "aren't you excited? You get to see your baby today!?" I was. But I couldn't hide my worry. Having worked in midwifery clinic and worked with pregnant women for as long as I had, I held pregnancy like a precious golden egg in my hands that did not want to shatter. I was so nervous - I had an intuition that we were about to receive some big news.

Fast-forward to the furious photo-taking of the Ultrasound Tech and my own furious head going back and forth between the blurry images she was assuring me were my baby and her facial expressions. Wondering what she was taking photos of so intently. She must have been really good at poker because I didn't once see anything in her expression that would have led me to believe something was abnormal. Then she took her last picture and stopped, smiled and left my hubby and I in the small room to wait for the perinatologist.

And for what seemed like the longest time, we waited. We kept looking at the photos of our daughter. Smiling at each other as we acknowledged the fact that her brother knew about her before that affirmation of the photo on that tiny screen (his hand on my belly at 5weeks indicated he knew she'd be a girl.) Wondering what we should name her. And wondering, perhaps on a deeper level, what was taking our doctor so long.

Then the doctor joined us and began slowly looking over the various images on her screen. She had a very positive, sweet and confident air about her. Her presence automatically put us at ease - something very unexpected for a doctor who worked with high risk pregnancies and babies.

So when she started explaining what she found in the ultrasound, we already trusted her. We needed her...to explain, to hold the space for our reaction, to be compassionate. And she did all those things, and more. There isn't a way to prepare yourself for news that changes your very being and your life. It hits you like one of those big logs in a cartoon. And she knew that. So she proceeded with care and a gentleness that felt protective, cautious and very slowly.

"So, that issue you came in to check out is no longer and issue. It has resolved. However, based on the ultrasound results, I believe that your baby has the high likelihood of having Trisomy 21, also known as Down Syndrome."

My heart jumped. What just happened? "Wait... what?" I managed to stutter.

"This sheet here has all the markers for Down syndrome." She held out a check off list of all sorts of medical/physical abnormalities. "I've gone through them all and while she does not have all of them, she has 2 hard markers. There's a strong possibility that she has Down syndrome."

She remained gentle and compassionate.

Wait. One minute she's just a baby girl. Now....she's a girl that likely has Down syndrome? "What are the chances? Percentages?! I need to know more."

Without hesitation, she agreed to go find out exactly what those percentages were, which also gave us time to process. And time for me to tell my husband, "I'm sorry. It's my fault." Time for disbelief and worry to take hold.

As she reentered the room a few minutes later, she smiled gently. "Based on your age and the markers, your daughter has a 1 in 7 chance of having Down Syndrome. Would you like to do the blood test or amniocentesis to find out for sure?"

"Please take your time with this."

Our reply was simply, "Yes. Absolutely. The blood test. But it won't change the course of our pregnancy. We still have a lot of questions, but we want our baby no matter what."

Her response and smile to that particular statement remains the turning point in my memory for how I viewed my pregnancy and baby AND what I remembered on the darker of days when I wondered why my daughter chose me as her mother and how I was going to raise a child with special needs.

She simply said, "She's lucky to have you. And when you're ready, I'd love to introduce you to a mother who has a daughter who has Down syndrome. She's so beautiful. And I just love having her come visit - it's the highlight of my day."

Even though we left stunned, confused, curious and still in love with our daughter, we did not leave feeling hopeless.

The week that followed the blood test, as we waited for the results, I was both candid about the possibility she would have Down syndrome or held the cards close, depending on who I was talking with. My midwives were some of the most amazing listeners. One assured me that I could still try for a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC). I remain SO grateful that in a time of huge changes, she normalized birth for me again.

Another shared her story about her daughter having an unexpected cleft palate and what that was like for her. And the Head Midwife sat with my husband and I as we processed the results on that 7th day. In a way only a midwife can, she held the space for us to process. She listened. She validated. And when we stated that we were continuing with our pregnancy, she simply said, "Okay." And proceeded to write in our chart, "Rebecca and Joel are preparing to meet their baby girl with Down syndrome."

I never heard, "I'm sorry" or "Are you sure?" There was no further discussion about "keeping" our baby...with any of our providers.

I know that this isn't the story that all my friends with babies like mine tell of their experience. And I sit here, over two years later, grateful that my daughter picked me and that I was luck enough to have such supportive, positive care providers. And it all feels divinely guided.

I know not all news is easy to deliver. But if we truly see ourselves as one....if we see ourselves in others...then we can deliver good, bad, ugly, unexpected news on a human level...with compassion, love, understanding and support. It can be done. I believe my story is proof of that.

 

March 21st 2017 is World Down Syndrome Day. Hug someone with Down syndrome - and their parents!

 

 

 

 

Inspiration for Embracing the Mother Retreat March 31st - April 2nd

The Sacred Conversation

One spring day last year, I was walking with an expecting friend around a beautiful lake in the center of Denver. As we took our time, enjoying the warm sun on our faces, we began discussing her pregnancy, her feelings about her baby's upcoming birth and becoming mothers. For the past 6 years, this conversation has been a warm and familiar one.  There is always something to discover in them - even though these conversations have been commonplace in my world since my first pregnancy 6 years ago. As we spoke about what she was feeling about how fast the pregnancy was going, how challenging it was to really sit with her pregnancy, and how much she wished she could just get away by herself and connect with her baby in a quiet place.

I related on a deep level to where she was. I too, had felt that calling to go inward, to disconnect from my every day life and reconnect with that feminine place within me that would be the source I would draw upon to birth my babies. And as it happens with me, a dream began to form- a sweet dream about a retreat for pregnant women...to offer mothers a way to really honor all those things that really honor a woman in her pregnancy, while also offering support to her preparation for birth and becoming a mother. I had so many ideas.

And so Embracing the Mother Retreats was born!  And the details fell into place, like a sacred puzzle magically coming together: the retreat space (Sun Mountain Center), amazing facilitators, and expecting mothers began to emerge. And I couldn't be more thrilled to be hosting our second Embracing the Mother Spring Prenatal Yoga Retreat. With a strong focus on all things yoga and pregnancy, ridiculously delicious organic food and a space that is just perfect for a spring getaway, this is a one-of-a-kind retreat!

So here's my invitation...Come away. Pamper yourself. Indulge. Nurture.

Early Bird Registrations ends on March 5th - don't miss your opportunity to get $100 off your registration!

Expecting Mother Yoga + Meditation Retreat - Three Reasons to say YES!

My daughter's 2nd birthday is upon me and as it often happens when mothers approach their baby's birthday, I find myself dreamily reflecting back on the journey of my pregnancy with her.  I was working in a midwife's office part-time, teaching my lovely Birthing From Within classes and prenatal yoga class, AND oh yes, being a mother to my son.

Each day was a lot of the same:  I would wake up and kiss my little boy goodbye and head off to work. I can still see the image of him waving out the window each time. I would then hurry to work through traffic - a trip that normally took 20 minutes would always take an hour. After the work day was done, I would then either come home or head to teach a class. 

Life felt SO fast. I was always GOING somewhere, DOING something - and sometimes I found myself remembering, as if an afterthought, that I was "oh yeah, pregnant!"

From very early on in my pregnancy with my daughter, I felt a strong calling, a beckoning from deep within to slow down, to pause, to practice yoga and mindfulness. And then a day, week or month would quickly pass and I'd find myself reflecting once again on how much I wished I could just SLOW time down for a minute so I could savor my pregnancy. A pregnancy and baby that we had so desperately tried so hard to have happen. But time didn't listen...it just kept going, like it does.

Then... my hubby had a wedding he was to photograph in the mountains. I thought - this is it! I knew... I knew we both needed the retreat - a short getaway before a new baby would be in our lives and getting away like that would be much more challenging for a while. So my little boy got to have a sleepover with grandma and we got a retreat in the mountains!

The mountains have been my home the majority of my life and they never cease to envelope me. And once in our hotel room overlooking a lovely quiet summer ski hill...I finally felt time slow down. I felt my breath return to a normal pace and I was more present in my body. I actually had time to talk to my growing baby girl - something that was harder to do than it had been for my first pregnancy. I was finally able to really rest.

And I didn't know how much I needed that break from my everyday life until that weekend away.

This getaway - before my baby girl arrived and life got much more busy - was the inspiration for why I created my Expecting Mother Retreat: Embracing the Mother, taking place in October.

Here are the top THREE reasons expecting mothers need THIS retreat in October:

1. You get to get away from your every day life! This retreat is truly unique. Nowhere else do you get such a beautiful, ideal setting, daily yoga and meditation that is catered to your beautiful mama body; yummy healthy good that you don't have to prepare....and community with other mothers. I often hear that expecting mothers desiring a time to connect with other mothers.

2. This is an all inclusive retreat. This is a break from the DOING and GETTING THINGS DONE. You get to receive - a yoga class, meditations, quiet time, delicious food, hiking, community and celebration. And the best part? It doesn't involve any planning on your part. You just have to get there!

3. Birth is easier when you are rested and relaxed in pregnancy. We all have things that cause us stress. And in our daily life, there are few moments where we truly get to really relax and let our bodies move from a taxed adrenal system to a calm, more peaceful place. Yet...it is exactly that relaxation of the nervous system that leads to many mothers experiencing less challenges in the birthing process. Mothers feel and do better in labor and postpartum when they arrive there in a body that is connected, relaxed and strong.

You know you need this.

This time will never come again.

Join us this October as I and 5 other AMAZING women share our gifts and love for mamas with you! You will be so grateful you did!

 

A Shout-Out to my Dear"old" but not forgotten friends...

Dearest, loveliest, most patient friends...

I thought about you today. I actually think about each of you all the time but in this moment, I'm grounded in the fact that time is fleeting and my need for you to know a few things is strong.

Each time I think about you, a new memory of our earlier times comes forward. And it always makes me giggle, smile or nostalgic for a time that has clearly passed. I'm reminded of the fact that each of you holds a special place in my heart and that no matter how much time passes between our time together or our phone calls, I carry each of you with me.

I will never forget...

- being rescued by you in the middle of CDG Airport in Paris after missing my flight, running from concourse to concourse at JFK with a 40lb backpack on my own at the ripe age of 19.

- the numerous times you held me as I cried - breakups, arguments, changes, and big news. And that one time you sat just a few feet away from me (with your back turned so as not to interfere) as I had a truly challenging conversation with someone much older than me. You did not leave my side knowing I needed you in that moment.

- that time on the street in Edinburg when you pulled me onto the sidewalk when I looked left when I should've been looking right! (Whew! So hard to remember they come from the opposite direction there!)

- the road trip through France when the times I almost wet myself laughing with you are too numerous to count! Wine country. Paris. Normandy. Ice Cream. Coffee. Lots of wine. Did I mention wine + coffee? (It deserves two mentions!)

- that big box of pregnancy and birth stuff! I wouldn't be working in the birth world without that ginormous box of love....and the seeds you planted. 

- the way you each share your heart, so openly and with so much trust. We are sisters and you know it.

- the times we have laughed and cried together through weddings and birth stories and becoming mothers. Those moments keep me going...that shared experience is worth everything when the times are more challenging.

- that time you came from New York JUST for my baby shower. 

- they way you never hesitate to be a guide - you're inspiring just by the love you give no matter who needs it.

- each walk we took through the streets of Paris + New York City - as I walked off my past and welcomed my future. Your guidance and influence is immeasurable to this day. I embraced a new part of myself that would not have been uncovered without you. I never get sick of talking with you.

- that time you saw that I needed a BIG change and let me live with you in that TINY NYC apartment with your adorable cat that looked like Bugs Bunny. True friendship means surviving a 300sq ft apartment together!

- celebrating you as you became mothers. As you chose not to become mothers. As you wondered about becoming a mother. Big questions....I met them with you and hope we get to meet many more as they come.

- each time we shared an announcement, birth, wedding, death...you each have walked those experiences with me.

And...
I know I am not the best communicator. I suck at sending thank you notes. I never remember to send birthday cards. And sometimes you call and I'm unable to call you back right away. Thank you for continuing to reach out even when the response isn't what I would wish it to be all the time.

But each of you are my sisters. Your influence on my being is worth so much to me. And no matter how much time passes, please know I think you all more than once a day. I wonder where you are - what you're doing. How you're being challenged and your successes. I miss the freedom of those old times and the way life seemed to be easier...and I miss you.

I love you ladies. Each of you. More than you know.

A letter to my doula

This is dedicated to all those who choose to answer the call - and support mothers as they give birth to their babies.... and specifically to MY doula.

It has been almost two years since my daughter's birth. The details of her birth are now somewhat blurred by time, sleep deprivation and the missing brain cells that departed once I was pregnant and then became a mother.

But...I can still FEEL the support you gave me. I can still see your face - reassuring, calm, inquisitive, loving...I see YOU and the significant role you represent in my daughter's birth story.

And I want you to know a few things...from this mama to her rockstar birth doula...

During my first pregnancy, I read countless times about how much of an impact a skilled birth doula could have on a mother's experience in labor. I didn't have one with my son's birth - the first time (though I did have my amazing husband and powerhouse of a sister by my side!) But I didn't KNOW myself how powerful a doula's presence could be until you joined me that early fall day in my L&D room as I grappled with the fact that my daughter would be joining us almost four weeks early.

Your cheerful, supportive, loving voice still resonates in my being - I know it always will.  At a time when fear could have taken over - you created joy, strength and love. You empowered my husband to rise to his best by my side. You saw what I needed, what my husband needed, what my baby needed - and did it without any expectation of gratitude.

When I didn't have contractions and worried I'd need to be induced, you worked your magic and really got things going! When I let the overwhelm of the experience start to take over, you met my eyes with reassurance and a gentle voice. I felt you breathe your calm my way. And when the birth fairy showed up, you stayed in a positive, helpful mindset - inviting me to stay there, too.

And when my daughter's birth became unexpectedly more challenging - more medical, you met us there, too. Even when I know it must've been SO hard to watch....even when there seemed to be no other alternatives, your voice of reason, support and wisdom piped up to remind us that WE were the ones in "charge" of what choices we were making.

I know ...I know that your experience of my birth had to be intense - had to be challenging to move through emotionally and physically. But I never saw it on your face. Through the unexpected twists and turns that accompany any birth - you helped me walk through each gate of my experience with as much grace and humor as possible. Your selflessness - the hours you spent holding my hand, supporting my husband, working your magic with the hospital staff...it did not go unseen.

And, my lovely doula, the moment you helped my daughter latch to my breast the first time remains a moment I call upon to this day. When I needed hope through those early days of breastfeeding struggle - reassurance that breastfeeding would eventually get easier - that image of you helping me latch her (and her latching!) was seriously a beacon of light that kept me going. Without you - we would not still be nursing today.

I know you don't need my affirmation that your role in a mama's birth is vital. But it is. It is SO vital. Each time. Each mama. Each birth.

You're the closest thing to a superhero that a mama can have - not because you save the day, have all the tricks to get her baby out or bring their husband a burrito but because you hold her up so she gets to be the superhero at her baby's birth.

So, thank you. For being our doula. For being there to help bring my baby girl into the world.

Love,

Mama Rebecca