Foreshadows

Russ and I had been dating for a little while, when we ran into our first….um…altercation, you might say. I was fighting the well beaten path of my heart which had faithfully taken me out of relationships time and time again. He was fighting for me. Russ is a forester and his sanctuary is often an overstocked forest, thick with trees that need to be managed. And so it happened, he was running a property line on some timberland the days following our…um….wrangle of hearts.

God, I love Rachel. Show me if she is the right girl for me….or if I should let her go. He breathed this prayer among the timber that mid-spring day. As he continued his work, he came upon the shed antlers of a young buck. Although he’d found many sheds in his time, this was an unusual find as the set were laying next to each other. Often deer will loose one antler at a time and can even run for days with one antler. As he picked up this find, he heard the familiar voice of the Creators whisper.

This is a good pair. It’s a good match.

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The Actual Antlers

As he absorbed these words his heart lifted. It was a promise of things to come. I was not to be let go….for I was his pair, his good match. He threw the antlers into his pack and made his way through the woods with the wild sense of witness to a future that was yet to be. Later that night he held the antlers again, and pondered the 4 points each antler possessed. Children.

Married and talking in hushed tones as our daughter Madeleine slept in her nearby crib, Russ grabbed the antlers from his nightstand. His rough and slivered hands caressed the tines and he humourously asked, “Which one do you think Madeleine is?” I giggled at his seemingly ‘crystal ball’ approach to the set. His hand found it’s way to the smallest tine at the bottom of the antler when he pondered. “I wonder what this little one means.” And without a moments notice, he proposed, “I wonder if we will have a child with special needs.”

Everything in me paused. Yes, I’d heard that. Deeply. I could tell the thought was running through Russ’s head as though he had heard it in real-time with me. Something weighty grabbed those words and a glimpse of our family flashed in my mind. And then it was gone- maybe because I felt afraid to let my mind settle there, for fear that my imagination held the power to create a reality. Or because Russ continued the guessing game, assigning gender to the tines. Yet, just as the antlers had previously spoken to our future and family,  we had seen something with our hearts that could not be unseen.

(Children with Down Syndrome are commonly smaller in stature than typical children. So far, our little girl is measuring small in her arms and legs. Small is not less, it’s just small.)


hot-tub.jpgI swooshed Madeleine through the jetstream of the hot tub at our leisure centre. She loves the water. It was a quiet day at the pool, and with the exception of a few elderly folks who walked the lazy river, we were alone. Soon a family came through the double doors, onto the pool deck. The mother was stunning and moreso, because she shone with the look of a new mom. Holding her brand new babe, she found a seat next to the children’s splash zone.

Her husband took the hand of their 3 year old daughter and led her into the pool, protecting her as she fearlessly attempted the slide. When they made their way into the hot tub, I acknowledged them with a nearly silent ‘hello’ and diverted my attention to Madeleine who was trying to excavate a smile from the little girl whose arms were firmly secured around her Daddy’s neck. She had Down Syndrome.

A vision of myself being a mother to a child like her, raised its head above the parapet of my subconscious. Before this vision ducked out of sight, a certainty spoke loudly – I am seeing this for a reason. I’m aware that it’s easy for hindsight to attribute undue weight to the conviction of that encounter. However, in my truest evaluation of that day, I can confidently say that my spirit knew something that I did not allow my mind to believe.


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Among other outdoor activities, Russ enjoys plowing the snow from our drive with his quad. It’s his ‘nothing box’ as my Dad would say, drawing from the concept that men and women’s brains are compartmentalized like boxes and spagetti, respectively. When the heavens blanket our property with snow, Russ is no procrastinator in clearing it.

On this particular day, while our chocolate labrador, Ole, chased the quad through the thick snow, Russ’s nothing box was being tresspassed by thoughts of having a child with special needs. He couldn’t shake the feeling and his thoughts swirled like the snow as it sprayed the edge of the drive. This is his story and it is far more personal to him than I can narrate, but in hindsight, this was his hot tub moment.


The night before we received the call and found out we had a high chance our baby would have Down Syndrome, we spent our dinner conversation discussing in great detail what we would and wouln’t do if we had a child, specifically with Down Syndrome. Our conversation was founded strongly on this most beautiful portion of scripture:

Psalms 139:13-18

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,a]”>[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Before we knew our baby’s design, we knew that if God’s thoughts toward our baby were already vast in number, if His knitting needles had thread an extra chromosome into each cell and if our child’s days were already written before even a breath was taken- that no diagnosis could steal these powerful truths. Even after such a hope-filled conversation, we each hoped we would never have reason to revisit the conversation.

These were preparations of our hearts which felt dismissable in their moments. Yet in hindsight, they were the assurance that our futures are known by the Spirit, who lights our path and equips us for what is to come. Once we received our babies Diagnosis, we had reason to share our experiences with each other. When we recounted the night we had looked together at the antlers, the individual experiences we had in the hot tub and the snow and finally, the conversation that we had only hours before we found out our baby has Down Syndrome, we felt wrapped in love.


And then this happened. I woke up yesterday morning, far too early. I coulnd’t sleep so I joined Russ in our living room and blearily rubbed my eyes and cozied myself up in my favorite chair. I don’t know if I’d had a dream about it, but I was reminded of a prophetic session I’d had in my hometown of Cranbrook. A team of ministry students from Bethel school of Ministry were visiting a church (House of Hope) and offered prophecy and pray for any who desired to hear from God.

In April 2015 I was 9 months fresh off the mission field and thrust back into the swing of North American life- a ‘regular’ job and a cold cold winter. I felt entirely void of purpose. My Mom and I decided to interrupt our thrift store hopping that Saturday and head to the church for the quick prayer appointments we had been assigned. I was ushered to a small table with a young girl and guy. There were no initial introductions besides smiles and first names. Quickly and naturally they began to speak to me from God’s heart. I recorded it on my phone.

Tucked into the chair yesterday, I played this recording for the first time since that day. There was a piece about worship, a relationship, childrens ministry (?), God’s favour and then this:

“One more thing before we pray for you…I got the word ECE (early childhood education). I don’t know if you’ve thought of ECE- like helping out the kids who have developmental delays. I just feel like you’re going to be helping out with that…helping them gain their confidence and know who they are.”

I sat with tears mounting in my eyes. I had never paid attention to this 30 seconds of the prophecy before. It was almost hidden to me until now. But 3 years ago, before Russ, before Madeleine and before this little one in my womb….God was there. Once again, He spoke into being the plans he had for me, before they made sense to me. The Prophetic is given to us from God to strengthen, encourage and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3)- and it is  accomplishing all three in me.

If you have the gift of Prophecy, please, step out…be bold and trust God for His words to be spoken through you. I don’t know this young lady’s name and honestly, I wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a crowd. But she imparted heaven into my earth. She heard foreshadows from the heart of God and spoke what was not, as though it were. And now it is!

Love had laid for us the stepping stones for our hearts, even when we were oblivious to the destination. Beautiful, isn’t He?

Rachel

Diagnosis

The next day we drove back to Spokane for the scan and a chat with Tanya. I felt the emotions of the day brimming at my eyelids as we drove and talked.

When a good friend had called me a couple years ago to tell me he had ‘just the guy’ for me, he described Russ by saying, “He’s a Jesus guy, just like you.” He was right. I’d prayed that if I were to be married, it would be to a man who would lead our family in faith. I dreamed that together, we could share God’s love and life as the strongest bond between us. God fulfilled that desire by bringing Russ into my life.

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As we drove that day, his spirit lifted mine from the trench of pity and pain that was sucking me in. His voice did not quiver as he said with conviction, “We aren’t just going to be average parents to this little precious one, we are going to be the very best we can be.” A few miles closer to the clinic, after a conversation about God being in control us desiring more than to be ‘fair-weather Christians’, we agreed that our faith in God was our lifeline for every corner of our lives, not merely a religion we associate with. And in the midst of our conversation about our babies likely diagnosis, Russ said these words, “This is where faith lives.”

When those words travelled from my ears to my heart, I could sense the Holy Spirit in the car with us. It was as if we were embarking on a journey that would not only require faith but would create in us as a couple, a deeper, vivid and living faith from which to be parents and continue to experience God’s lavish love for us. And the Holy Spirit was present, affirming that He was near, empowering and comforting us as we stepped forward.

We arrived at the Maternal Fetal Medicine clinic. I felt like every staff member knew our news. We initially met with Tanya again and she walked us through the results of the tests. She wrote in pen over the printed results, 82%. This was our currently known risk that our baby would have Down syndrome. I won’t lie, I’ve never thought 18% held such good odds.

To determine the further likelihood of Down syndrome, they wanted to do another ultrasound to look for ‘soft markers’ of Down syndrome. Tanya explained that babies in the womb can present with particular features associated with the syndrome…which would add to our 82% if found. Flatter facial features, white spots on the heart, shorter than average femur bones and a slightly turned in top joint of the pinky finger were some that she mentioned.

I laid in the dark room, with my belly exposed and the ultrasound wand swishing the goopy gel around in search of our little swimmer. All of the sudden, as I fixated my view on the grainy black and white screen, a little hand came into clear view and waved at me. There it was! The little pinky was turned in slightly- but noticeably. At that moment, 82% disappeared. I knew our baby truly did have three copies of the 21st chromosome.

Following the ultrasound, the doctor met with Russ and I to review the scan. He began to re-explain the purpose of the scan in detecting soft markers and then told us that many of those markers had been found. The white spots on the heart, the shorter arm and leg bones, a glossy look on the stomach and that slight curve of the pinky finger. Each of these markers added certainty to the diagnosis- although none of these could allow him to give us a 100% diagnosis. Only an amniocentesis could provide the genetic verification of that- a procedure where a long needle is inserted into the womb and a sample of amniotic fluid is used to verify the diagnosis. I had sat through this very same procedure with a dear friend and was not keen to undergo it myself!

Russ, being an analytical kind of guy, asked if our % of risk had gone up. The doctor sympathetically nodded yes. Russ, not yet satisfied, asked if it was up to 90%. The doctor shook his head and said, “Oh no, more than that…I’d say 98 – 99% really.” I looked at Russ, as I watched his heart letting go of the last hope that this was all a dream. I offered, “Honey, he can’t legally say it’s 100% because we haven’t done the amnio’….but essentially, he is saying it’s for sure.” I looked at the Doc to be sure I wasn’t mistaken, but he nodded his head in agreement and then offered some comforting words to us.

He suggested that we think about and then decide what we would do with the results. I’ve read many statistics about prenatal testing and the subsequently frequent termination of babies with Down syndrome. Statistically, 90-95% of babies diagnosed in utero are terminated. He had laid out a long list of complications which our baby may face, because of the diagnosis. However, our hearts knew that this special and unique life was not ours to end. It was ours to steward and was entrusted to us by the Creator, who breathes purpose into each life. We told the Doctor we would not consider termination.

I was thankful that at that moment, he said, “That’s good, we always advocate for life.” Life is what we have. A tiny, intricate, sacred life growing steadily inside of me. And we have the redemptive, abundant, powerful life of Christ, coursing through our family. We left the clinic knowing we would never be the same again. Our lives had changed forever. As the weight of the day began to settle in, and the silence between us became vulnerable, I heard Russ’s words. “This is where faith lives.”

Results

As promised, Tanya called me back on Tuesday. Her call came late in the afternoon and Russ was home. I handed Madeleine to him as I glanced at the familiar number on my phone and I perched on the couch, looking out the window. I half wished I’d grabbed our calendar to remove the guesswork from my expectation of a re-scheduling of the blood test.

In the very short time I’d had with Tanya, I already appreciated her clear and informative approach to genetic counselling. It’s so rewarding to see someone so well suited for their role. Her voice was friendly and we went through the standard niceties of how are you, etc. Her tone shifted ever so slightly and she asked, “Is this a good time, do you have a few minutes to talk?” The answer to her question came out of my mouth, as my heart suddenly raised a red flag and began to wave it in the pit of my stomach. “Yes, now’s a great time….Russ is home.”

I tried to compensate for my gut reaction by focusing the conversation on the reschedule. “Are we going to have to reschedule?” I asked, suddenly hopeful the answer was yes.

“Actually, the lab has sent the results, and the reason they are late is that they wanted to verify and be sure of their findings.” Again, my voice carried a tone of confidence as I heard myself respond, “Oh, okay…..they have actual results?” Inside, my truest self knew and the red flag no longer waived, it just stood, certain of the news that was about to be heard.

The bliss of not knowing suddenly shattered as Tanya gently, yet clearly explained, “The results are showing a high risk of Down Syndrome.”

There it was. The bliss was gone and the words Down Syndrome took it’s place, causing my mind to grasp for some level of certainty. I suddenly became conscious that Russ was holding Madeleine and listening to my side of the conversation. I don’t know why that silly voice of mine continued to carry on the conversation as though there was nothing noteworthy happening…..or perhaps it conveyed a fore-knowledge of the news. Almost cheerfully, I said, “Oh, alright. So now what?”

I could hear Tanya’s slight surprise at my tone and acceptance of the news. She didn’t miss a beat though, “We would like to have you come back if that’s possible because we will do another scan to determine a more accurate level of risk for Down Syndrome. Could you come in tomorrow?”

When I hung up the phone, I could feel a numbing sensation washing over me. Russ looked at me inquisitively and all I knew to say was, “It’s not good hun. It’s Down syndrome.” There was a nonsensical thought that circled my mind as I looked at Russ absorbing the news. Am I the cause of this? It’s my fault he now has to face this. What is he thinking of me right now?

Of course, those thoughts were straight from the destroyer of all good things. They were planted to bring shame and drive a wedge between me and Russ. But Russ’s gentle and tender love immediately removed those fears and silenced the enemies voice. We sat together, I cried and we just let the likely possibility sink in. Our baby has Down syndrome.

Clearblue

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Madeleine was only 8 months old when Russ and I looked into the Clearblue and saw another little one in our future! The tangibility of this new life was difficult for me to connect with initially- maybe because Madeleine had been waking up 5+ times a night since she was 3.5 months old and I was exhausted. Or maybe, because I simply did not feel pregnant. But blue lines don’t lie and the excitement of growing our family felt like bliss- being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

In January, one week before my 36th birthday, we found out that our little one is being ‘knit together’ with an extra 21st chromosome, also known as Down Syndrome. We have experienced all the ‘feels’ as we’ve received this diagnosis and adjusted our expectations to this reality. There are many unknowns ahead, but we are certain of this- that God who began a beautiful, good and perfect work in us…..is faithful to complete it in HIS way, for our best.

I’m writing this blog to share this unfolding experience with family and friends who want to know more than the headlines. There will be a few posts to get ‘caught up’ to a more real-time blog roll. Once we are ‘rolling’ I hope this blog will become a place of faith and community.

I’m also hoping to share our story so that others who find themselves embarking on a similar path, as unexpected as it comes, will not feel alone. In only one month, I’ve been embraced by a global community- a tribe if you will- of families who have been rerouted to this same path. It is their transparent blogs, real-time Facebook posts and informative podcasts that breath hope and comfort to me. If my story can do the same, I would be delighted.

Rachel