“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 my doctor, putting the subject of prenatal diagnosis to rest. Or so I thought. Five months along, I was attending Sunday Mass, absent-mindedly watching the parishioners with Down syndrome from a local group home when, from out of the blue, I heard an internal voice. “You’re going to have a child with Down syndrome,” the voice said. 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.” I received His Body in tears. My husband, Francisco, was floored, thinking that I had finally gone over the edge. I also began to doubt the 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 what He is capable of doing. During the remaining months, I struggled with self-pity, and even, for one instant, regretted my pregnancy. Two days after the incident at Mass, Fr. Frank Pavone’s EWTN Show “Defending Life” featured a pair of sisters, the younger of whom had Down syndrome. Her older sister described her as a blessing for the family: She worked all day, attended daily Mass, prayed the Rosary, and whenever there was a family conflict, she was the one who brought about a reconciliation. She ended the show singing a love song she had composed for Jesus. I saw this as a confirmation that I had indeed heard from Jesus at Mass, and that 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 answered many of my anxious questions and told me what it was like to raise her youngest daughter with Down syndrome. Another friend, the mother of 11, sent an Elizabeth Ministry package for special babies, with a CD and book set titled, Sometimes Miracles Hide, Stirring Letters from Those Who Discovered God’s Blessings in a Special Child, by Bruce Carroll. That package 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, the day of Christina’s Baptism, we shared that song with the over 100 guests who crowded the church. My heart swelled with gratitude to God for choosing my family to raise Christina. And when her godmother asked what she should pray for, I didn’t ask for a cure from Down syndrome. I was beginning to understand that her “condition” was a blessing, not a curse. Perhaps, as Fr. McCartney had said, Christinapities us for not having the purity of heart to see what she sees.
After six 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 Eucharistic 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,though unseen. She promptly put me in my place, for, as we were leaving, she wavedagain, 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 had a friendship.
This story is excerpted with permission from the book “A Special Mother is Born” Parents share how God called them to the extraordinary vocation of parenting a special needs child and is available from WestBow Press. Photo credits go to Shana Sureck- she donated her talents to the cause of lowering the abortion rate of beautiful children like Christina.