Please meet Parker. He is a miracle and he is perfect. Let me tell you why…
Parker was born on February 19th as the sun was rising over the Mississippi River…we know because we had a better view of it than just about anyone on Earth could have had. We had what the nurses referred to as "The Beyonce Suite", an oversized room at the end of the hall in the St. Cloud Hospital's Family Birthing Center. It has floor-to-ceiling windows on the two exterior walls that wrap around the corner of the building and expose an amazing view of the Mississippi river and into town across to the other side. It was a beautiful view at night when we were admitted, and even more beautiful the next morning as day broke and the sun shone onto the icy river, reflecting up into our room as we brought a beautiful new life into the world.
Parker came 5 full weeks early, obviously unexpectedly, but we were so excited to meet him that we knew it would be OK. You see, the way I see it, he knew he had to come to fill our hearts with joy, hearts that were swelling each day as we waited in anticipation. We'd been getting to know Parker for months now without even meeting him and we were anxiously awaiting his arrival. I'm sure it was as hard form him to wait to meet us, so he must have decided to come early and get things going with his new family.
After several hours of labor and hard work from Parker's mom, (and without the aid of drugs or intervention), Parker was born naturally at 5:46am. He was a fairly whopping 6 pounds, 8 ounces and 18.5 inches long. That's a pretty big baby for being so premature, which also meant if he had gone full-term, he would have been around 11-12 pounds. I think Michelle was OK with that not being the case. Either way, he wasn't quite ready to do everything on his own, so after an hour or so, he was moved to NICU to get the help he needed to be the fiercely independent wonder that he is and will certainly continue to be.
Despite the early welcome and the need for a little help, he came into this world to beat the odds and didn't hesitate one second to start that mission. Parker's very first activity, just minutes old, was to nurse. I suppose he heard about the French Silk Pie Chelle's bestie, Anna, brought us and was hungry, or maybe he just knew that little babies like him, especially premature ones, weren't supposed to be good at nursing and he felt like proving everyone wrong right off the bat. Whatever his reasons, he got right to work. I believe this event to be the ultimate sign of things to come.
Parker being in the NICU to start off his life was a mix of emotions for us. It was sad to see him tied to monitors and in an incubator, but also happy that he was with us and in a much better, safer condition than many premies as early as him. He was also able to be snuggled, loved and played with virtually all day, so we made the most of those opportunities.
Parker is beautiful. He has his mother's full lips, his daddy's pointy ears and I can already tell he has the same "spunk" as his big sister. He has long skinny fingers with sharp pointy finger nails and slender toes which look like they came from Big Bird's feet. His fuzzy little head of soft brown hair is especially cute, as well. He's laughed a lot and the very first thing he did when he was born was snuggle up on his mommy's chest and look around at his new world with wonder, eyes wide open. I was looking right back at him with that same wonder, my eyes, though, filled with tears of joy because I had been waiting for that moment for months.
I'd been awaiting that moment since November 19th, specifically. Why November 19th, you ask? That is the day that we found out that Parker has Down Syndrome.
When we first found out, we felt all the emotions that you'd expect from someone given such news. We also saw a new opportunity in front of us to learn a lot about ourselves, about love, about family and about faith. Accompanying the initial shock and "why me" moments, we began to see immediate strengths within us coming out. Our marital relationship proved as strong as we always knew it was, our relationship with our daughter strengthened, and as we began to share our news with the people in our lives, we could see those bonds forming tighter than ever. In some ways it's too bad it takes a moment of challenge to bring that out, but in other ways it's joyous to have always assumed it was there and to see it out in the open.
Shortly after finding out, we also began to educate ourselves on Down Syndrome and parenting a child with it. I like to think of myself as a smarty-pants and very well informed…many of you who know me well would call me a know-it-all, (or "jackass" for short ;-) Well, there was A LOT I didn't know and even more that I thought I did, but was dead wrong. That realization also energized me because that meant Parker could be a vehicle for change and myth-busting in many others' lives.
The months that followed our news were increasingly positive and also increasingly "normal" (a word I'll never look at the same way again). A lot happened since November 19th - anniversaries, holidays, weddings, birthdays, funerals and much more. All of those things continued on as if our world hadn't been shattered, which, of course, it hadn't been. If anything could assure you that things would be OK, it was the fact that nothing around us changed, which meant that nothing around us really had to.
Parker was coming into our world, a world which I happen to think is mostly wonderful. He wasn't going to make it worse, he could only make it better. We kept and maintained a positive attitude and an outlook of excitement through these several months because after getting the initial emotions out of the way, we remembered who Parker was - he was ours.
After nearly two weeks in the NICU, a stay that had everything to do with being a premie and nothing to do with Down Syndrome, we've finally been able to come home and start our life as a family with Parker. A big part of that life going forward includes you, the people we surround ourselves with. DS or not, it is important to have love, kindness and support around us. We are very blessed in this way and are even more grateful.
While many of you have known about Parker's diagnosis for some time now, many more of you are just reading this and finding out for the first time. Undoubtedly, you have some thoughts and some questions. You also probably have some emotions that you aren't quite sure of. It's normal, trust us, we've had many. The one emotion you are simply not allowed to have is pity. You can feel some sadness and sorrow for the very emotional events we've endured through this process, but you are not allowed to feel bad for us at all. In fact, we'd hope you feel very good for us. We have a new baby boy who we think is absolutely perfect. He's certainly a different boy than we maybe thought we would be having a few months back, but we wouldn't want a "normal" kid anyway, we'd prefer extraordinary, which he'll certainly be.
So, what does this all mean for you? Well, it really just means that you get a chance to be a part of our lives and the ongoing amazement if you choose to. It could mean that you have a new opportunity to learn all about the beautiful differences between all people and the very "normal" people that those with Down Syndrome are. Maybe it even means you will gain some perspective on life, priority and the value of love and friendship - we sure have.
From us, we just want you all to know that Parker may have Down Syndrome, but that is just an extra chromosome. He can (and will) do anything and everything that the rest of us can do. Sure, he may not be able to do it to the same degree as everyone else, but I can't play guitar like Chuck Berry, but I'll be damned if I don't try every time I pick one up. Parker, too, will spend his life trying new things and trying to be his best at all of them. That's all we could and would ask of any of our children. He deserves no less.
We ask that you don't be weird around us or shy to ask us any questions. While we've got a lifetime of learning ahead of us, we have educated ourselves on the topic in preparation to be great parents and we have a network of resources surrounding us, as well, that can help educate us all. There are no dumb questions, but there are insensitive ways of saying just about anything. Our skin is incredibly thick about this matter, so don't worry, tip-toe or walk on eggshells around us, we'll know that whatever you say is coming from a good place.
We don't, however, need to hear how "sorry" you are for us. Feeling sorry for us is a "you" problem. We aren't the least bit sorry, so you shouldn't be, either. We aren't sorry that this completely random genetic variation took place in our pregnancy. We aren't sorry that this type of child may, in fact, be more work, more challenging and more challenged than others. We aren't sorry that our dreams and fantasies of our family are now a little different than they once were. And we certainly aren't sorry that we made the decision to choose life and accept whatever lied ahead. We aren't sorry for anything because that would mean that we are choosing to miss out on all of the magic that this will be in our lives.
Parker has unlimited potential, as we all do. He will be given no choice but to try his best at everything. He'll be mainstreamed, so that means "normal" schools, "normal" friends, "normal" activities, etc., and we'll fill-in some extra help where he might need it. He will be pushed to follow his passions, whatever they may be, just as we will encourage our other children to do. He may have a different ceiling than some other people, but he will be pushed to shatter through it, the same way we'll push our other children to do. He will be appreciated and loved like he deserves to be regardless of DS and we owe it to him to offer every opportunity we would offer any child we brought into this world.
Parker's future is exactly like any other child's, which is to say that we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. We hope and pray that each day for all of us is better than the previous, but also know the reality is that there will be hard days mixed in with great days. All days ahead are just opportunities to experience new things and hopefully grow toward a happier, better life. That will be the plan.
Down Syndrome is something we aren't scared of. It's something that we see as the thing that Parker will be labeled by to some, but also the thing he will constantly overcome to be an inspiration to most. There's no cure and there's no changing it, but what is absolutely sure is that the degree to which Down Syndrome individuals can succeed has an awful lot to do with their environment, encouragement and their opportunities. We plan on giving him every opportunity to be as high-functioning as possible and we know that if you all get on board, the sky is truly the limit.
When we first posted pictures of our new family on Facebook, literally hundreds of you liked and commented as a show of support and love, sharing in our happiness. Most of you weren't aware of Parker's Down Syndrome. The comments about how cute he is and how perfect he is shouldn't change now that you know, they should be reinforced. He has been redefining a lot of words in our lives for months now and will continue to do so. Maybe he will for you, too.
To us, Parker is perfect and he is undeniably a miracle. He has brought so much to us already that we'll never be able to repay, but we have the rest of our lives to try. He's a wholly unique and amazing human life and we couldn't be happier that he belongs to us. His life will be richer with love from all of you, so we hope you'll join in.
Please feel free to contact either of us at any time or find some time to stop by and meet our little guy and start your friendship with him. We are looking forward to an amazing life for our family and continued relationships with all of you. We've appreciated all the love, support and prayers throughout this journey. We are so very blessed and thankful for all of the great people in our lives.
Thanks for reading ;-)
- Cory & Michelle & Liddy
PS: I have been blogging since the day we found out about Parker's diagnosis, so if you are interested in checking out the whole story and getting caught up, go to endlessupside.com/our-story/ to get started.
UPDATE FOR 8-19-14 : WE'VE ADDED A 6-MONTH UPDATE HERE!