Through a Father's Eyes

How does anyone put into words the emotions and thoughts regarding the birth of one of their children? This is especially true of a first child, without a previous well of experiences. My wife and I had roughly 9 months of major prep time. We purchased a lot of books, received much advice, took a Natural Childbirth class, took an infant CPR class, accumulated quite the load of baby stuff, amassed several well organized bags for the hospital trip - all pretty typical first time parent activities. Living in Kansas City, Missouri, we had many Baby Superstores to make sure we had everything on the checklists. We decided to let the sex of the baby be a surprise, especially due to the fact that our chances of having a girl were slim.

2 _ weeks prior to our due date, two good friends and their newborn daughter visited us for the weekend. My wife states that the lunch at KC Masterpiece barbeque started labor on that Sunday. Our friends left, and we did what most people probably do in early labor - panic! We tried to clean the house, clean the car, load the new baby seat, time all contractions with a stopwatch (I have the logs to prove it), etc. Around midnight, after doing some fast cramming on my Doula training that I was behind on, Rhonda told me to go to bed. Before long, I was showering and loading the car.

We drove to the hospital at 3 a.m. Monday morning, with contractions at 3 minutes apart, had the standard "do you really need to be here yet" monitoring, walked around an hour until contractions strengthened, had another monitoring session, and finally were admitted quickly to our birthing suite. By the time I hauled the rest of the luggage to the room, things were really moving. It only took 3 _ hours until the blessed moment. A man cannot understand the emotions and pain endured during labor and delivery, especially when your wife has no medication. I, however, can say that I have never had more admiration and pride for my wife than in those 3 _ hours. At 9:53am, I acquired the first glimpse of a baby's head. A few seconds later, the doctor announced that it was a girl. My father's side of the family had not had a girl for over 4 generations, so the surprise was overwhelming. I am man enough to say that I broke down and cried. Two minutes later while they were taking all my daughter's vitals under the warmer, the doctor came back over and informed us that Elissa appeared to have Down syndrome.

Looking back, I know that in my now "enlightened" state, I would have liked to have had different responses to many things over the next few minutes, days, and weeks. Not that it would have made a difference, but I am thankful that we welcomed our daughter into the world first - then received information about her diagnosis. First and foremost, she was our child that we had eagerly anticipated meeting for the last 9 months. She was a beautiful, perfect creation from God. Her medical diagnosis did not alter our love for her or her love for us. We needed each other, and I feel privileged that God chose us for each other. He knew that a mere medical condition would not define our daughter, who would grow, crawl, walk, talk, laugh, cry, sing, and read just like other kids - but at her own pace and with our loving direction. He knew Rhonda and I could handle this little challenge.

Now, with my "enlightened" statements above, I can also be honest. Was I in shock at the news two minutes after my daughter was born? Yes. You don't know how to react to that type of news at that moment in your life.

For starters, my wife and I were not in a position to sit down and discuss with each other much about this news - as we were new parents with nurses and doctors bustling about the room. We also had no family present on that day, as we lived 3+ hours from the closest relative, and my Dad's mother passed away that weekend and my side of the family was all attending the funeral. So - our immediate support network was comprised of my wife and I, God, and two wonderful birthing nurses.

That evening, Rhonda's family trekked down to Kansas City to see our new family. The next day, one of our nurses gave us a packet of information from the Kansas City Down Syndrome Guild. It was an older, very small New Parent Packet, but it did give us a list of current literature to obtain. I journeyed several blocks away to Barnes and Noble to find the first book on the list: Babies with Down Syndrome - A New Parents Guide. Our knowledge and confidence grew through reading, getting to know our daughter, prayer, networking, and wonderful medical personnel and therapists that plugged us into what we needed to know, who we needed to see, and when we needed to do things.

I remember two defining events the day of Elissa's birth. I saw that our main nurse Elizabeth was going to give Elissa her first sponge bath, and I asked if I might watch closely to learn. She told me "No", that she was going to just let me do it myself (with some guidance). That event really bonded Elissa and I as father and daughter. The second event was the call to Rhonda's parents to tell them we were parents. They had wondered why we weren't home, and they figured we must be at the hospital. The phone in our birthing room was ringing several times during delivery, which must have been my in-laws. I answered the phone sometime the first hour after Elissa's birth, and had the pleasure of telling my mother-in-law of our great news. I found that in trying to tell the first person about our daughter's birth, I was unable to speak.

The medical issues that surrounded Elissa did make life more interesting for the first 6 months (as it still does at times), but it made Rhonda and I STRONGER people. A friend of mine spoke a phrase that I have now taken to be my own: I am a better person today because of my daughter. This is not a haughty statement. I know that I value family more, I value the little achievements more (like shedding a tear when your daughter walks up the stairs without the railing for the first time), I value my responsibility to raise-the-bar for my daughter at every step of her life, I value my role as an advocate for my daughter, and I value my passion for spreading awareness to the community and others about Down syndrome. A very wise Physical Therapist, Jenny, once told us that we were very lucky parents, because Elissa would walk, talk, read, and do all the typical things in life - just with a little extra help.

by DEan Fuelberth, Member and Board President, DSAF

Down Syndrome Association for Families of Nebraska

 a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 57362 

Lincoln, NE 68505

Phone: 402.421.1338

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