Thursday, September 20, 2007

Meeting Ian

It's taken me a few weeks to get to know my son.

Since he was born on September the 1st, all I've really known is his condition, called Down Syndrome. His condition and the health problems surrounding it.

I was with Annie in the delivery room. I helped bring Ian into the world. I overheard the doctor whisper the words "Down Syndrome," not to me, because I was holding Ian, but to my wife, exhausted and spent by the delivery. I remember looking down at my son, and noticing his eyes for the first time. Were they always that shape, or did they change because the doctor uttered two little words?

Ian struggled for breath, and they rushed him to Intensive Care. Annie and I were left alone.


That's what you first feel. At least I did.

I wept. I couldn't stop crying. I asked Annie to call my parents because I knew I couldn't say those words. "Ian has Down Syndrome."

The nurse came back and then I felt the second emotion: Shame. I'm sorry, nurse, that I put you through this by having a Down baby. I'm sorry that you have to try to be extra considerate and that you may have to stay late because my baby is having complications. I'm sorry that you are struggling not to pity me, that you have to keep saying over and over that he is a beautiful baby when you may or may not be thinking that he is a beautiful baby.

He is a beautiful baby, by the way.

The next time we saw Ian was through the plastic shield of an oxygen tent. Wires everywhere. Beeping alarms. Nurses scrambling, trying to reassure us while their forced smiles told us that we needed to be very worried.

The first night. I slept on the floor on a mat next to Annie's bed in the hospital room, the same room where Ian began his journey. We cried together. I woke up often. We visited Ian sometime in the early hours. It was still dark outside. I don't remember.

I went home to take a shower. The hospital was only 15 minutes away, and I need to clear my head anyway. My daughter, Silvi, was staying with my parents.

I was alone. I sobbed in the shower.

The next two weeks seem now to have passed quickly, but that is what happens to all painful memories. They take on a life of their own, transcend space and time, write their own narrative.

I read to Ian through his little oxygen tent. C.S. Lewis. Another man who understood loneliness, and grace. I looked into Ian's face, searching for clues. Who is he? What will he know? Will he love me? How will he live?

He is home now. The tubes are gone, the beeping alarms are quiet. He will live, the doctors tell us. I get to hold him. He sleeps in my arms.

I begin to see him for the first time. Ian. My son.

I begin a frantic search on the web. I must know. Everything. I buy books, lots of books. I reach out to other online writers in similar situations. Some of the responses give me hope, some enrage me. I'm sorry. I know you're trying to help. Words are slippery things, like a wet bar of soap.

It's only been a little over two weeks. How is it possible to be in such a strange land so quickly? It reminds me of the time Annie and I landed in Macedonia at night, and how shocked we were when we opened our hotel curtains in the morning to the sight of the tall, slender minarets sprouting from the many mosques decorating the city.

I don't cry any more. We took Silvi and Ian down to the lake last night. A perfect fall evening. People stopped and smiled and cooed and chatted.

Hi, Ian. I'm your dad. It's nice to finally meet you.


Leah said...

Getting to know our childten, no matter how many chromosomes they have, is an amazing experience. But sometimes when when a child is born with a disability all the excitement and elation are replaced by shock, trauma, fear, and sadness. Then when you finally get to settle down and actually get to know them, it can be life altering. Suddenly you understand in a way you never thought possible what a miracle every child is. How our children struggled in the womb long before we knew there was a problem. How they fought to live so that they could come deliver the message God meant for them to deliver. We wonder what the lessons are, and WHY are they so important for us to learn that "this" had to happen to us?

Years from now you'll look back on the person you were just moments before you first heard those words. You'll suddenly see things in him you never noticed before. Both good and bad things. You'll be able to look back at your path that is now called "Ian's dad" and see each step along the way that changed you. Each person. Each doctor. Each child. Each smile. Each milestone.

You may not WANT the change. You may be very angry that you've been forced into this school of change. Some of us already knew it was coming (I did though it months before Angela was conceived. I just didn't know HOW the change was coming.) Others were taken by surprise.

You be pissed off and cry, or laugh, or yell, or whatever it is you need to do. I'm sorry if my talking about "the change" bothers you. It's just a part of this journey. You already know that, it's part of what makes you feel the variety of emotions and want to go back to the moment before the doctor whispered those words.

Karen said...

Just beautiful. Congratulations on Ian's birth!

Tom said...

Leah: I appreciate the thoughts on change. No doubt about it, life has changed. Not how I had planned it, but I'm starting to be OK with it now. I enjoy reading about your journey and thanks again for the thoughtful remarks.

Karen: Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the world wee Ian.


When my daughter was born with Down syndrome, I was devestated. It was the end of the world. It was the worst possible thing that could ever happen. Until it wasn't anymore. And then, like you, I finally met my daughter. She was not what I had expected, not what I wanted, but she was exactly what I needed.

Years later she is still raising me as much as I am raising her. She's probably doing a better job than I am.

The two of you have only just begun :)

Jeff said...

Had not had a chance to stop by for a bit but glad I did.


Archie said...

Neat post. I like to tell myself that I handled everything pretty well immediately after Lili was born, but in truth I wasn't nearly as involved in being her dad as I could have been for her first year in this world. I let my emotions out gradually, and really started jumping into being Lili's dad after a while.
Once I worked through grieving the expectations, a whole new set of expectations emerged - defined by Lili, not any medical condition.
Enjoy getting to know Ian.

Tom said...

Emily: Ian is definitely teaching me a lot these days.

Jeff: Thanks. I enjoyed finding your blog as well.

Archie: I caught one of your videos on your site (abc's) and I could hear how much you enjoy your daughter in your voice. Appreciate it.

Kim Ayres said...

A very powerful post, Tom

Tom said...

Thanks, Kim.