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I love someone with Down syndrome. If you had asked me 10 years ago if that sentence would ever come out of my mouth, I surely would have said no. Down syndrome wouldn’t happen to me. That only happened to women in their 40s and 50s who had a baby later in life. I gave birth to my son in 2005 at 28 and he was perfectly healthy in every way. In 2011, I thought I would have another healthy baby because I was only 34. I was still young. I was extremely naïve.

One of the reasons for the happiness I enjoy today lies in the almond shaped eyes of a beautiful little girl. Born 20 days early, she was not the little girl I expected, but she stole my heart anyway. On a hot, humid night in early August I went to bed feeling very tired and very pregnant. We were finally expecting our second child after six years of waiting for the “right time” to have another. I woke up around 2:00 A.M. and off to the hospital we went. We were so excited to finally meet our little girl.

After being in labor for a few hours they had to put me to sleep to perform a cesarean section which was not what I wanted but it was what we had to do. I always had this nagging feeling throughout the pregnancy that something was different or not quite right. Hearing it said to me out loud just confirmed it and made it all too real. I will never forget the words the doctor said to me as I awakened from the surgery. “They are testing your daughter for Down syndrome. She had a few of the characteristics.” I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. What did this mean? Where was my baby? When could I see her? Was she okay? I felt like I had just awoken from a coma. Everything was fuzzy and unclear.

After waiting, they finally brought her to me and I felt her warm body in my arms and saw those beautiful almond shaped eyes looking up at me. I was hooked. She was the most beautiful baby girl I had ever seen. I loved her and knew we would get through whatever Down syndrome had to throw at us.

What followed was also nothing of what I expected. Family members didn’t react the way I thought they would. I needed someone to hug me, to wipe my tears, to tell me everything was going to be okay. People were there for me that I never expected to be there, but it was the people I expected to be there and weren’t that disappointed me and broke my heart. That night we learned that our little girl had a hole in her heart and would need surgery to repair it in the coming months. I was unsure that I would be able to handle that and felt so sad, alone, and angry. Why my little girl? I wanted her so much. I had planned for her and did everything right, so why was this happening? I wanted to take her from that hospital and run far away where there would be no doctors, nurses, needles, or tests; only her mother’s love. That was all we needed.

Love is such a strange word. I learned its true meaning and could feel it beat within my heart, my soul, my whole being. The love I felt for this little girl was so intense and wonderful that I needed her to be around for a long, long time. In order for that to happen she had to have surgery, so it was off to weekly cardiologist and pediatrician appointments, EKGs and blood tests all in the name of love.

My little girl was certainly not what I expected when I arrived at the hospital that night, but she has become so much more to me and has taught me how to love and cherish my life and everyone in it. I am slowly learning to enjoy each day as it comes. She is my little girl, Down syndrome or not, and I will love her and give her a wonderful life.