"On the day that Cliff was born, on the day that Cliff was born, on the day that Clifford was born the angels sang and they blew on their horns and they danced, they danced. They smiled and raised up their hands on the day, on the day that Clifford was born." -- Red Grammer, "Hello World"
It's early on this February morning, and still a little dark, about the same time I awoke twenty-six years ago in labor with my first child. I am doing what I always do on this day each year, remembering the events of the day that changed my life in such profound ways that I am still discovering how. I've told this story often but each time brings a welcome recall, albeit bittersweet, that I hope I will never forget.
Early on that February morning, while I let Ken sleep, I got up and decided to take a shower with the foolish notion that I'd look prettier for the work ahead. I had everything set: snacks for my husband in case the labor went on and on, my bag packed and sitting by the door, the camera, the baby announcement cards I planned to write out after my baby arrived.
But you know what they say about God and the plans we make. Only I don't think God was laughing that day. I think, in fact I know, he had his arms around me saying, "Don't worry. I know what I'm doing. I am with you."
After just six hours, Clifford Anthony Taylor arrived. He was named Clifford after the grandfather he would never meet. Anthony was for my own dad. He entered the world just like any other baby--squalling loudly, a beautiful sound we captured on tape and still listen to from time to time with tears in our eyes. That tape captured not only the brand new cries of a baby boy, but the voices of my husband, the doctor, the nurses. In fact, I distinctly remember the nurse who abruptly left the room soon after Cliff was born. She had been my birthing instructor and I was so glad she could be there. On the tape I can hear her saying, "What a beautiful baby, " and then the glaring absence of that voice. I found out later that she was newly pregnant with her own baby and became upset when she looked at Cliff and saw something a little off-kilter. She knew.
When Ken left the room, I recall asking where he went. "We think there may be something wrong with the baby so your husband is speaking to the pediatrician."
Something wrong? Is that what he thought of my baby? He knew the truth before I did and he used the word "wrong"? How awful for a doctor to use such a word. Wrong means the baby is sick with a disease. Wrong means the baby might die. Wrong means something horrible and tragic. My son's birth meant none of those things.
When Ken came into the recovery room he gave me the news. He held my hand and said, "The doctor thinks the baby has Down syndrome, but they have to do a blood test to be sure." I stared at him as relief flooded my face. The doctor had said "wrong". But my baby was healthy. Down syndrome? The meaning of those words had not yet entered my brain. At that moment I cared only that he was not ill or in danger of dying.
Later in my room, as Ken and I discussed what this all meant, I realized that I had been waiting for over two hours to hold my son. Looking back, I honestly believe the nurses were told to wait until I asked for him, just in case it turned out I didn't want him.
Can you imagine?
I'd like to tell you every thought that went through my head when he was finally put into my arms, but there was only one. I loved this baby! As I gazed at his little face, he suddenly opened his eyes and at that moment I was sure of two things: I didn't need a blood test to know what was right in front of me. And he was mine to keep forever.
We lay him gently on the bed and carefully, slowly unwrapped him. We marveled at his perfection: the ten fingers and ten toes, the soft brown/blonde hair on his head, the full lips, the roundness of his belly. I thought I knew what love was, but this...this was beyond my imagining.
I hadn't yet cried. That would come...later.
...to be continued...