Actually, rewind that.
I remember the phone call that led to the first genetic test we ran. We had met with a private feeding therapist because I could see that Maya would need help learning how to eat. A few days after the consult she called, and with a wavering voice full of apologies, told me something like “I really, really don’t want you to worry about this, but I know you will (she was a mom, too). I’ve spoken with a geneticist and we think that maybe you should meet with a doctor and get tested for Down syndrome.”
On the outside, there wasn’t much of a change. I was standing in the kitchen, with the phone in one hand and my 7 month old baby in the other . . . I leaned back against the counter and felt the color drain from my face.
On the inside, I fell to my knees.
And my inner voice started to beg “No no no no no no. This can’t happen to her, this can’t happen to me. Let her not eat, let her not talk, let her mouth be jumbled and useless, but don’t let her have something big and genetic. Something that could affect her mind. Let her be smart. Let this test be negative. Please, please, just let this test be negative.”
And (a very painful month later) it was.
But my (huge) sigh of relief was cut off mid-exhale as I realized that the geneticists weren’t washing their hands of us. The “come back in 6 months, just to check your progress” request whispered “You’re not done here, friend. Don’t celebrate just yet.”
And so it continued, appointments with a barrage of specialists, each doing their exams and tests. I couldn’t help but notice a gradual, but significant sliding shift in my perspective . . . while one part of me would enter a doctor’s office thinking “don’t find anything, don’t find anything” another part was thinking “give us some information, please”. As time went by it was undeniable that something was
More time passed. More normal tests. But clearly, our situation was not normal.
My small spark of desire for a diagnosis started to flare up. I wanted a name. I wanted a prognosis. I wanted to be able to connect with other parents and plug into a support system. I wanted to hear from people with older kids and find out what their kids could and couldn’t do.
At naptime, I googled. I looked at syndrome descriptions, symptoms, prognoses. I became convinced that she had a dozen different conditions. I looked at pictures of diagnosed children and thought “those are her eyes! This must be the one!” My heart would pound and adrenaline would rush as I convinced myself I had found the answer, and then crash when I realized that a major symptom didn’t fit. Empty-handed, again. By the time she woke up I would be wiping away tears, again. Anxious. Searching. Desperate.
But at some point, I realized something.
Unless the diagnosis came with a crystal ball, it still wouldn’t answer the questions that raced around my head when she was asleep and the house was quiet and I had time to think. Somehow my obsessing over “The Diagnosis” had turned it into some kind of huge goal---if we could just get The Diagnosis, then we would know! We wouldn’t be in the dark! Our questions would be answered!
I had my mental list of questions-that-matter-the-most at the ready, just waiting for The Diagnosis to come along and predict our future.
- Will she walk and run? And jump? Will she be able to balance on one foot, or to go up and down stairs without assistance? (More specifically, will she move “typically” . . . or will she always have a unique way of moving that sets her apart from the other people on the sidewalk?)
- Will she talk? (Will she speak well enough someday that no one would know that she was so late to the speaking game?)
- Will she be smart? (Will she read and write and do math? Will she understand abstract ideas? Will she know what I mean when I say it’s her birthday?)
- Will she follow the path of a typical life, or will she be a dependent forever? (Will she go to college? Will she ever live alone, or is a group home situation in our future? Will she date, or get married? Will she be a mom someday?)
- Might she be exceptional? (Einstein didn’t talk until he was 4, I’ve heard. Give me a silver lining. Is it possible that while she’s trapped in this weak, disorganized body, her little brain is learning and growing and forming connections and will someday change the world?*)
It seemed likely that any diagnosis would come with a prognosis that was about as clear as mud.
And even if we got a diagnosis and a prognosis with some concrete won’ts (like “She probably won’t be able to walk independently”), odds are that I wouldn’t accept them anyway. I would keep believing and pushing, same as always. It would be impossible for me to give up on walking or talking when my girl has only had a few years to practice. Skills will come . . . or they won’t. Knowing The Diagnosis won’t change any of that.
So really, what’s the point in worrying about it?
Adding a few words to our chart won’t change anything (now. Believe me, I would still like to find a diagnosis before she turns 5, because it would make advocating for services much easier. And it would be nice to know if we should expect any medical complications down the line). But for now, she is who she is (hilarious, clever little thing) and we are doing the best job we can of helping her to grow and learn, just like every other parent on the planet.
A diagnosis would be nice, and we’ll keep our eyes out for one . . . but if it never turns up, well, I guess that would be ok, too.
(*This is the only question here that I for sure know the answer to. Is it possible that her little brain is learning and growing and forming connections and will someday change the world? Of course it is, silly. Anything is possible.)
My past thoughts on our undiagnosed life can be found here and here.