It was the winter of ‘88-’89 and my sister and I were expecting babies. The excitement was tremendous; both our previous "babies" were well over 3 years old. Our due dates were in early fall of ’89, three weeks apart, mine the latter one. My mother was the only one who was frantically anxious. ("Children, the next time around please make appointments with me for when to have your babies! How can I be helpful enough to both of you if your expecting so close together in time?!")
My pregnancy went smoothly, with just the usual amount of "krechtzing" and "kvetching". I was, however, on an emotional roller coaster. My excitement was overshadowed by guilt and pain for my 3 1/2 year old "princess" who was the only child until now. How will she adapt? How will I adapt? Can I love another child the way I love her? I often found myself pensively reflecting on these thoughts while hot tears trickled down my cheeks.
Unknown to the family at the time, my sister was going through her own emotional and agonizing turmoil. Her routine blood tests, taken early on in pregnancy, showed some abnormal AFP (alpha-feta-protein) levels which meant a "definite" handicapped baby, most likely with spina bifida. Follow-up blood work during her pregnancy showed no change. My sister and her husband were horrified, but this was their private secret.
Finally, the first due date (my sister’s) came…..and went. No baby. One week passed, then another.
Shabbos morning, September 16, ’89, two-and-a -half weeks before my due date, I felt the early pangs that told me I must go to the hospital. Upon entering the labor ward I saw my sister’s name in bold black letters written across the bulletin board. I raced to the room from which I heard her voice softly whispering and made it in time to wish her a hearty "Mazel Tov" upon the birth of her baby boy. Comically enough my sister, in her disoriented post-birth state, looked at my face and asked, "You already came to visit me? It’s Shabbos! How did you know that I already had a baby?" I laughed delightedly (amid groans of pain) and then went into the labor room myself.
Four hours later (and sixteen days earlier than expected) I gave birth to a tiny, healthy baby boy. We were euphoric. What more could parents ask for? We now had our daughter and our son!
As Shabbos wore on and we started to regain some strength my sister and I started chatting. She then, in a shaking voice, told my husband and me of the torment they had been put through during the pregnancy, how they were expecting to have a very sick baby, chas vesholom. Boruch Hashem, her baby was born beautiful, healthy and perfect.
The next day, Sunday, brought lots of excitement. Our obstetrician spoke of calling "the press" to come photograph these two sisters who gave birth to boys within four hours of each other, at the same hospital, using the same doctor.
Mechutanim and family from all angles of the relationship came to visit and the joy was astounding. My sister only now shared with my parents, as well as her husband’s, the torture that they had been through. Everybody listened aghast with tears in their eyes.
Afternoon wore into early evening and our guest started to disperse. My sister and I were drained, but on a high.
Sunday evening, precisely at 10:00pm, when I had retired for the night, exhausted, but happy, Dr. X (pediatrician) walked into my room. The only other human being around was the woman in the next bed who had given birth that afternoon.
Dr. X looked me straight in the eye and said, "The ‘clinical’ examination of your baby determines that he has Down Syndrome. We will be taking some tests in the morning to confirm it."
He said some other things too, but I didn’t hear him, or perhaps I just don’t recall. My screams of anguish ripped through the room as my next-bed neighbor ran to call my sister.
My sister walked in, her face ashen with shock. Hers was the high-risk pregnancy, mine was the "usual", and now here was the outcome. At that moment it all came together why we were destined to meet in the hospital; my sister was one week overdue, I, two-and-a -half weeks early. I will never forget how she sat on the edge of my bed next to me and put her arm around my shoulders, both of us sobbing bitterly. She then pulled herself together and offered me the most wonderful, encouraging and loving words. I then had to go through the additional heartbreak of calling my husband and breaking the news to him. The rest is history….
POSTSCRIPT: I have still not gotten over the cruelty of that pediatrician who came to break such devastating news to me, 30 hours after birth, at 10:00pm at night when I was exhausted and all alone.
If you have had a similar experience, and want to share it, please write to: DS AMONGST US, 32 Rutledge St. Brooklyn, NY 11211.
This article first appeared in issue #2 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us