Six Years Ago Today

Before becoming a parent, I never quite realized how my child's birthday would feel like a kind of spiritual anniversary to me.  One year ago today, I say to myself, two years ago today, three, four, five years ago today, life came out of me and screamed bitter cries over the injustice of that sacred act.  No matter how different they look from year to year, I always remember them as they looked the moment I first saw them: furious at their expulsion, limbs nervously flailing, faces all scrunched up and slimy, their tiny bodies the most beautiful, terrifying sight I could imagine. 

Six years ago today, our Lincoln came into the world, angrier and scrawnier than his brother had been, a teeny little barrel-chested screamer who just cleared seven pounds as he bemoaned the cold shock of being laid on the delivery room scale.  I remember thinking, after the near ten pound bowling ball his brother had been, that seven pounds and one ounce was awfully small.  I remember the few minutes we had with him in the delivery room, me with my neck craned from the operating table trying to see everything, trying to memorize everything, while my doctor made cryptic comments about too much bleeding and could I stop moving while she tried to sew me back up. 

Six years ago today, Linc's life began not with balloons and shiny, wrapped up gifts, but with that gritty, biological baptism from which we all emerge.  And for a brief few minutes (who knows how many minutes it was really, though it seems so few in recollection), he was just another healthy baby and we were just another set of ecstatic parents begging to hold our slimy little miracle.  We had time to take a family picture, and for him to be laid on my chest for a few seconds.  But so quickly the whispers turned nervous, and our little barrel-chested screamer was rushed from the room.

See, for us, Lincoln's birthday is also the anniversary of his diagnosis, and the hard truth of it is that our memories of the day reflect about five minutes of undiluted celebrating and about 23 hours and 55 minutes of confusion and fear piled on top of the wonder and joy we expected to be feeling that day.  That first day, we heard the words Down syndrome, we read the ominous handout the hospital offered us to understand what this diagnosis would mean for our son, and we cried and rallied and cried some more.   Probably no more than an hour after his birth, our Lincoln was moved to the NICU and fitted with all manner of tubes and wires.  By the end of his first day, we had met our son's cardiologist, neonatologist, and speech therapist.

That day six years ago was a long, intense roller coaster.  From those seats by Lincoln's shallow, plastic crib in the NICU, we just could not imagine what year one or two would look like, much less year six or sixteen.  So, we decided right away that we would not even try to imagine how his life would unfold.  We would just be along for the ride.  We would let him show us what he could do instead of letting everyone tell us what he most certainly could not do.

We didn't know how year six would look, so we resolved not to get caught up worrying about it.  Instead, we would love him right then in that moment, and we would keep loving him moment by moment, not crossing bridges we hadn't come to yet, not fretting over what  struggles he might or might not ever face.

And so, with that decision, Linc's birthday also became a day of remarkable freedom for us.  We wouldn't be bound to what people thought our son would or should be, we wouldn't be slaves to worry over the things that could go wrong his health, and we would learn to live in the moment, enjoying every single day we had with our son.  Even those long days in the NICU.  Even the croupy nights and the days when the only word he spoke was a constant and emphatic NO (okay, we're still in those days a bit, I fear).
During those NICU days, the tubes and wires coming off Linc's body tangled every time I tried to pick him up, and I fretted to Sam that I would never get the hang of holding him with all that baggage tying him down.  But Sam reminded me that slow and steady does it, and he helped unwind the tubes and lay our son in my arms.  Last night, as I frosted birthday cupcakes, I fretted to Sam that I would never get the hang of taking Lincoln out alone, that I would never learn to manage his stubbornness or teach him to stop bolting away from me at top speed.  But Sam reminded me that slow and steady does it, that it's okay to cry because some days this is hard, but that we don't have to take on the challenge of all the days at once.  We only have to take on this day, that for this day we had survived and in the morning our baby boy would be six years old.

I always think of Lincoln's birthday as the day we were all born into a new kind of life, a rich, full, scary, hilarious, messy life. So happy birthday, Lincoln.  We have loved you in every moment of your six years of life.  We are so grateful to have you, and we thank you this year, as we have on all your other birthdays, for teaching us to let go, again and again, day by day.


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