This past Sunday night was the year anniversary of the night I discovered I was pregnant with Ace.
It was August 17, 2014, the night before the first day of school and Chris was leaving for a redeye to somewhere I can’t remember now. I’d be alone for that first week of school while Chris was off on what was (in my mind only) some exotic work trip. He was leaving in ten minutes and I knew I couldn’t wonder if I was pregnant for the entire week he was away. Which is better? Knowing or not knowing?
Chris was frantically gathering his bags, lacing shoes, calling the Uber to pick him up and take him to the airport.
The result was positive. I sobbed.
. . .
“There’s no way I’m pregnant,” I told my friend Anne the night before that test. “I just don’t feel it. When I’m pregnant I feel something.”
That’s not entirely true. Once before I hadn’t felt it. I’d taken a pregnancy test in April and been shocked to find it positive. Those weeks leading up to the test had felt so different than I’d felt with August and Brooks. Probably it had just been the hormones with my first two boys that made warm waves in me. But somehow I had felt my babies there those times before, smaller than blueberries, swishing around. In April I didn’t.
And still. That baby in April was celebrated. I cheered, hugged my husband. I tried not to think about why it was different. A month later, I knew why. I stared at the ultrasound screen and my baby had disappeared. All that was left in me was the remains of a pregnancy that hadn’t worked.
That’s why. I’d thought. That’s why I didn’t feel it.
My friend Anne and I were on a night walk along a path that night in August. We were at a church retreat and had snuck away from the Saturday night gathering for a summer’s end catch-up chat. “But you could be?” Anne said. “You could be pregnant.”
She wanted to know how I was doing after the loss of my pregnancy two months before. She was four months along. Our babies would have been due at the same time.
This is all I knew: With the third pregnancy, with my miscarriage, I didn’t feel a surge of recognition that something powerful was happening in me. I didn’t feel the heat in my middle. I didn’t feel cells dividing.
“If I’m am—if I’m pregnant—then something’s not right.”
I said that. I said that the night before I knew.
. . .
I took the pregnancy test while Chris waited for his Uber to arrive.
I wept. I’m going to lose this baby again. I’m going to lose the baby. I cried into his chest until the car arrived.
Chris promised to call when he got there. He promised I could make it through this week. “You’ll be okay. This is great news, right?” he made me look in his eyes and smiled.
Then he was gone. It was time for real life. I was pregnant and something was wrong.
. . .
It’s funny how you look back on things like that. How you remember, even though you can forget in the midst of the pregnancy. I held my breath for a month, waiting for the 8 week check up, certain they would tell me my little babe had gone missing in my womb, had never developed. Yet there he was on the ultrasound screen. A heart beating wild. I let myself forget that I had been afraid. That his presence had been too quiet.
Maybe the difference is hormonal, I told myself. That must mean it's a girl!
We’d know soon enough. We’d get our prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome at 20 weeks, just two weeks after learning that our baby was not, in fact, a girl. All sorts of signs in my pregnancy would point to low hormone levels. That feeling. That lack of feeling.
It was an extra 21st chromosome. That’s what it was.
. . .
I’ve been thinking about this: Trisomy 21 is not a condition that comes later in the pregnancy. It’s not something going wrong in the development of the embryo or fetus. It’s not something the mother does wrong. It’s not something the father does wrong. It just is.
That third 21st chromosome is present when the first cell splits. Ace has always had it. Most likely, the extra 21st copy was present in the egg or in the sperm before an embryo was even formed.
Who is Ace without it? He is not himself. Right?
. . .
I’ve been thinking about that this week. About how I cried long before I knew what I was grieving.
About how Ace was not what we expected and how he was himself long before we knew him.
This summer, while August and my husband rode a roller coaster up and up toward the first steep drop, August shouted at Chris above the metal’s scrape: “Aren’t you glad you picked me?!”
Chris wasn’t sure how to respond. He managed an “ummm, yes, of course!” and a “What?” in the same breath.
“I’m glad I picked you," August yelled. "When I was with Jesus and I saw you I knew I wanted you to be my dad!”
What sweetness, to think of my unborn babies picking us, in all our faults, all our goodness. To think of Jesus offering such a choice.
I’ve been imagining Ace picking us, exactly as he is: The secrets he knew about himself, the secrets he and Jesus knew about us as Ace’s parents. All of it discussed in the secret meeting between Ace and Jesus.
And, here we are. One year later. Don’t ask me what I believe about whether God ordains mental disability. I don’t know. Don’t ask me if heaven is a place where Ace will lose that third 21st chromosome and still be himself.
There are still a lot of things for me to sort out. But right now I’m thinking August is onto something. And Ace just might have picked us. What can I say to that except to hold it holy in my hand?
He picked me. From the very beginning. He picked me.