This particular day was pretty typical of late fall in Ohio, cloudy and crisp--and a little bit cool--but perfect for taking pictures.
I knew as soon as I took this picture that it was the one. Looking through the lens of my camera, everything fell into place in that one moment. I had asked them all to lean into one another and to try to get their little faces as close as possible. The wind picked up a bit, Brian brought his knees to his chest, and Emmy tilted her head toward Brian. The way they look in this picture is exactly what I wanted to capture. It is so them. And it was so us at the time. Everything was easy, in order--not necessarily predictable, but easy and in order, and we were enjoying life and being together. We were all happy, and healthy, and looking forward to the future.
I had just finished mailing our Christmas cards when we found out we'd be adding another member to our family. I still had extra cards and pictures on the kitchen counter. I distinctly remember picking up this picture and studying it closely. I thought about how much I loved the picture and the people in it...each one of them equally...and more than I could ever have imagined.
What would next year's picture look like with another little face right in the middle?, I wondered. Would our new baby be a boy or a girl? What would the older kids think about having a new sibling? What would our new baby bring to the group (in terms of personality, interests, etc.)?
I imagined that this new little one would be the center of attention. The youngest of five, four years younger than Emmy...that meant he or she would be everyone's baby. Aren't youngest children always the ones dancing on tables or getting called into the principal's office? The performers, right? I laughed as I wondered if that's how it would be. I did the math (I was an English major, so this is quite an accomplishment for me) and realized that it would be just Chris and I at home when our new baby hit high school. Just the three of us.
Wow...I'm sure our child will love that, I thought, both parents in his or her business 24/7. On the flip side, Chris and I will both be able to attend this child's concerts or sporting events or awards banquets (instead of dividing and conquering, which is how we'll have to handle those things for everyone else), and he or she will get our undivided attention in times of celebration or struggle.
Fast forward 8 months...On a stifling July afternoon soon after Bridget was born, I was busy packing up items to take to Children's Hospital to place near her bed in the NICU. I grabbed a blanket (that I bought the day we found out we were having a girl), a sweet bunny that played "You are My Sunshine", and black and white pictures of all of us. I had the picture from our Christmas card in my hand as I walked out the door.
The drive down to the hospital was about 30 minutes, and was already wearing on me five minutes into the trip--and Chris was on a conference call. I was still trying to adjust to Bridget's diagnosis, and felt like a foreigner in my own skin. I glanced first at my still-round stomach, then down at the picture, which was still in my hand. I pulled it closer and took off my sunglasses. Thinking about it makes me teary even now. I flashed back to the day I took the picture...how happy I felt...how secure and how grateful. And how I found out just a few weeks later that we would be adding one more child to our family. I closed my eyes as I thought about everything that ran through my head when I'd tried to imagine our new baby right in the middle of the group.
The baby I saw did not have Down syndrome. The baby I saw looked like all of our other kids as babies. I saw a child, loved and wanted, in the center of the picture being clearly adored by his or her siblings. I saw a child who was one of us, who would add his or her own unique spark to the group. I saw a child who would increase the depth and width of our family, who would be loved and cherished, who would contribute in his or her own way to our family and to the world.
I thought about the beautiful little girl who was laying in a tiny hospital bed, recovering from surgery, deserving every chance for a full and happy life, and needing us. I thought about the little girl who looked just like Sara did as a baby, the little girl who was most definitely one of us, who was already deeply loved, who would increase the depth and width of our family in ways too numerous to list, who would bring much more than her own unique spark to our family and to the world.
It's perfect, I thought. She is perfect for us. I couldn't imagine a more beautiful family picture than one with her in it...
**To see a photo montage of our first two years with Bridget, go here.
***Stay tuned for Part II of this story...