If only I could go back to that hospital room, the Gardenia Suite I believe it was called. Where two brand new parents heard the words Down Syndrome for the first time, at least as it pertained to their child. To a time so full of despair and disappointment that no one knew what to say. To a day that was supposed to be reserved for excitement and joy. What would I tell THAT me? I would say, “Just wait. One day soon, you will be surrounded with so much love and joy and promise for the future that those words won’t even sting. You won’t wish that anything was different, not one single thing or chromosome.”
That day was Sunday.
We baptized Lila McCarly Milburn at Grace Episcopal Church on April 15th at 10:45 am. At Grace, the baptisms are held in the middle of the regular service. And everyone who wants to be a part of the ceremony gets up and gathers around the baptismal font. This is what they could see.
But the amazing part is what I saw. Every time I looked up from this happy baby I held in my arms, I saw another person in the crowd who loves her. Family, friends, co-workers. You name it, they were all there smiling over Lila, many with tears in their eyes. She wore a dress made just for her by a great family friend and the bonnet her Daddy wore when he was baptized in this same church. She had three godparents standing behind her who will always love her. She had four grandparents who are literally ready to fight each other for a chance to hold her. She had two parents who think she hung the moon. And we have her.
The day before the baptism, Susan Butler, the Reverend who performed the ceremony, asked us to come to the church and talk about the meaning of the service. She told us about her colicky baby who slept through the night for the first time after he was baptized. Then, she asked us what this milestone meant to us as new parents. And I told her about this overwhelming feeling that had made its way into my life. It started the Sunday before, as we sat in church with Lila for the first time on Easter Sunday.
It was gratefulness. Gratefulness for this little girl who came into our lives and taught us how to love. For a baby who forgave us for crying the first day we met her. For Lila.
So to me, this baptism was a turning point. It was a moment where I can start letting go of my fear for the future and just be thankful for my baby and all she brings to my life, Down Syndrome or not.
And as I looked into the faces of all the people straining to see Holy Water poured over Lila’s head, I knew they were grateful for her, too. I knew they saw in her, what I do, pure joy and strength and awesomeness. Pure Lila.
And after the service was over, we came back to our house and celebrated our girl, with burgers, bluegrass, and flowers and pom poms you hang from the ceiling.
Lila’s cousins sang her a song, with 50 of our closest family and friends gathered ’round.
Their words… “Girl, you’re amazing, just the way you are.”
So, if I could travel back in time and tell my post-childbirth, hormonal, weepy self what the next four months of my life were going to be like, I would tell her that they include some of the lowest lows. But more often than not, you are on the other side. Your heart won’t break. In fact, it will grow. It will be amazing.