I can’t believe October 31st is already here. What a month it’s been. 31 straight posts to bring awareness. Awareness that Down Syndrome is a precious gift not to be mourned or tossed aside or hidden or terminated. A gift that, if we’re lucky enough to have in our lives, gives us the ability to and teaches us to celebrate everyday, to love deeper, to appreciate life on a new level we never imagined.
My hope is that, through the telling of our story and the stories of so many other families who also share with the world what a gift Down Syndrome really is, the stereotypes and stigmas society has placed on individuals with Down Syndrome will be lifted and soon disappear. We have reached our goal when a diagnosis means in the eyes of all society a wonderful blessing, an extra bonus. Because that is what it is. Yes it comes with more to worry about and a little more work, but the joy that comes with it outweighs that. My hope is that when doctors detect a marker, whether prenatally or after birth, their first words will be “What lucky parents you are!”
Unfortunately 31 days is just not enough. I have so much more to say and so many more guest posts to share. So I guess we’ll just have to flow over into November. Thank you so much for following and reading this month. If you ever know someone who is facing a prenatal diagnosis or has received a diagnosis at birth, please share the stories of Annie with them. Please offer them to reach out to my family, I’m always here to speak to anyone.
I am overwhelmed by the words that have been written by others about my daughter and my family. They continue to come and I will continue to share. Though October is over, please continue to follow our posts through November.
For now, here’s the last post for October. Post #31.
Today’s guest author is Annie’s godfather. My brother Tommy. I would consider that since we were little all of my siblings and I have been extremely close. It’s just so amazing to me that as we have grown and left home and lived farther from each other, we only seem to be constantly reaching new levels in our closeness. I have been extremely blessed by God with the family He chose for me. There isn’t a cousin, aunt, uncle, or grandparent I don’t feel close to. But my parents and my siblings are my greatest gifts.
When I found out I would be moving to Rome, an ocean away from everyone and everything I knew, my greatest comfort was knowing that my second youngest brother would be living there too for the first four months. Actually, we were dropped off together at O’hare for our separate flights to Rome just hours apart. I leaving for a new home, Tommy for a four-month semester abroad. Before I knew of my pregnancy, the two of us had BIG plans for traveling the world together while he was here living just neighborhoods away.
Before I left for Rome I sat down with each of my immediate family members to tell them the news of our pregnancy. If I could tell them in person, even though I’d be sharing the news earlier than suggested, I would. The only family member I didn’t tell was Tom. I knew he’d be in Rome and decided to save the news to share with him on his birthday in his favorite spot in the world; sitting on the Spanish Steps. I’ll never forget the look on his face when sitting next to him on the steps he handed me a drink which I had to refuse. “Come on, Coll, it’s my 21st Birthday!” “I know Tommy, and I have some special news to share with you. What do you think is the only thing that would keep me from having a drink with my brother on his 21st?” I’ll never forget any of my siblings faces when they heard the news for the first time, but Tommy, Tommy’s will be forever imprinted in my mind. I’d never seen him so ecstatic. He was beaming. If this is what he looked like on the day he found out he would be an uncle for the first time, I can only dream to be there to see his face on his wedding day or when he finds out he’ll be a father. Oh man, that will be the greatest.
The beaming and glowing diminished a little as he realized, “Wait! Do our other siblings know?” I am not sure he’ll ever forgive me for making him the last to know. But still, even that couldn’t wipe his enormous grin off his face.
After that night and a day-trip to Florence with just the two of us, plans changed. We realized quickly that me hopping all over Europe every weekend and staying in hostels and the exhaustion such travel brings would be impossible while pregnant. I was VERY sick in my first trimester and all those trips Tommy had looked forward to taking with his biggest sis would have to be taken with new friends. I could tell he was torn, on Sunday nights he would join Mike and me for Mass on campus and a home-cooked meal. I could tell he had wanted to spend more time with me, but I didn’t want to stop him from having the study-abraod experience he came to have. He traveled to 14 different cities in 16 short weeks. I loved meeting him for lunches or having him up to our home to hear all his stories. But it wasn’t what we had planned. I was supposed to be exploring all these new places with him.
Traveling together wasn’t the only plan that changed. In November, Tommy told me he had decided to stay for the spring term. I’m pretty sure he’d admit to anyone that though he loved Rome like a second home, the arrival of his first niece had more to do with this decision. There would be family here when Annie was born after all. This news and the news that my mother-in-law had booked a flight to be in Rome three days prior to Annie’s due date comforted me when Mike and I were scared to have this baby alone.
Tommy kept his last four weekends free, planned no trips, ensuring he’d be there for Annie’s birth. Annie had different plans. On Thursday March 31st, Tommy left with a group of friends for Amsterdam. On Friday April 1st, Annie was born. Tommy wanted to leave his trip early, but I wouldn’t let him. It was his last trip after all. So three days later on a Monday, Tommy arrived at the hospital to meet his new niece. My mother-in-law was on the first flight over and arrived Annie’s third day of life. I am so grateful these two made it while I was in the hospital. They were a much needed comfort and support those first worry-filled and confusing days.
In Tommy’s post, he shares some thoughts he had and feels guilty about having. Though he may have kept those thoughts to himself, I’d like to remind him of some things he said to me those first days. Tommy was my biggest rock, with only positive things to say. The first thing he said to me after a long silence of holding Annie in his arms as I watched him fall in love with her was, “On the way over to the hospital while waiting for my third bus, I saw a mother holding the hand of her daughter with Down Syndrome after what I assume was a pick-up from school. The young girl wore a backpack and the biggest smile you’d ever seen. Both of them looked happier than any other mother/child pair outside that school. It’s going to be ok.”
A few weeks later after witnessing his oldest sister fighting through her lowest low. The two of us took a break while Annie’s Nonna Beazley and Aunt Eileen entertained the baby.We headed up to the terrace to catch some sun and do some reading.
After about five minutes, Tommy put down his book and turned to me. He said “I know you’re hurting, Coll. But you’ll understand all of this soon, I promise.” Then he said something I’ll never forget, ” I always knew, not thought, knew that one of the six of us would have a child with Down Syndrome. I can’t explain it, I just always had a feeling, always felt this in my gut. I guess I knew our family was meant for it. I just always thought it would have been me.”
Looking back on what he said, I am not sure but, he could have meant two things. The first, I suspect is what he thought. That because our family is so close and strong we could “handle it.” That a baby with Down Syndrome would be so lucky to share in all our love. But I suspect my second thought is right. I don’t know why, but our family seems to be meant for the kind of love every family dreams for their children. To have sons and daughters that consider each other best friends. That would rather be together than with anyone else. It is no surprise then that a bundle of love so immense and pure as Annie would come streaming into our lives, making us realize there is even better out there than what we thought we already had.
Tommy, we love you. You are an amazing uncle and godfather. You will make an outstanding Theologian, your insight is truly an incredible gift. Thank you for always being there, always coming back to Rome, and for sharing your words.
It’s with a great amount of humility that I attempt to put into words the tremendous impact that my niece and Goddaughter, Anne Kathleen Beazley, has already had on my life. This is especially so after reading the previous posts in which other family members and friends, who are also lucky enough to have Annie in their lives, have so beautifully and heartwarmingly expressed the joy and happiness which Annie has brought into all of our lives and which Down Syndrome brings to the world as a whole.
It has only been 18 months since I first held Annie in my arms at the hospital, just days after she was born. It’s amazing to think that that occurred just 18 months ago. This is not just because those 18 months seemed to pass so quickly, but more so because it just doesn’t seem possible that all the goodness and delight that Annie has brought to us could be experienced in just 18 months. It seems like Annie has brought so much more than 18 months worth of joyfulness and exhilaration. But, I suppose this just kind of sums Annie up. Every moment you spend with her is filled to the brim with exuberance and elation. I swear that unrestricted smile of hers has the ability to shoot straight through you and completely melt your heart. It has the power to make me want to wake up before 8am during summer vacation so I can give Annie her milk. It has the force to make the entire family perfectly content to have The Muppets Movie play through for the eighth straight time just so we can see Annie dance and clap through her favorite scenes. It even has the force to get hung-over uncle Danny to change a poopy diaper, which is as a miraculous a feat as I have ever been able to imagine. Annie just seems to naturally bring out the best in everybody she comes into contact with. This thought takes me guiltily back to the first time I held Annie in that hospital room 18 months ago.
I was the only sibling who was able to be in Rome with Mike and Colleen when Annie was first born. I, like all of my siblings, have been excited to have a niece or nephew for as long as I can remember. When Colleen told me about her pregnancy seven months earlier on the Spanish Steps on the night of my twenty-first birthday I was absolutely ecstatic. It was the best gift I could have asked for. The rest of the night I was celebrating that news much more than my finally being of legal drinking age. I was just as intoxicated with the anticipation of future trips to the zoo, games in the yard, and nights spent baby-sitting as I was from the alcohol.
Seven months later though, I stood in the hospital room holding Annie in my arms completely sobered. It was no longer gleeful anticipation that pulsed through my bloodstream but fear and worry. I was scared. I was scared for Mike and Colleen and for the rest of my family but most of all I was scared for my niece whom I already loved unconditionally. I was scared that the world wouldn’t accept her. I was worried that people would mock and insult her and turn away from her. As the only aunt or uncle who was able to be with her I felt it was my duty to push those feeling aside as much as I could. As I held Annie I made a promise to her that her other aunts and uncles and I would always be there for her no matter what. We would always love her unconditionally. We would always accept her and always make room for her. As I look back to this moment I’m filled with guilt and shame. I thought at the time that I was being brave and noble, but what I was really doing was underestimating the completely and totally dynamic bundle of sheer joy that I held in my arms. Even in that moment, with her eyes still unopened to the world she was the beautiful and life-affirming presence that she is today, I just couldn’t yet detect it.
I underestimated her that day. I worried that the world wouldn’t accept her, completely oblivious to the fact that she would have absolutely no problem finding a place in the world. Annie faces none of the issues I worried about that day because when people see her smile, clap, or dance their hearts grow about twice the size. She makes her own room in people’s hearts. She makes the world that I was worried was cold and unaccepting seem naturally permeated with warmth and goodness.
I recently started a new quest in my life to become trained as an academic Theologian. Since I started school I have been incessantly reading books and attending lectures which attempt to give an answer to some of the most enigmatic human questions. Why is there something rather than nothing in the universe? What is the value of life? What is the ultimate meaning of it? How are we to live? I hope to dedicate the rest of my life to these questions and the reading list seems to have no end and no guarantee of finding any answers. Yet, when I look into Annie’s gorgeous eyes and see that absolutely enchanting smile cross her face these questions seem self-evident. Life is a gift of gratuitous love.