The birth story I would like to relate wasn’t in any particular way out of the ordinary…if you can call bringing someone into the world ordinary.  (Which you can’t). But the actual birth of my fifth baby went pretty much like clockwork the same as the others:

Mother starts trembling and shaking in pure glee when she sees those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. Mother is in elation for months and months, her heart beating practically outside of her body each time she thinks of this precious bundle that will soon be in her care. Mother finds out that she will have yet another girl (yes, very much like clockwork…we already had three of them in a row). She daydreams about the heavenly way this newborn will smell…how her tiny hand will grasp her fingers, how her breathing will sound while curled up on her shoulder. Mother gets overly anxious to meet her baby (as well as sick to death of being pregnant) and gets teary-eyed at the thought of going one more day without a newborn in her arms. Mother bawls to the doctor because she doesn’t want to be pregnant any more (she is eight months along).

The day the contractions begin is welcomed, luckily for the Mother’s sanity, weeks early. The time between contractions shortens, the trip to the hospital is made, the welcome epidural is given, and the baby arrives. Mother is in such rapture she can hardly contain herself. Even the baby’s Father is completely enamored with this fourth daughter he has given his wife (after she begged for two years). Mother’s mother, (the grandmother) who is present at the birth proclaims the baby to be perfect: ten fingers, ten toes, beautiful.

And with that, our fifth child arrived into the world, all safe and sound. Just like clockwork. All was right in the world…for about fifteen minutes. You see, what was quite extraordinary about the birth of our fifth baby was not the birth itself. What took our breath away was what happened after the birth:

The Mother and Father happily recount the birth to each other. “I am so happy,” the mother announces in a dreamy voice. “That was an astounding toupee the doctor was wearing,” recounts the Father.

It’s just about then that the Grandmother, who is watching the baby get cleaned up and checked and measured announces that the Father should probably come over and help her count the baby’s toes. She swears she must be seeing things, but for some reason she is seeing eleven toes instead of the ten she thought she counted when the baby first emerged into the world.

Sure enough, there is an extra pinky toe attached to her left foot. No one seems overly concerned, but of course, the mother and father worry.  They both happen to be natural-born-worriers, after all. Then a strange birthmark is noticed on the baby’s head.  And a couple days later another birthmark shows up on her cheek. “Hmmmm,” think the parents, with more anxiety creeping slowly into their hearts. But the doctors dismiss these peculiarities without much thought. And although the baby’s parents slowly follow suit, the foreboding feeling remains.

The baby captures the hearts of everyone in her midst…the neighbor kids because they are in awe of the spectacle of that extra toe, and the family because, well, she’s theirs, and she brings with her a spirit of love that they can’t enough of. After six months the extra toe is reluctantly removed (the family is a little attached, but they realize their daughter won’t find it so “cute” when she is a teenager). All is well except that the parents can’t help but feel the concern that’s never left their hearts. They worry about developmental milestones…because they are off. Way off.

They have been from the start…smiles took what seemed like millennia to emerge despite the mother’s award-winning efforts to coax them out.  Laughter and cooing were slow as molasses as well. And then crawling is delayed.  Walking or even pulling up on furniture is non-existent at a year…then 16 months…then nineteen. The worry grows a little more quickly. The parents have four other children, you see, and they know what falls in the realms of “normal.”

The baby qualifies for developmental therapy and countless doctors are visited, each offering their own theory. “She’s just a little slower,” concludes one. “She’ll catch up.” Another explains. “Your other children you’re comparing her to were just above average,” assures another. Still another concludes the delays could be due to a variety of different syndromes…none of which really match up. Until one day when a geneticist finds the syndrome that fits. The baby is tested for it and results come back positive.

This is where our family stood last year at this time…February to be exact. And I must say that nothing can really prepare you for a call from a doctor who has evidence that your child has a problem, even if you knew it was true before the phone started ringing. Although it is true that it was a relief of some sorts to know what was wrong, the news wasn’t good. Our baby Lucy has a syndrome called Bardet-Biedl. The characteristics of which, among other things, include kidney and heart problems, obesity and, most heart-breaking for us, blindness.

This last year has been an interesting one for our family. We have grieved in many ways. We have coped. But we have also grown more than I ever imagined…in understanding, in knowledge, in depth of appreciation for life, and most of all in love. You see, the “after-birth” story is the one of more notable drama as far as Lucy’s birth was concerned.

And I share it for three reasons:

1) With each of my other children I worried my heart out my whole pregnancy that something would be “wrong” with my baby. (I think this is universal for mothers of all types.) But once that perfect baby arrives all safe and sound after all our worry sometimes we forget to be thankful.  Thankful that we’re not lugging around oxygen supplies or dealing with continual hospitalizations. We forget to thank God every day that our children can easily learn to walk and jump and do a cartwheel.

2) I never realized that having something “wrong” with your child could eventually, in many ways, help strengthen you and your family more than you ever imagined. As I watch my older children and how they adore and look out for their little sister, as well as how they offer up sweet prayers about her every night, my heart swells up.

3) We are in the midst of fighting for this girl and her needs. Last year my mother and I wrote a book on motherhood called “A Mother’s Book of Secrets.” We are donating all the royalties to fighting blindness and hope to help the research that will enable Lucy to retain her vision. (See I Love Lucy Project or 71 Toes for more information.) Yes, we have a long road ahead of us. Even though our roller coaster ride of emotions and worries has gained a few stops at “peace” and “everything will be ok” along the road, we realize that there will be times of heartbreak over and over ahead of us. But we feel incredibly blessed to call this girl “ours” and we’re thankful she has changed our lives for the better.

From Shawni of 71 Toes.


Note from Design Mom: for the duration of my pregnancy, I’ll be posting advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. You can find them all by clicking here. I’d love to hear your story or memory or advice, feel free to submit it to