I recently re-watched Forrest Gump. It's a great movie every time I watch it, and I always find myself getting something new from it. This time, it was the scene with Forrest and his Mom seeing doctors and professionals, who end up telling her, "Your boy's... different, Mrs. Gump". For those who haven't watched the movie, Forrest has issues with his spine, which lead to him wearing leg braces. He also has an IQ a little under average. Forrest's Mom is a champion for him, telling him that he is just like everybody else, he can do anything he wants to do, and he is beautiful. I want to be a Mom like that. I want to see my kids break through whatever could be their barriers, and "run like the wind blows".
When I went for my 20 week ultrasound the last time I was pregnant, I heard echoes of those professionals declaring that boy as 'different'. Only this time it was my baby they were looking at. The ultrasound took forever, with the tech repeating the same checks over and over. No alarms went up for me, until they let my husband in after an hour to join me. He asked what the heck was taking so long, and then proceeded to peek at the screen and make his guess of the gender, which we planned to keep a surprise this time. Finally the tech came back, did some more poking at my super-full bladder, and said "Okay, all done". We said, "Is anything wrong?", since it was clear there was something amiss, and she said, "Well, nothing major."
So, we left, went out for dinner, and got on with our lives for a couple of days, thinking our little boy was just fine and dandy in my belly. "Nothing major," means nothing to worry about, right?
Then later that week the midwife called me at work. That's not normal.
"Katrina, we got the results from your ultrasound. Where are you? Can we talk?"
"I'm at work but I'm on my lunch break. What's up?"
She said, so softly and gently, "It looks as if your baby is missing part of its right arm, and there seem to be only two or three digits on the hand."
She said, "You didn't do anything wrong." And I broke. Lisa, bless her midwife's heart, said more supportive and soft things that I can't recall, because I was trying to hold it together. When i got off the phone, I managed to tell a coworker some of what was going on, and left for the day to find my husband and tell him about our baby. Our baby who was different.
We cried. We tried to tell each other it would be okay. We cried. We called our families. My brother made a joke about how my baby boy would probably still be great at baseball. We cried. We called Lisa the midwife again, who said more supportive and kind things, and then asked if we wanted to know the gender of our little baby. Eric nodded with his eyes, and I said "Yes".
"You have a little girl." And we cried. Our little girl. Our little girl who would be different.
Everywhere I went I saw babies. Babies with two full arms. Ten fingers. All of the bones and muscles and tendons and things that babies "should" have, that my baby didn't have. I know that Lisa had told me I didn't do anything wrong, but it's so hard not to go down that road, to wonder whether it was because they'd sprayed the city for moths when I was in the first trimester, or because my thyroid was wacky, or did my body just mess up somewhere along the way? I kept trying to believe Lisa's words, and was relieved when they were echoed by others.
We went to a specialists' appointment at BC Children's hospital, and met a bunch of different types of doctors. They asked me a lot of questions, and said that this seemed to be one of those things that "just happen". They gave us options about how to proceed, including the option of discontinuing the pregnancy. I was already in love with this baby, and had spent 23 weeks growing it. I wasn't about to say, "Sorry, you're not good enough," and give up on her because she had a difference. I borrowed the sheet of paper from the doctor and crossed that option off the list. We chose to see the plastic surgeon and the orthopaedic surgeon after she was born, to see if there would be anything they could do.
For the rest of my pregnancy, we struggled. There were times when we held each other up, and thought that we were through the grief, but then it would come back and we'd have to just hold each other through it again.
And then Lily was born. She was born in our bed, with just us, our midwives, and my Mom in the room. We saw her squishy little face, and laughed because it looked just like Eric's mom's face, right down to the chin dimple. We saw her round little belly, her long kicking legs, her ten tiny toes, her mess of dark hair. We saw her arms; one just like any baby's arm, and the other her very own version. We celebrated that she had a thumb, and that her two fingers had all of their bones. She laid there on my chest, and looked around. She was perfect.
Now Lily is 2 years old. We recently enrolled her in CHAMPS, a War Amps program for kids with limb differences, so that she can meet other kids like her and we can get to know other parents who are on a journey similar to ours. Every day I tell her that she is beautiful, she is strong, she can do it. More importantly than that, every day she shows me that she is resilient. She will try until she can do it. She will sing her way through any troubles. She has a difference, but she will not be defined as "different". And I am grateful.