PTSD …Our Current Four Letter Word.

You are so beautiful…to me. You are so beautiful….to me. Can’t you see? You’re everything I hoped for. Everything I need. You are so beautiful to me.

What you are hearing in your mind are the lyrics to a wonder-filled song written by Houstonian Billy Preston along with Dennis Wilson, of the Beach Boys, one night at a party (seriously, check it out for yourself). The version we all know, Joe Cocker’s version, seems bittersweet, mourning even. The original, though, was created with the most upbeat, inspirational and jaunty of sounds.

youaresoblkclr

This song is Charlotte’s song.  I have sung this song to her every single day of her life. She has heard those words proclaiming her adoration since before we knew of her diagnosis.  I sang those syllables when I could barely open my eyes through the tears during the mourning of the life we imagined for her. I rock her to sleep singing it every night and she watches me, anticipating my next sounds……..And I sobbed every moment of it the night I took her back to the hosiptal for a seemingly simple “neurotypical” infant illness.

Several days ago, Charlotte spiked a fever.  She has such a calm demeanor typically that we had no reason to suspect anything was wrong.  So when the caregivers at our church shared she had cried the whole hour and wanted to come find me, I knew in my heart something was very wrong.  Afterward, at home, her fever was 102.1 and climbing. Being a Sunday, calling the pedicatrician was not an option. Tylenol, rest, fluids…  By 11pm, it reached 103 and she was breathing rapidly. And then I was scared, as any mom would be.  Nothing out of the ordinary. I felt as I should, genuine concern for my baby girl and completely unaware of the post-traumatic stress I would soon endure.

Charlotte and Ashley Markgraf

As I pulled into the parking lot of the Texas Children’s Hospital Emergency Room, things began to change in me. There was a tightness in my chest. “I’m just tired and want to get my girl home. We’ll get out of here and I’ll be fine.” Making mental checklists of what needs to happen tends to be my go-to in tough circumstances (at least until I get my head straight and remember to pray) SO…”Turn off the car ( feels like I can’t breathe), grab my purse, open door back hatch (deep breaths), take out stroller (still breathing), get diaper bag, don’t forget the formula that slid out (deeper breathes), Oh, don’t forget the baby (It’ll be ok)……” As I strolled up the under-construction entrance ramp that smelled of musty pine wood I began shaking. The conversation that transpired is hard to recall. Lots of “Please fill this out.”, “Are you giving her enough fluids?”, “How many wet diapers has she had today?”, “I don’t know.”, “I don’t know why I’m crying so much.”, “Can you hold her down?”, “I’m sorry I’m such a mess.” “………catheter…. She’ll probably cry a lot for this.”

But what I felt was major fear. Fear of what they may tell me. Fear of what they may not tell me. Fear of the emotionally disconnected staff and the stupid monitors and unwelcoming gloves. Weirdly, fear of the underlying presumptions they had of the kind of mom I am to my precious girl (probably an admittedly incorrect perception). And in between all the moments of fear I’d just hold her, singing through my tears, Joe Cocker’s version. I mourned this for her; this whole entire event and every single one that could follow simply because she is a beautiful baby who happens to have Down syndrome.  Who could possibly, but may not, have renal function issues.  Who might eventually, but probably won’t, develop Leukemia. She may have a heart defect, but we’re really just not sure yet… so off to the hospital we go with every “neurotypical” baby health issue just to be safe and expose ourselves to the very same environment that so stressed our family just a short six months ago. And we will, absolutely, willingly do so.

baby birth born care

We left several hours later, with a simple UTI diagnosis, antibiotic perscription, and a referral to follow up in two days. Totally “typical”…and the doctor never even questioned her renal function. My my mind was a swirled up mess. I had worked myself into an absolute panic and allowed our NICU experience to over take me in those moments.

PTSD was really real for me that night.  It reminded me of all the lies I’ve so intentionally protected myself, my family and, most importantly, Charlotte from for the past six months.  The lie that she’s different in a bad way.  The lie that says her body is broken.  The lie that breaks this mama’s heart to pieces to consider ever returning to place whose purpose is to give health, but unintentionally provides doubt, and anger and fear….all self-perceived.

But today, I’m choosing to believe my girl is completely healthy and perfectly made. Today I know, without a doubt in my heart, she has great purpose in this world. Today, I’m choosing to sing my girl’s song the Billy Preston way.

6 Lies I Told Myself About My Newborn’s Diagnosis

As mothers, we often carry so much guilt and lies about ourselves. There is absolutely nothing new there. It is as real as the air we breathe and yet just as easily dismissable.

We tried for so long to conceive our precious baby girl. I knew the truth about disabilities because of all my background in special education. I knew real statistics and what “typical and atypical” looked like. I knew accommodations and modifications and early intervention. But more than that I knew the love I could expect. I knew what a miracle looked like. I had personally comforted many mothers whom previously had experienced the very same thoughts and feelings. All of this came before Charlotte’s birth and yet I still found myself vulnerable to the trappings of these lies:

1. She’s was a mistake.

The Mayo Clinic defines Down Syndrome being “caused by a mistake in cell division.” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/down-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20355977). Please know that the information on the Mayo Clinic’s site is 100% clinically true and in no way intended, I’m sure, to cause pain to anyone. However, in my hurting heart, as I sent information about the diagnosis to loved ones, all I read was the word “mistake”.

The truth: Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby is a beautiful creation. If I had to compare my odds (1 out of 700) I consider myself fortunate to have drawn my baby’s lucky numbers!

2. I did something wrong.

“Was I out in the heat too long?” “I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that lunch meat.” “I was too negative.” “I was so stressed out.” “Maybe if I had exercised more…” “Maybe if I hadn’t exercised as much…” I seriously beat myself up internally in the beginning over every single detail of my pregnancy. And I NEVER led anyone on to that, which probably caused some pretty serious high blood pressure issues (but that’s another blog for another day). If I had a dime for all the time, energy, and amount of stress I spent over blaming myself for my daughter’s diagnosis…well, as Josh says, “I’d be making money in a weird way.”

The truth: There is only one thing to do. Love that beautiful baby you have been blessed with! They are perfectly created. Seriously. Think about how deep that is. Per*fect*ly. created. Not moderately. Not, “Eh, he’s ok.” Perfect.

3. People pity her, or (almost) worse, me.

When we recieved the official confirmation that Charlotte Grace did, indeed, have Down Syndrome, the first thought that popped into my mind was, “How will they treat her?” “They” meaning everyone we knew and loved. Would they love her the same? Would they be there for her the way they are for the others? How will they react when she does ____? How will they react when she doesn’t ____? Will they see me differently now too? It was the most gut-wrenching of it all. I knew I would love her. I knew Josh and Aubrie would love her. But some foreign and strange part of me wasn’t convinced they would love her.

The truth: Yes. They do, definitely, love her. They don’t always have the right words. They don’t always know just how to react, or questions to ask, or even if today is a good day for them to ask them. But they definitely, definitely do love her (and us). And that is all that matters.

4. People are avoiding us.

After the emotional roller-coaster of the birth of baby “Charlie” there was a lull, a period after the announcement of her diagnosis that felt like a lack of communication by many family members and friends. We had chosen to send out an email (which we will share in a future post). In the email we said we understood if people didn’t quite know what to say and that it was ok. Though, I had an expectation (albeit, a silent one) that people would come out of the woodwork to show us support (and many, MANY did). However, I expected every man, woman, and child to be at our doorstep and crawling through our windows to take over midnight feedings and diaper changes, and bring in a massage therapist and a maid. But that did not happen. Crazy, right!?

The truth: It took me some time to understand, but I had not thought that others may have to go through the same grieving process that I did. We are so good at manufacturing an idea of the journey our lives should take that we often don’t realize we do it for other’s lives too. When the lives of those closest to us don’t turn out how we envision, we grieve for them and sometimes that looks like silence.

5. I need to stop working.

This one was particularly difficult for me. Upon the delivery of Charlie’s diagnosis, I knew in my heart 100% I needed to quit my job. As an elementary school teacher smack-dab in the middle of a school year, I also knew in my heart 100% I needed to to return to work ASAP. Luckily, I was very fortunate to work for a school with wonderful (read: amazing), caring (read: loving), and flexible (read: generous) administration. They worked with me so I could teach two days a week and could be home with my girly to do therapy the other days. This was an ENORMOUS help and a true blessing for our family. However, I never could quite shake the burden on my heart that I needed to be with my girl ALL.THE. TIME. I wanted to be with her more than I ever felt the need to be with my older daughter (How’s that for some mom guilt?). I always thought Aubrie came out of the gates running, if you know what I’m say’n. Charlotte just “needed me more”, right?

The truth: Give yourself grace to make a decission that will have pros and cons no matter what. If you chose to go to work, find a caregiver you can trust to implement the therapy techniques with your little one. If you chose to stay home, love that baby and the workplace will be totally fine without you. Let go of the guilt either way.

6. I can’t be joyful and grieve at the same time.

Ohhhhhhh…..This lie. This lie was the biggest of all. It was by far the hardest to overcome. I still struggle with it and probably will for a very long time. It’s such a complex range of emotion. In the first group outings with friends and their kids, we would talk about Charlotte and I would immediately start crying. The only way I could articulate my emotions was to say, “Please don’t misinterprete my tears. I am joyful and I love my baby girl.” But I would always be afraid people would think we felt burdened by her. I was scared that others would never understand that we had joy, we were just grieving the life we dreamed for Charlotte. The joy we have for her is insurmountable. She was a gift to us after years of praying and we treasure her deeply. There is absolutely nothing we would change about her and that includes her having Down syndrome. BUT. We had plans for her life. We planned for her to go to this school, and take these classes. We wanted her to complete Driver’s Ed this way and in this timing. We expected her to have typical dating experiences with the great big teenage years full of girl drama and utter disdain for her parental units. We thought she would grow up and move on to college…and a career…and the All-American Dream….That was our plan.

The truth: Charlotte is our girl. And that means that she gets to have her own life story. She gets to make choices and discover her identity. She gets to find her strength and talents and gifts. She gets to determine when to put her full trust into the One who says who she is (and she will). She gets to say when, and what, and if this school or that one. She will decide her path, her purpose, and her plan.

And that’s when I remember that this plan…His plan…is so much better than the one we could have ever dreamed for her.

Angel baby

Who we are.

A name gives identity. A name gives sound to the stagnant air and purpose with intentionality. This is true since the beginning of time. We spend countless hours determining the syllables to pair together that are just right for our children, our churches, our businesses…even our pets. Names are so obviously important, and yet once the name is given, we rarely consider its impact on the world.

In our family, we hold on to the promises of our namesake. We trust the truths of our identity knowing they were given to us with much deliberateness by those who knew us before we were born when we were just a sparkle in an eye. We are Josh-Generous Leader, Arielle- Lioness of God, Aubrie-Leads with Wisdom, and Charlotte- Mighty Warrior. Lewis- Lion-Like. We are a pride, not only in our name but because we move boldly, even when it’s scary. We might take our time, but ultimately we fight the battles, earn the scars, and get back up. When a whisper in our ear says, “You cannot withstand the storm.”, we repeatedly roar back, “We are the storm.”

NO WATERMARK-2977-2

Our precious baby girl, Charlotte Grace, is already living out her name, “Mighty Warrior”. Our sweet “Lovie Dove” was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at two weeks old. Our journey so far has not always been easy. Many days of doctors and therapy. Days of grief and misunderstanding, but always days of joy. We hope the pages that follow fill you with hope. We look forward to sharing our story and experiences.

God doesn’t give the hardest battles to His toughest soldiers, He creates the toughest soldiers through life’s hardest battles. – Unknown