[Mother’s Day] Gifted with an angel

Michelle Ressa-Aventajado

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Michelle Ressa-Aventajado shares her experiences having a child with Down Syndrome

MOMMY AND HER GELLIBEAN. Michelle could never be happier to have Evangelina in her life. 

In celebration of Mother’s Day on May 13, we are sharing stories from mothers, on mothers, and about mother figures in our lives. Readers have sent in their stories; please continue to send us more. Let us build a community of RAPPLER moms.

To start off Mother’s Day month, we have a story of discovery and love by Michelle Ressa-Aventajado.

MANILA, Philippines – My fourth pregnancy was beautiful. I relished each little flutter and every big kick of the miracle growing inside me.

I looked forward to the time when I would hold my daughter in my loving arms. My daughter Gia would finally have the sister she had been waiting for. My boys, eager to love their new baby girl, had even searched on YouTube how to change a diaper, so they would be ready when she came home. My husband Nino looked forward to having that baby smell in the house again, and I was excited to welcome her home to the nursery that we had tenderly prepared.

Labor and delivery went as expected. I was breathing my way through it all, invoking the peace that I knew I would need to deliver our baby girl into this world. However, we were alarmed when my daughter was born blue! I had never had a baby born in distress. The neonatologist was present, because we were told our daughter could have duodenal atresia. She calmly told me to give the baby time to “pinken up” and put my daughter on my chest to encourage skin-to-skin contact. I noticed the slight slant in her eyes, and I whispered to my nurse, “There is something wrong with her eyes.” My mother-in-law heard me and said, “She has Diego’s eyes.” I repeated those words over and over again in my head, wanting so badly for her eyes to be like Diego’s.

When Nino called Diego to let him hear his baby sister cry, I remember telling him, “Lola thinks she has your eyes!” I had hoped that if I said it enough and really believed it in my heart, my fears would not be true. The baby was whisked away after she had turned pink enough to leave.

Blame game

After some time, my husband was called out of our room. If my legs had worked, I would have gotten up and run out after him. But I lay helpless in my bed because of the epidural, unable to hear or see what was going on beyond the four walls of my room. After a few minutes, Nino came back in with a strange look on his face, with the neonatologist close behind. My husband held my hand and stroked my hair when the doctor said that she had “concerns.” It seemed cruel, because it felt like she was speaking in slow motion. She told me that she observed some “markers for Down Syndrome.”

I started to sob saying, “I saw it in her eyes.” Anything else she said after those four words was lost on me. I felt like I was drowning. My legs couldn’t move, but I felt like I was thrashing. I sank into my bed and cried, and moaned from the pain of those four words. I was struggling to breathe. My heart hurt. My head hurt. I began to question all that I had done to deserve a baby with special needs. I took my vitamins. I ate healthy.

I knew Down Syndrome started with an extra chromosome, but I still went through the motions of trying to figure out what I did wrong during my pregnancy. I am an educated woman, a teacher in fact. I understood special needs and the causes of Trisomy 21, but all of the feelings of guilt and blame completely undermined my education during those first few moments. Was God punishing me? What had I done wrong to deserve such a sentence? I was inconsolable.

Nino tried to comfort me. My father-in-law said it was “God’s plan.” I didn’t want His plan. I had a plan and it didn’t include this. My mother-in-law threw herself on the sofa and cried with me. Nino kept hugging me. He didn’t falter. He told me we would be all right, that she was ours and that she was beautiful, that God meant for us to have her. He hugged me while I was drowning in an ocean of guilt, of blame, of fear and sadness, and he continued to hug me as I gasped for air.

TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. Baby Evangelina's name means "God's gift." And she is. Photo by Beth Frondoso.

Sibling revelry

When I pulled myself together, I asked Nino to call the doctor back in, because when I was lost in my sorrow and disappointment, she left the room. I grabbed my best friend’s hand, looked into his eyes, and told him that I was ready. Moments later, the doctor came back to tell us that x-rays confirmed the blockage in my daughter’s small intestine and that she needed surgery. Before we could do any of this, we needed to assess her heart. If her heart was strong enough for her to sur- vive surgery, then we would move forward.

My kids were on the way to the hospital. I told Nino they shouldn’t come. He told me to try to pull myself together and that they would love the baby no matter what. Since I couldn’t move yet, Nino took them down and took pictures of each of our children with their brand new baby sister. They were all grinning from ear to ear at the reality of having someone new to love. When they came back to the room, I asked each of them what they thought of her. Gia said, “She’s so tiny, Mom!” Miguel said, “She’s cute as a button.” Diego said, “She’s beautiful. When can we take her home, Mom?” My children didn’t see anything wrong with her. Why did I?

Their reactions, so pure and full of love, opened my eyes to the gift I had been given. I went back in time, to a yoga retreat I had attended when I was going through parenting challenges with my son Miguel. My teacher said we are always in learning situations. Sometimes we are the teacher; sometimes the student. And I thought, my kids just schooled me! They just taught me a whole heck of a lot in those first few moments. My baby just showed me how wonderful my three big kids were! She made me value them in all of their average abilities, in all of their typical features. At that moment, I fell in love with each of my three big kids again.

Ready to be Mom again

Later that day, after the anesthesia had worn off, I asked Nino if he would take me down to the NICU so that I could hold our daughter. I knew that if I held her, if I stroked her light hair, and smelled her baby breath, I would be able to love her more. I was still processing everything that had just happened and how my life would forever be changed. I knew the time had come for me to hold my daughter, the way only mothers can.

When I held her for the second time, knowing her needs were going to be different from my three “typical” kids, my sadness turned to fear. What if there were complications? What if there were problems with her heart that would prevent the surgery? What if she didn’t make it? Nino reminded me that we needed to take it one step at a time.

Early the next day, our daughter was cleared for surgery. It was at that time Nino and I decided to have her baptized. The realities of a newborn not even 24 hours old going into surgery were too much to bear. I begged God to forgive me for not immediately accepting my daughter. Nino and I decided to name her Evangelina, which means “God’s gift.”

We called our immediate family to come as soon as they could, so that our daughter would be baptized with as much love around her as possible. My sister, my parents and Nino’s brother and his wife were there as we sent our baby into the operating room. All the nurses and doctors on duty were there to stand with our family. We were all filled with hope as the priest blessed our daughter and welcomed her into our faith before she was sent to fight for her life.

The deal with God

It was at that moment that I bargained with my God. I told him I was sorry. I told Him that I didn’t really mean that I wasn’t accepting His plan for me. I was just in shock! “Please forgive me,” I asked Him out loud. I begged Him to let me love my daughter after all this was over. I promised I would not let one tear of sadness touch her as I rocked her to sleep or nursed her from my breast. I just wanted the chance to watch her grow. I sat in my wheelchair and cried. I begged Him not to take her from me before I even had the chance to love her.

Two hours later, the surgeon delivered the best news. I loved that he was so jovial. He even chuckled when he explained it was only a partial blockage. “She should heal within the week.” he said. She could have food intake in seven to nine days, God willing. All was right in my world. God had heard my prayers. It didn’t matter anymore that she had Down Syndrome. It just mattered that I was given the chance to love my little miracle.

CUTE AS A BUTTON. Michelle's 'Gellibean' stares lovingly into the eyes of a tita. Photo by Beth Frondoso.

In those first few days after I gave birth to my beautiful Gellibean, there was no way I could’ve known how much my life would be enriched as her mother. As parents, we commit to raise our children, send them to school, guide them in their faith, teach them to make wise decisions, and lead healthy lives.

But no one tells you just how much you will learn in parenting. No one tells you what an amazing journey it can be if you watch closely, listen carefully and enjoy the little things with your children as they grow.

If you’re really lucky, you just might be able to grow with them. – Rappler.com


(Re-published with permission from Metro Working Mom magazine. This piece first appeared in its February, 2012 issue.  Celebrate Mother’s Day month with us! Share with us your mommy story and photos. Email us with subject heading WORLD’S BEST MOM at desk@rappler.com.)

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