From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

Out of Our Hands

When the doorbell sounded that afternoon, I answered numbly. It was the worst possible time for a repairman to come to the house. I was nearly five months pregnant, and I had never been more emotionally on edge, waiting for the phone to ring. In fact, it was the worst possible time for our alarm system to malfunction, period. Not only were our emotions on overload, we didn’t need another repair bill.

Our finances were shaky. I had morning sickness from the get-go with my pregnancy, and it became so bad I had to stop working, a loss of income we hadn’t counted on quite yet. Although that was difficult, we were too excited to complain. We’d tried for a year and a half to have a baby and had even gone through the first phase of fertility testing, with no conclusive results. The next month, though, we got the call we’d dreamed about. I was pregnant!

The first trimester had been normal, except for the debilitating morning sickness, which I knew was temporary. I looked forward to each doctor visit, relishing the fact that we were learning more and more about our child. So when the doctor asked me if I wanted to have an optional blood test that would screen for spina bifida, among other things, in the growing fetus, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

When the results came back, our doctor had called immediately. In a professional yet concerned voice, he said that the test numbers were so low they were off the charts. Instead of suggesting spina bifida, the blood count suggested Down’s syndrome.

The doctor immediately scheduled an amniocentesis. Even though my husband, Rob, and I were apprehensive, that day was also a thrill. The technician also used an ultrasound, so for the first time we got to see the baby move. It suddenly seemed all so real to me. We were really going to be parents, and the little person was a boy! Something cataclysmic couldn’t really be wrong with him—could it?

Reality set in when we were told it would take two weeks for the results to come back. We were counseled that all the waiting for results was pushing us toward the end limit for a safe pregnancy termination. However, whatever the diagnosis, we didn’t feel that was an option for us.

The wait was on. Never have I known two weeks to seem so endless. I tried to involve myself, to think about other things, but those words “off the charts” kept replaying in my mind. It didn’t help when our home’s built-in alarm system would blare for no reason when we least expected it. Rob, of course, went to work every day. I felt alone and helpless.

Finally the day arrived when we were supposed to get the answer. I’ll never forget how nervous I was, at home all morning by myself, waiting for the phone to ring. It was silent. By noon I couldn’t stand it any more. I called in, but the nurse said there were still no results.

Morning turned to afternoon. When the doorbell rang, I just about flew out of my skin. On automatic pilot, I let the repairman in, showed him the alarm system, and quickly left. Overwhelmed, my only thoughts about his arrival were a combination of, “This is gonna really cost us!” and, “Could there be any worse timing?” The faith that I’d been taught in “God’s perfect timing” was beginning to show serious signs of wear and tear.

About two hours later, the nurse called. As I recall what she said, it almost started off like a bad joke: There was good news and bad news.

The good news was that our son did not have Down’s syndrome. The bad news was that he did have two chromosomes that were joined. She explained that if either Rob or I had the same condition, our son should be okay. However, if neither of us had it, that meant there was something missing in the makeup of our baby’s genes.

“Something missing?” I tried not to screech. “Like what? What does that mean?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Horning, there is no way we can tell what’s wrong with him until he’s born. Now, the best thing is for you and your husband to come in right away for a blood test.”

“Right away? We can find out today?”

“We can do the test today. We’ll have the results in five days.”

Five days?

That’s when I lost control. I became hysterical. I don’t remember ever screaming or crying like that in all of my 34 years of life. It felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach, and I had regained my breath long enough to have it done again.

I remember calling Rob at work, still hysterical.

“Colleen, honey, listen to me. I want you to go next door to the neighbor’s house, okay? Colleen? I’ll leave as soon as I can, but I don’t want you to stay there alone.”

But his words and frantic urgings for me to get help couldn’t cut through the panic that had overtaken me. I let the phone drop into the cradle.

As I sat gasping by the phone, I realized that the repairman was still working in the front room. I couldn’t believe he had heard all of this. Deeply chagrined, I felt I had to apologize. I walked around the corner, still weeping.

He was standing in the doorway, as if he were waiting for me. Before I could say anything, he guided me to a chair. “Sit down,” he instructed. “Just sit down and catch your breath.”

The specific instructions and the gentle tone caught me off guard. As I sat and breathed, I felt myself calming down.

This stranger sat down right across from me. In a quiet voice, he told me how he and his wife had lost their first child. The baby had been born dead because they didn’t realize his wife had developed diabetes during her pregnancy.

He went on to explain how hard it was for them to accept this, but they finally had to give it up and admit it was something that was beyond their control.

He looked at me and said, “I understand how badly your heart is hurting right now. But there’s nothing you can do but have faith, and realize what’s happening with your baby is out of your control. The more you try to take it back, to try to keep control of the baby, of the tests, the worse your inability to change anything is going to tear at you.”

He took my hand and told me their second child was born a few months ago. This time there were no problems. He and his wife were blessed with a healthy little girl.

He told me he still thinks about his first child, who was a little boy, but for whatever reason, that wasn’t meant to be. He asked me to please try to keep faith about my baby, and that he felt our situation would turn out all right.

Then, as quietly as he told me his story, he got up and walked to the front door. He turned around and told me that he was finished, the alarm was fixed.

He had helped me in a way that no one else could have—what could I possibly say? All that came out was a meek thank-you.

Then I remembered I hadn’t paid him.

He smiled and said I didn’t owe him anything. All he asked was for me to keep faith.

The timing, as it turned out, was perfect.

Colleen Derrick Horning

Editor’s Note: Colleen and Rob’s son was born four months later. He weighed 9 pounds, 2½ ounces, and is the picture of health.

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