My story could be your story. Robert could be your son or daughter. Our life for the past 31 years could be your life, whether your child is 15 or 40.
A very normal, healthy and easy pregnancy. My little angel fluttered about in my tummy with barely a ripple, while my friends complained about their babies' vigorous kicking movements and how uncomfortable they were. Only once did I feel that something could be wrong. One day, out of the blue, I asked my doctor what my chances were of having a baby with Down syndrome. His reply, "Janette, you're too young, so don't worry."
December 3rd finally arrived and we barely made it to the hospital in a blazing snow storm. Back then, husbands were not allowed to sit in on the birth, so while Elias completed the paperword, I lay there, alone, in that cold, sterile environment. Little did I know that shortly our world would be turned upside down.
Looking up about an hour later, I thought to myself, "This sure isn't like in the movies. Isn't the doctor supposed to slap my newborn baby's bottom? Isn't he supposed to tell me I had a healthy boy or girl and why did I have to ask? Isn't the nurse supposed to tell me what a beautiful baby he was as she laid him on my chest? Isn't my baby supposed to cry? And, when he did, why did he sound like a little kitten? Why was there dead silence in the room? Why was everyone looking at each other? Why were their eyes so sad?" So many whys.
The words from the doctor's mouth could have been lifted from Page 1 of the universal book, titled "Special Needs Births and How to Deliver the Worst Case Scenario"..."Your child will be profoundly retarded; we suggest you put him away, forget about him, and have another baby."
There it was...the "Down syndrome death sentence"! Those very words ripped the joy and happiness from our hearts, leaving us with such sadness, grief and overwhelming guilt. What did we do to this innocent baby? How was he to survive in the world? How would others treat him? How could that doctor know, at two days, that our baby would be profoundly retarded? Does this mean he won't walk or talk or do much? How did he know our baby's potential? IF only we knew then what we know now.
"God gave you Robert because He knew you could take care of him." Those words, uttered by my brother, Jim, literally shocked us to our senses. This young boy's wise words forced us into the realization that no matter what, we still had this little baby who was so dependant on us. Yes, it was time to end the pity party and get to work on being parents to this helpless infant whose future lay in our hands.
[For more information on "Down Syndrome Diagnosis - The First Few Days After the Diagnosis", go to About.com: Down syndrome.]
Photo: Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley presents Robert Pio Hajjar with an Unsung Hero Award during a ceremony at Variety Village, Scarborough, Ontario on December 3, 2009. It was the International Day of People with Disabilities, as well as Robert's 32nd birthday!