OCTOBER 2009

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Seeing Anton
By Karen Sosnoski, Aug 18, 2009

“Is this my brother?” my daughter asked post-delivery. She eyed my still big belly—“Is he out of you?”—then turned to the baby, shook his little fist. “Oh, Anton!” The things you’re supposed to say to an infant. “I love you!” The things I hadn’t said.

Stiffly, I cradled my newborn, but all I wanted was to bury my nose in my firstborn’s perfect neck. Forester’s birth two years ago had been the happiest day of my thirty-seven years, a confirmation of still casual fruitfulness.

“He’s a blessing,” one nurse murmured after we got the news, but her eyes snagged on that telltale foot crease, the ubiquitous signal of Down syndrome for which I wasn’t thanking God.

Anton was gone for tests—minutes stretched to hours—when we received the diagnosis. Later, at the support group, parents would reminisce about the sickening hush that descends when hospital staff knows before you do. Anton’s pediatrician broke the news.

“But he’s so beautiful,” my husband, Fred, cried out, not ready to give Anton over to the label. “Bring him back. Now. I haven’t even photographed him.” Then he doubled over, this father faint with desire to see his cherished boy as simply that.

Before anyone noticed, Anton’s ears were Fred’s, his eyes mine.

Two days later we were told by a pediatrician that measuring over 3 cm., Anton’s ears, at least, were normal. A blood test confirmed “of 30 metaphases, 15 were normal; 15 trisomy 21.” “Mosaic Down syndrome” they called it. A rare form. “Half Breed” I hummed—then caught myself.

Reviewing clinical signs, our OB agreed Anton probably had DS. Offering consolation: “Maybe he’ll be like who’s that guy? Corky?” The night before he’d told us we “make good ones.” (Then, I’d still had a pregnant woman’s crush on him.) At my six-week checkup, this OB would say nothing about Anton who was right there—decked out, scented—dreaming gently in his car seat at our feet. (For some reason I felt invisible.)

“Can strangers tell?” I’d ask Fred that first month. One minute I’d see Anton’s eyes as lakes, his lips as rosebuds; the next my vision blurred and I saw the geneticist’s version: Epicanthal folds. Hypotonia.” I sought escape in daydreams:

I get an IUD as the OB now recommends, but, somehow, I get pregnant. “Perhaps you put it in wrong, Doctor? Don’t worry, I won’t sue.” I can afford to be magnanimous. The jacket of my novel says it all...how my youngest, genius twin sons; Forester; Fred and me (finally skinny AND critically acclaimed) have taken up extreme sports, international travel and, meanwhile, Anton....

I learned to love my second (and last) baby breastfeeding him in the dark.

In the past, communities broke parents of children with Down syndrome. Ours built us up. Friend Ana bought The Parents’ Guide to Raising a Child with Down syndrome for herself. Others made dinners, booties, time. “Maybe he’ll grow wings and fly away?” suggested Forester when she began to suspect the opposite. Everyone laughed. Meanwhile, grandparents held Anton proudly. For weeks I walked around with a heart as vulnerable as my baby’s soft spot. No one crushed it.

Loved ones brought me into the light, so I could see that Sunday when my eight-week old first smiled—waves of recognition as he gazed into my eyes.

“Oh, Anton,” I mumbled, thinking of my forty years, my extra pounds, my lack of courage. “You get what you get.” Anton continued smiling, mouth stretched wide, body wriggling delightedly as if he saw not a weary woman, her pregnancy “complicated by advanced maternal age” but someone beautiful. Someone blessed.

Oh, Anton, my precious boy. So many ways I could have missed you.

Karen Sosnoski’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Identity Theory, The Chaffey Review, Camroc Press Review, Yellow Mama, The LA Times, Poets and Writers, The Washington City Paper, and Bitch, among others. She has written radio stories for This American Life and Studio 360 and her award-winning film Wedding Advice: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace is distributed by Berkeley Media. She is writing a book of narrative nonfiction, When Birdboy Calls, about the psycho-spiritual connection between brain cancer patient David Welch and artist Rosemary Covey. She lives in Alexandria, VA, with her supportive husband, fierce daughter, and charming son.

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