Saturday, February 6, 2010

Welcome to Holland...Gerber-style.

This is a wonderful essay written by Emily Perl Kingsley. It was shared with Ryan and I by one of the many doctors we saw in the weeks after having Cameran. I am so grateful to be able to look back and see the outpouring of love and compassion we encountered from family, friends, colleagues, and doctors.

The essay is called Welcome to Holland

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability-to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this...

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip--to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas of Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around...and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills...and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy...and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away...because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But...if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things...about Holland.

Here are a few glimpses of my short time in Italy before being rushed to Holland...

In fact, my trip to Italy lasted all of two days. That's right. Two days. And on the morning of the third day, alone in my maternity room with my new most precious gift, my course was altered with a few words from the attending pediatrician. A question. First, the good news. "Your daughters jaundice is improving." Then, "You may want to sit down." And I sat. "Has anyone suggested to you that your daughter has some mild characteristics consistent with Down syndrome?" Good one doc. Way to wait until a brand new mother is alone, on no more than two hours sleep, still recovering from the side effects of morphine from the emergency c-section. "No," I say, trying to keep my voice steady as I clutched Cameran Leah Gerber, my perfect little miracle baby, close to me. And he told me that he wanted to run some blood tests, and they wouldn't be available for two weeks. He left, with Cameran, to test her blood and change my Italy to Holland.

I cried, sobbing, and convulsing, trying to figure out who to call or what to do. Ryan, my husband, was at work that day, and my parents were coming in the afternoon. I called Ryan. At work. And after telling him that our perfect precious gift might have Down syndrome, he told me everything would be okay and he would be there as soon as he could. But for the rest of the day, people congratulating him just wasn't the same. It was supposed to be his proud papa day in the sun, and my phone call altered everything. I just couldn't even KNOW the possibility that our Cameran, the child we worked so hard to conceive, might have DS on my own. Someone else had to know with me.

While I waited for Ryan to arrice I cried. And I questioned. Why God?? Why, after trying for over a year, and seeking out fertility options, even taking out a loan to undergo IVF, would you let this happen? See, the irony is that we were so excited to get pregnant on our own, that we decided not to undergo any prenatal testing. It wouldn't have changed anything. We would never have an abortion, and would love whatever little being God gave us, right?? Never, ever EVER in a million years thinking that a 27 year old mommy to be and a 29 year old father to be would have a baby with a genetic condition. WRONG. I no longer wanted visitors. I was exhausted. Trying to be cheerful and happy, knowing what I knew what exhausting. Reveling in whether or not to tell visitors the looming possibility was exhausting. I was exhausted. And yet I survived.

And so, yes, Cameran Leah Gerber entered the world on March 21, 2009, weighing in at 5 lbs 15 oz and 19 1/2 inches. And she was perfect--is perfect--for us. I couldn't say that for the first two weeks after having her. Her DS was ALL I thought about. But I also thought about how everyone said that WE were chosen to be her parents for a reason. What could be more perfect? A teacher and a counselor. And they were right. She is even more special than I could ever have imagined.
Am I a perfect mom? Heck no.
Did I think horrible thoughts such as hoping the doctors had performed a switcheroo in the nursery and that my perfectly typical baby would be brought to me soon? Yes.
Do I still have "Why us?" moments. Yes.
Do I get jealous when I see friends and family with their "typical" babies, developing normally, being able to look at normal growth and developmental charts knowing their children are meeting or exceeding the expectations. Yes.
But then I hear Cameran's coo, or smell her breath, or breath in her scent, and remember that I wouldn't trade her for the world's most perfect baby. She is our lil Peanut. Our lil Peanut Butter. She is our Holland. And we are going to learn and explore all we can about her and cherish each moment doing so.


  1. Jen, Ryan and Cami,
    Love it and love you all! She is perfect and I am amazed at the strength that you and Ryan have. I thank God that He placed her in your arms, knowing just how much you would be able to provide for her and just how much you would cherish her. We love our "niece" and wouldn't change a thing! Love you guys!!!!

  2. Thanks for sharing. We all have a birth story and we should all share them. I was only 25 when Kristen was born and had some of the same thoughts as you. Cameran is beautiful.

  3. Although we didn't find out at birth I understand you're feelings! We were 29 and 36 when we had our monkey with a genetic syndrome. He's meant for our family! After we endured IVF treatments to have our family, we had him by miracle. He was our bonus baby! I am a special education teacher and my husband is an engineer. You make beautiful babies and Cameran is a doll!


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