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The Warrior Mother
The world was an empty place. Her heart, an abyss.
She didn’t understand how it came to be. The morning was beautiful, the sun pressing down its golden rays of hope and opportunity. There had been very few clouds, if any. Aquamarine – the color of the sky, and white – the color of innocence beamed brilliantly, dazzling the eyes of the world.
The shiny red car squealed on the pavement as they drove through the fresh spring day, she, bearing a series of painful contractions and he, trying to keep calm despite her periodic groans. In front of her, she noticed nothing but the tender swelling of her stomach and the bright vivid pastel colors of a fresh beginning. The morning passed by like a pearly mist amidst a gentle breeze – a breeze that was secretly beginning to brew into a storm.
What time was it? The bright red lines on the digital clock told her 6:56 P.M., but she didn’t believe it. It felt so much longer – a lifetime, almost. Never in her life….
No. What was done was done. There was no use dwelling on the past, as there was not use worrying about the future. All that mattered was the present. The cold, bitter present.
The thing in the blanket moved, and her heart leapt up a notch. It was…it was…Her maternal instincts told her to pick it up, but she was frightened. She was terrified to what might be looking back at her. Instead, she let the blanket continue to rise and fall, watching the creature breath with the turbulence of a rushing tsunami. Across the room, her husband stood immobile, his face unseen, his back towards her. Outside, a pallid of navy darkness formed a backdrop to the distant hills and warm mellow breezes of May. Inside, ice formed along the edges of her heart.
The thing moved again, and her pulse jumped, although more nimbly this time. Her husband did not stir.
“Robert?” – a whisper from her lips. In her mind, she could see the tiny wisps of cold air curling away, fading immediately afterwards. It felt like winter in here, she thought. It was a blatant defiant of Mother Nature – winter in the middle of spring.
“Robert?” The whisper, stronger now. She watched the silhouette carefully, searching for any movements that betrayed his thoughts – a twitch of the hand now and then. An interminable sigh that lasted forever.
The figure finally moved, startling her. Pale blue greeted brown eyes with an expression mixed between sympathy and anguish. Frost again, she thought. Nothing like the Pacific blue that they had been this morning when the rolls of pain began. Nothing like the enthusiasm that had once shone, but frost.
Winter in the middle of spring.
“Yes?” came with the whisper of an old man’s voice from a young man’s body. He looked at her questioningly, a curious glance that suddenly sent waves of warmth rolling through her body. He did care, she thought, relieved. He did see.
“We still need to name him.”
Eyes cast downward, then up again.
“Andrew,” he answered simply. She nodded once, indicating that she would accept any name that ran her way.
“Andrew,” she whispered into the blanket. Andrew. The classic name flew across her mind – a beautiful name, no doubt. Beautiful and strong, meaning a “man” or “warrior” – she knew this after countless searches on the internet for possible baby names. She even had an entire list prepared, separated first by gender, then origin, then meaning. Isabella, it was planned, for a girl. Edward, for a boy. She had briefly considered Andrew but was not sure whether or not it was special enough.
But it didn’t matter now, for her – no, their – child was special enough, all right. Almost too special.
Tentatively, her pale hand reached out to uncover the blanket. One inch. Two inches…
Trisomy 21 was what the doctor told her. Her child was born with an extra 21 chromosome – three instead of two.
And suddenly, she felt like laughing. Gelid bitterness arose in her throat, and she suddenly felt like laughing and crying, laughing and crying. An extra chromosome! That was all! There was only a tiny extra chromosome in the child’s body – a mutation that occurred during cell division. A single chromosome in a single sex cell! And yet, of the millions of possible sex cells that could get fertilized, it had to be this one. It had to be the mutant cell that was going to be born. It had to be the oddball of the group.
And with sudden unexpectedness, she laughed. It was detached and frenzied, but she laughed. A single chromosome!
The child would live, the doctor had told her afterwards. He would live, of course, and hopefully live a relatively normal life physically. But he would be slower than the other children. He would not be able to learn as fast or digest as much. He would be different.
Down syndrome, he called it. Down syndrome – a form of mental retardation that would stay with the child for the rest of his life. And all because of a single chromosome!
There was something wet in her eyes, but she ignored the strange feeling, instead, welcoming it with newfound love and compassion. Was it tears of joy or hate? Tears of anguish or happiness? Tears of bitterness or wonder? She had not cried for over six years, ever since her mother’s death. She had not shed a single drop of water, having already accepted that death was a plan of Mother Nature, an unavoidable fact. In fact, she even nearly welcomed death a few times with wide arms, a sweet and sour feeling in the pits of her stomach.
But a single chromosome!
Funny how life works, she felt like screaming. Funny, funny, funny.
And suddenly, as fast as it had approached, the laugh quelled in her, trembling slightly before screeching to an abrupt halt. Her head rang; her lips shuddered. It was as if a huge torrent of water had just come rushing down on her, wrenching her from her hysterical cry. Slapping her in the face. Because that was what the laugh was – hysterical. High-pitched. Frantic. Afraid. And from what she had heard of children with down syndrome, that is what the future would be like – chaotic and turbulent. Worry would become a constant companion, her closest and dearest friend.
Accident after accident after accident. Mental images flowed through her mind slowly, a possible forewarning of the future to come. Her child going to school on his first day. Children pointing fingers. Laughing. Teachers making ‘special’ exceptions. Watching him be excluded from others. Parents whispering. Sympathetic glances. And all the while, all the while, she’d be watching. Watching, staring, looking, wondering what went wrong. Crying, laughing, screaming, yelling, fighting for the basic human rights that seem to mysteriously disappear when an extra chromosome popped up…
No. No! That would not happen, she told herself. Robert wouldn’t allow it. She wouldn’t allow it. This creature – this child was her child. Her baby. The seed that would one day blossom into someone great.
Yes yes yes yes yes. He would be normal, she thought with a sudden spark of fierce determination. He would learn his alphabet and numbers like the other kids. He would read and add and subtract like the other kids. He would be like the other kids. True, he may be behind a bit, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t learn like the others. There would be no special exceptions, except in extreme circumstances. She would help him. She would teach him, if nobody else was fully willing. It didn’t matter.
He was her child. And if for no other reason than that, she would protect him. Walk to the ends of the earth and back. And she would learn during that journey. And he would also.
Fire inside of fire. Determination wrapped up in layers of disappointment.
Peel those layers, peel those layers. Throw them away – disappointment will only hurt, not heal.
A sudden piece of soft flesh brushed her hand, and she looked down in surprise – for she had briefly escaped reality. Andrew stared up at her, his amber eyes wide and curious, a tiny hand enclosed around her index finger. Up close she could see the tiny lines that framed his eyes, which were slightly slanted upwards. His pink lips parted and closed slightly, a small spit bubble forming in the middle. It popped, and she smiled, allowing a slight sliver of hope rejuvenate her temporarily, if only faintly.
The hope will build – she was sure of it. If it did not come naturally, she will make it come. He will have a future like the rest of the world. It may be difficult, but without difficulties, life wouldn’t be worth living. Because only after climbing out of the darkest pits in the road do you realize how truly wonderful the road actually is.
She leaned down, allowing her radiant auburn waves to mingle with his. Mother and child, mother and son. Two individuals, but one single intertwined determination.
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, we can, we can, we can, we will.
He was beautiful. Her child. Her baby.
Andrew, the Warrior – ready to conquer every battle.
And she, the Warrior’s mother.
Oh yes, she liked that idea.