In October our church concentrates on Respect Life issues. It is also a month designated to Down syndrome awareness. I wanted to share story with you about a lovely couple who became a mommy and daddy recently. Their tale encapsulates both themes for this month beautifully.
Dealing with infertility
Stephanie and Joe Palewicz of Vadnais Heights tried for four years to conceive a child. Stephanie said, “Ask anyone that has had trouble getting pregnant and they will tell you how stressful it can be. There were times that I thought I would never get to be a mom. There were also times I thought if one more person tells me, ‘once you stop worrying about it, it will happen’ I was going to scream. I know they meant well, but I’m confident that I speak for pretty much everyone dealing with infertility in recommending that people not say that.”
Which is good advice for us all.
On October 20 Stephanie wrote: “5 years ago I married my amazing husband Joe Palewicz. Today, exactly 5 years later, our lives have forever changed as we welcomed our baby girl into our world. Fiona Grace Palewicz, 7lbs, 7oz, born just after 7 this morning. I am the mommy to the most beautiful, sweet baby girl in this entire world. She is strong and she is a fighter. Fight Baby Fiona, fight. You are amazing!”
Why does this newborn have to fight?
Little Miss Fiona Grace has Down syndrome with a congenital heart defect plus some unexpected complications.
A prenatal diagnosis
When Stephanie was 18 weeks into her pregnancy she went through routine testing. The results for Trisomy 21 came back with a probability of 1:10. “I remember that exact moment, feeling like my heart had just hit the floor 1,000 feet down. The doctor explained that means that 90% of the time everything is fine and that sometimes these tests give false positives. We just needed to do a Level 2 ultrasound. No big deal. Oh, and genetic counseling (whatever the hell that is, I thought).” After their level 2 ultrasound the doctor told them that their baby had a heart defect.
Stephanie recalls in her blog called Life Unexpected, Love Unimaginable:
“I know she said other words following those, but they are blurry in my mind. I remember feeling the instant tears burning in my eyes as I thought of my poor little baby girl. She talked about the defect, that the middle part of her heart didn’t form, she called it an AV Canal defect. She talked about the baby needing surgery after birth. I cried harder. My poor little baby girl on an operating table?… I thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then she told me that this defect was one that was very common in children with Down syndrome. My heart had now dropped so low, it was digging itself a hole in the floor. I asked how this defect increased my chances, she said significantly.”
Stephanie explains very honestly:
“She said they wouldn’t terminate the pregnancy without an amniocentesis. Holy crap, ‘Terminate’? How did we just go there??? Okay, rewind. No way! I tried to clear my mind and breathe. When I received Fiona’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome, I was hardly halfway through my pregnancy. I remember when the doctor used the word ‘termination’ with us at that time and I remember how the thought of it took my breath away. Fortunately for us, although it was spoken of, we were never pressured to terminate and were offered a lot of positive and hopeful information immediately from our doctors and genetic counselor.”
Lifesite News stated that last year a Time magazine article reported statistics pulled from a 2009 edition of the Archives of Disease in Childhood. As a result of more sophisticated prenatal screening, and with nine out of ten babies aborted following the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, the birth rate for these children has been dropping for decades, decreasing by 15% between 1989 and 2005.
The Palewiczs’ friend and real estate agent, Angela Hames, told me, “They never thought twice about choices, and were shocked at other people’s assumption that they would have done anything differently.”
Feeling hopeful again
less than 3 weeks after the adverse diagnosis the Palewiczs were feeling anticipation again. Stephanie stated, “Thinking positive about our future and letting go of hopeless feelings helps. We are more energized about this pregnancy and our family’s future.”
Something that helped them climb out of despair and uncertainty is that they learned more about having a child with Down syndrome. They did this by connecting with a lot of new people through friends, parent support groups, online forums and communities. These people enriched their lives and brought great comfort and hope for the future.
Baby showers with friends and family helped the expectant couple to share in their joy. Notes of encouragement helped them to sustain that anticipation. Here is a lovely Face Book post from Stephanie’s father:
A Dream Come True, A Second Time
Words cannot describe the emotions I’m experiencing right now. I remember how overwhelmed and thrilled Mom and I were when we welcomed you, our only daughter, into our lives. Now it’s your turn to have a dream come true, to experience the overwhelming joy of Fiona’s birth and to share that joy with Joe, and with family and friends. You can be sure that our first granddaughter will be cherished, and of course spoiled, just like her cousins, Jake, Josh, Joseph. That IS a grandparent’s primary function. Love you and hope the final part of you journey is bearable.
Baby Fiona’s first days have been rough…that’s why she’s fighting
The new mother wrote: “Fiona is truly a gift from God and a gift that was meant especially for us. On her 2nd day of life, she became very ill with necrotizing enterocolitis and a blood infection. On her 4th day of life, she had emergency surgery to repair 2 bowel perforations, but instead she had 4 sections of bowel removed and now has 4 ostomies. We are currently in the NICU at Children’s Hospital Minneapolis. When I watch this happen, I am in terrible physical pain myself. I feel so horrible for her. I wish I could take her pain away and give it to me.”
Father O’Gara from Assumption Church in St. Paul came to the hospital to perform Fiona Grace’s baptism. As I wrote this story at noon on October 30, the wee child was recovering from surgery to place a central line. It went well! I would like to echo what her mother said on the day she was born: “Fight Baby Fiona, fight! You are amazing!” (Please pray for the family.)
(Some suggested websites: