As a mother, nothing can quite prepare you for the first time you lay eyes on your child.
The weeks and months leading up to their grand arrival are filled with nervous anticipation and eager excitement. We try to imagine what life would be like once our little bundle of joy arrives.
Will she act like me? Will he sound like his dad? How will it feel to hold her in my arms?
Every discomfort and every pain somehow magically fades away as you finally meet the little person who dictated your sleeping and eating patterns.
For some moms like Kerlene McCall-Woods, that moment can take an unexpected turn.
Living in Trinidad and Tobago, Kerlene’s journey in motherhood hasn’t always been paradise. Within hours of giving birth to her first child, Kerlene and her husband received a life changing diagnosis.
I recently asked Kerlene to share her motherhood journey because it is a reality for many moms around the globe.
While heartbreaking, her story isn’t filled with self-pity.
Her faith could have understandably wavered but through it all Kerlene and her family are determined to make the most out of the path God has chosen for them.
This is Kerlene McCall-Woods. And This Is Her Journey.
THIS IS HER JOURNEY: Tell us about the moment you found out you were pregnant, what was that feeling like?
KERLENE: I can’t remember my initial reaction. Overall, I felt both nervous and overjoyed. My husband and I were only married for five months at the time so it was an unexpected and unplanned blessing. Undeniably there was a lot to adjust to, being a newlywed and now being a mother.
THIS IS HER JOURNEY: How did you find out your child would have Down syndrome and how did life change after that diagnosis?
KERLENE: Sadly there was no testing available during my pregnancy to let me know my daughter Gabrielle would have Down syndrome. My husband and I went through the entire 9 months hearing everything was normal.
It wasn’t until the morning after I gave birth when we found out her diagnosis. I remember looking at my husband in utter disbelief as the doctor told us Gabrielle had Down Syndrome, specifically trisomy 21.
(There are three types of Down syndrome: Trisomy 21, Translocation Down syndrome and Mosaic Down syndrome. About 95% of people with Down syndrome have Trisomy 21.)
In shock, I listened as they listed all the physical and mental disabilities she may have.
I went through a wide range of emotions – worry, fear, anxiety – thinking about Gabby’s future. I even struggled with guilt, thinking somehow I gave my family an “unnecessary” burden.
Thank God for the support of my husband; he was definitely the strong one!
THIS IS HER JOURNEY: Was there ever a time when you questioned God?
KERLENE: Scientifically speaking, this wasn’t suppose to happen to me – it was my first pregnancy, I never had a miscarriage, I was young and I was healthy.
I didn’t understand what I did wrong and kept asking God, why me.
How was I going to explain to my baby why she wouldn’t be able to do certain things?
I asked God repeatedly how I would balance serving in ministry and caring for a child that would need my constant attention.
So yes, absolutely, there were countless tears and like a million questions!
THIS IS HER JOURNEY: What would you like people to know about Down syndrome?
KERLENE: Having a child with Down syndrome could happen to anybody. No mother or family should feel guilty or responsible for having a child with Down syndrome.
Children with Down syndrome are the most loving gifts from God. Around my house we like to say the extra chromosome makes them extra special.
It’s remarkable how much you learn by being a parent to a child with Down syndrome. Like how with God’s help you can overcome any limitation and how to focus on what truly matters in life.
I can go on and on about my little angel.
Her big heart. Her sassy personality. Her confident and daring spirit.
She is so much more than her diagnosis.
THIS IS HER JOURNEY: What encouragement would you give to a mom whose child has Down syndrome or a child with special needs?
KERLENE: Every child is a blessing and will teach you new lessons every day, but only if you let them. Through your parenting journey, you’ll gain patience beyond measure and discover a love you never dreamed of.
You can rise to the challenge of being a mom to a child with special needs.
Equip yourself by learning more about your child’s disability but make sure the information you receive is both accurate and balance. Don’t just research the hardships. Find the positives about your child’s diagnosis.
I’ll also encourage parents to celebrate every achievement and milestone, whether big or small. And most importantly, remember God has the final say over your child’s life.
THIS IS HER JOURNEY: Ten years from now, what would you have hoped to pass on to your daughter?
KERLENE: Ten years from now Gabrielle will be a teenager. Fifteen years old to be exact! Unquestionably, I want to pass on my faith and my relationship with God to her.
And even though I’m very protective of my Gabby, I really want to make sure she becomes fearless, strong, independent, and unstoppable.
I want her to become a limitless girl who’ll in time grow up to be an extra ordinary adult.
With God’s help and His blessings, I know she’ll become all those things and everything else He created her to be!
To some degree, every woman will face an unexpected challenge in her motherhood journey. Join the conversation. Your story can encourage someone today!