I was 10 years old. Our family received a telegram (it was a long time ago!) from my aunt who had just had a baby. The telegram said, “It’s a boy. 10 fingers, ten toes, healthy.” I decided right then I’d never have a baby. I knew, somehow, if I did, it wouldn’t be healthy. My feelings never changed. When I was 27 I got married and at 28, despite precautions, I became pregnant. I was scared to death. We were going to have dogs, not children. I spent the next months agonizing over what was going to be wrong with my child. When I first met Ashley at 7:29 AM on December 9, 1982, she was given an Apgar score of 10 (almost unheard of!) and declared “perfect.”

Eighteen years of premonition went out the window. Really, nothing was wrong with my Ashley? It was the happiest day of my life. Twelve hours later at 7:30 PM, her pediatrician came in my room and told us they suspected she had Down syndrome and had already taken her blood for the genetic profiling. We’d have the results in about 3 weeks.

My first thought was, “So that’s what I’ve been dreading all these years.” I had always wondered, but Down syndrome had never crossed my mind. I was devastated, yet at the same time realized God had been preparing me all those years to be the mother of a special needs child. I had never had any expectations of raising a child (a decision, as I have said, made years earlier.) Now not only did I have a child but a totally different set of circumstances from the other new moms. I cried all night. My husband left the hospital. He couldn’t handle me or the news. I was alone with my fears and grief.

The next morning, they moved her into my room from the baby nursery so I would begin to love my little special needs child and not reject her. I suspect they knew how hard it was to go to the nursery and see all the proud parents oohing and ahhing at their newborns through the nursery window.

All in all it was a very smart move by the staff. How could I not love such a precious, helpless, and yes, beautiful baby that God had for some reason determined would be mine? At the same time I was scared to death of her. I had only held and fed one other baby in my life and they even wanted me to change her little diaper! And they kept putting her in the bed with me. I liked her a lot better in her little nursery bassinet. She never cried. If she had one of the problems she would make a pleasant little noise and it was my job to figure out which option to go with. None were appealing and I always prayed she just wanted to be held. Sometimes this worked, more often it didn’t. I had never been so afraid of another human in my life! She was so floppy because of her low muscle tone I was afraid I’d hurt her. (Snapping her little head off being my biggest fear!) But I learned in the 3 days we spent in the hospital that even a child with Down syndrome is hard to break.

When the snow cleared (which is the reason I got 3 days in the hospital), they actually made me go home and take this tiny little person with me. Now began what has become a wonderful journey with my precious Ashley and her very special design.

— Connie DeRamus