Bella- Part 1: A Special Needs Diagnosis
We had a healthy three year old when we were pregnant with Bella. We had planned her birth at our local birthing center. Since they didn't do ultrasounds there, we were sent to a local hospital for our 20 week ultrasound. We were just hoping to find the sex of the baby and have an uneventful pregnancy. We took our daughter with us for the exciting day. It quickly became apparent that something was wrong when the ultrasound tech was very quiet and wouldn't answer any of our questions. She excused herself from the room and came back with the doctor. The staff quickly ushered us into another private waiting room. The doctor and a nurse sat us down and quickly said that we were pregnant with a girl, but part of her brain was missing so it would be best to schedule an abortion. As the word was hardly out of his mouth my husband stood up and said "NO! That is not an option for us." We start asking questions, not getting much answers, crying and feeling like we've been punched in the gut. Needless to say we were now in the high risk category and our life was forever changed. (See The Ultrasound and Goodbye Birth Center, Hello High Risk! )
Over the next few months we had numerous ultrasounds and tests. I wrote more about her specific measurements HERE . By the time it was time for her to be born we knew she was missing a small part of her brain, she didn't have normal eye development and she had hydrocephalus. There was a possible diagnosis of Dandy Walker at this point. We did what we could to prepare ourselves with what information we had, we toured the NICU and began to brace ourselves for the tough times ahead. (See Touring the NICU) We started gathering our resources. The NICU social worker shared some places for us to start. We began to look into what services were offered in our state for families with special needs.
Personally, I really struggled with the idea of having a C-section. I was in denial through most of my pregnancy that a Cesarean was nigh. It took a lot of mental preparation for me to be okay with the idea of a Cesarean. There is a mourning process you go through when you have a special needs diagnosis. Every parent envisions their newborn being healthy and growing up..taking their first steps, saying their first word. I was mourning the loss of my healthy baby girl and all of the visions that come with that. I was also mourning the natural, peaceful birth I had envisioned. I struggled seeing healthy babies in the grocery store. I took up the habit of wearing my sunglasses inside the stores, because I never knew when the tears might begin to flow. It became a joke with my husband and daughter, they would comment how my nose was getting red, so they knew I was crying. The sunglasses trick is still one I like to use.
It's important when you receive a special needs diagnosis that you gather all of the information you can get on the topic: research, research, research! You will become the expert for your child. You will feel at a great loss after the diagnosis, but doing research and gathering your information will help feel like you are at least moving forward and doing something. In our case, there were no books, only a few dismal case studies online. Our real learning came from chatting with other parents online. It's really tough to be prepared for something when you have so little information. I look back now at how little we knew at the time, we didn't even have the correct diagnosis for our sweet baby girl. I"m so thankful that it's becoming easier to diagnose and more research is being done on Walker Warburg Syndrome. I"m so thankful that there are support groups online, the Walker Warburg Syndrome Facebook group has become a valuable resource for families with this diagnosis. It's great to have parents to share your stories, gather information and give and offer support.
Our family and friends were very supportive through this tough time. It's important to share your special needs diagnosis with friends and family. It's true that some friends and/or family members may not be able to handle the news. They may need to go through a mourning period themselves. To be honest, so people will not know how to deal with the news and may not be able to continue to be in your life. But it is also amazing to see the friends that will step up and go out of their way to be there for you and support you when you most need it. Filling our freezer with healthy, easy to prepare meals and offering childcare while went to doctor appointments were things we found most helpful. Siblings to children with Walker Warburg Syndrome don't have it easy. We did our best to prepare our then three year old. We shared things with her on her level, but there was no way really for us to prepare how hard things were going to get. (See What's a Big Sister to do?) We spent extra time with her before Bella's birth, because we knew things were going to be very hectic afterwards. We also talked about the changes that were soon going to take place so it wouldn't be a surprise to her.
Have you or a family member had to deal with a special needs diagnosis? What have you found helpful?