I’m probably the least romantic person I know — at least in the traditional, Hallmark-card sense.
Things that might send other women swooning, like jewelry and candlelit dinners, hold very little allure for me. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate a kind gesture or act of love, it's just that idealized (and manufactured) “romance” isn't something I particularly value or need in order to feel special.
All that changed in 2006, when my obstetrician told me that my son’s due date was February 14th. For the first time in my adult life, Valentine’s Day was on my radar and would mean something. My husband and I had been married for three years, and he was far more attuned to romantic gestures than I was. If I were to mention I liked a piece of jewelry, he would typically squirrel it away for an upcoming birthday or other special occasion. Every now and then, he’d also bring flowers home for no apparent reason.
Our first pregnancy had ended with a miscarriage. For our second, I took the suggested genetic test for women who are older than 35, and we learned that our son had a 90 percent chance of having Down syndrome. We never thought that our lives could be turned inside out so thoroughly, nor that we’d ever find a love so profound and heartrending.
Understandably, we were scared. “What does it mean to have Down syndrome?” we wondered. “How would our lives change? Who would our son be? And how do we prepare ourselves for what’s to come?”
I was also worried (in hindsight, quite excessively) about our son’s birthday falling on Valentine’s Day. I had visions of birthday parties that no one came to because they were all out to dinner with their significant others. I had images of his birthday at school getting lost in the shuffle of cards and candy, with no cake and candles in sight. I knew Down syndrome was something I had no idea how to prepare for, and that was scary enough, but sharing a birthday with the day the world was focused on romantic love was just too much to ask.
I decided that I'd pick a different due date, and chose February 17, 2007. I marked this date on my calendar and spoke to my belly each day telling my son what I desired. As it turned out, I was wrong, and went into labor on February 2. "Oh God no, not Groundhog Day!" I thought, but as luck would have it, I didn’t give birth until the following day.
My son spent the next week in the ICU, and on February 10, 2007, he was released to go home. I was still recovering from the birth and was simply unable to care for him for the first few days, so my husband had to take over.
On February 14, 2007, I emerged from the bed ready to be the best mom I could be. That morning, my husband prepared breakfast for me as I began nursing. He had never before in our entire marriage cooked breakfast — scrambled eggs and strawberries cut to resemble hearts. While I ate, he held our son.
Later that morning, I stepped out onto the porch to get some fresh air, and just beyond the walkway, noticed the tree in front of our house had developed some brand-new white blossoms. Not all my wishes had come true — my son had Down syndrome. It was Valentine’s Day and I was home, he was here, and we were getting ready for what would be the biggest shift of our lives.
But I will always remember that beautiful day when the tree and my life both blossomed.