Birth Story

I Found Out My Child Had Down Syndrome At Birth

I had everything mapped out — from pregnancy to birth plan — but not this.

by Kati Behrens Martinez
Mother carrying her child with Down Syndrome
Image Courtesy of Kati Behrens Martinez

I had my whole pregnancy and birth mapped out. I brought my husband to Lamaze classes where we learned breathing exercises, birthing positions, and mood settings to help make Micah’s birth the best experience possible. I picked the birthing center with the best reviews because, in my opinion, the hospital seemed like the least inviting place to welcome a baby.

I was a week from my due date. My midwife notified me that Micah was now footling breech. That can look many different ways, but for Micah, it meant he was doing splits. She told me not to worry, he had plenty of fluid to move around and to try an External Cephalic Version (ECV). (That’s the technical term for when the doctor attempts to reposition the baby by rubbing my belly.) It didn’t work. Micah was determined to showcase his contortionist skills at the most opportune time. I was so proud! Actually, I ugly cried in a coffee shop as I was writing thank-you notes for my baby shower.

My visions of a candlelit birth in a tub near a beautiful queen bed and a decorated bathroom quickly changed to the reality of a sterile white room with florescent lights and major surgery. After getting turned down by several doctors who refused to perform a vaginal breech birth, I grieved over the birthing experience I had expected and reluctantly scheduled my C-section. That’s it. I knew when Micah’s birthday would be. I wanted it to be the 21st like me, so he would have a fun golden birthday he would remember. As it turned out, Micah’s entrance into the world wasn’t going to be the only surprise he gave us.

As I was laying there under the fluorescent lights with my abdomen open for the whole room to see, my OBGYN held him up briefly for me. The first thought that ran through my mind was, “Man, that’s one purple swollen baby.” They took him aside and called for a NICU nurse and all huddled around monitoring him.

This probably only lasted for five minutes, but it felt like eternity. The whole room felt silent. My husband was very quiet and had been whispering with the medical staff. I thought he was just processing becoming a dad, but he was processing so much more.

Micah’s eyes were a bit more almond shape and he had no nose bridge. My husband asked a nurse if it looked like he had Down syndrome. At this point, there were about seven or eight people other than my husband and me in the room. Most eyes were on Micah, but a nurse was looking at me with a worried look.

Someone said a bit louder, “Dad asked if baby has Down syndrome.” My initial reaction was shock; I just said “Whaaat?? Really?” My husband looked at the nurse. The nurse looked at me and nodded.

You might ask, “How did you feel in that moment?” Honestly? I was excited. Anticipating when I could hold him. Nothing had changed. I had nine long months to bond with him and he was already my son who I love so much.

My next thought was, “Is he going to be okay??” I was worried they hadn’t placed him on my chest yet. The anesthesiologist’s nurse must have known exactly what I was thinking. She said quietly, “You can tell by the mood in the room that he’s okay. They would have taken him by now if things were dire.”

I needed to hear that — if any more time had gone by, I might have burst into tears. They finally placed him on my chest and I got the moment I had been waiting nine months for. He was here! He was in my arms! I was on cloud nine.

Micah had a little difficulty breathing on his own, and they didn’t feel comfortable sending him home until his oxygen levels stabilized. My mom made our hospital stay fun by bringing me sushi for my first non-pregnant meal and going on frequent pastry runs to the nearest bakery. We grew to know the nurses that help take care of Micah in the NICU quite well. What started as a few extra days in the hospital turned into weeks. We enjoyed quite a lot of those pastries and Friends reruns that fall.

After nearly a month, he still couldn’t breath fully on his own but he had improved enough that we were cleared to leave the hospital with an oxygen tank. My husband definitely got his workout carrying Micah in his car seat with that oxygen tank and pulse oximeter in tow.

Once we finally got home, I remember sitting on our couch in our living room and just letting it all sink in. We had spent weeks with doctors, specialists, geneticists, lactation consultants — you name it. Now we finally had time alone together, and we felt so incredibly lucky.

Looking back, I realize just how lucky we were that Micah made it home with us. There were many times I wasn’t sure if Micah was still alive towards the end of my pregnancy. He wasn’t kicking anymore, and I felt panicked. I went to several unscheduled stress tests to make sure his little heart was still beating, and thank God it was.

It was rare that at 26-years-old I would be pregnant with a baby that had Down syndrome. But it was even more rare that Micah made it to birth. About 50% to 75% of Down syndrome fetuses are lost before term. That is why I want to scream it from the rooftops how special Micah is! Micah gave us a big surprise at birth, and as parents we both processed it differently, but we came out stronger in the end.

Micah is extra special because of his extra chromosome. He is one of a kind because he is the only one like him; he is a miracle because he made it.

Fortunately, he didn’t need oxygen for long and we were cleared to stop using it by the new year. Micah is happy and thriving. My now-spunky two year old blesses us with unlimited hugs and kisses and he has a smile that can light up any room. He loves us unconditionally and, believe me, the feeling is mutual.

Kati Behrens Martinez is momming it full-time to Micah & Mackenzie. When she's not doing playdates, swim lessons and therapy sessions she loves a hot shower and grabbing coffee. Follow her on TikTok: @katibehrens.