THIS I BELIEVE
Submitted to NPR Essay Contest
I believe my daughter, Caitlyn, may…
Over the radio, it is difficult to hear the grammatical force of that conviction. Suffice it to say, for me that phrase ends not with a succinct period, but with a series of three dots forming an ellipsis.
Ellipsis points are used when words are omitted. So was the case when my husband Jason received a call from the genetic counselor at 7:00 a.m. to tell us our second daughter Caitlyn would be born with Down Syndrome. We were speechless. No words can describe the full-bodied grief we experienced. No words sufficient from friends and family trying to provide comfort.
The words I held onto were the two words of her name, “Caitlyn May”. My husband chose the Celtic ‘Caitlyn’ for its cadence and tone. A southern friend Mary offered her nickname. She said with a twang, “You can call her Maaayyy after me.”
The name was perfect. May was not only a family name, but also the month in which all three of our mothers were born. Even more so, Caitlyn was conceived – with joy! – in the month of May.
After the phone call, we also learned she would be born with a congenital heart defect. Heart surgery would delay our impending move from Arizona to Pennsylvania.
During that time, Caitlyn’s name became a prayer of possibility. The prayer went something like this, “Who knows what Caitlyn may aspire to in her life. Who knows how Caitlyn may affect the lives of others?” The prayer presented hope where it had previously been omitted.
There were days when that prayer was hard. After four months of having our newborn in the hospital, three heart surgeries for her, two new jobs and a score on any stress test that could necessitate hospitalization; we hung suspended between current reality and future possibility.
An ellipsis may also be called ‘suspension points”, and during that time we were suspended between life and death, people came alongside us who upheld the prayer her name invoked.
A friend said, “Caitlyn may be running in the grass next year.” Countless surgeons, therapists, and nurses knew that Caitlyn may make it. Jack Hanes, chair of my Search Committee said, “Caitlyn may be a miracle just like our grandson Micah.” An art student said, in Keith Haring fashion, “Caitlyn’s life may radiate from that scar on her chest.” There was ‘Miss Deborah’, a family friend from Tennessee, who came after a desperate phone call and stayed for two weeks. She said, “Caitlyn may just grow like a vine and wrap herself around every little corner of my heart.” And the providential passenger sitting next to us on the flight to Pennsylvania just four days after Caitlyn’s release from the hospital, a Pediatric Cardiac nurse who learned with surprise the story and then the name of her seatmate, ‘Caitlyn May”.
These folks helped us hold onto the possibility of what Caitlyn’s life may mean. In a world where pre-natal testing is ever more popular and accurate, it saddens me to think there are many potential Caitlyn May’s who may cease to exist. But for our family, Caitlyn may just be the very end of the sentence that makes us complete. And in that statement, where no words are omitted and there is no point of suspension, there is a period, pure and true.
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