Parenting is always a rigorous course where you are taught self-denial via sleep deprivation, dining on cold leftovers after dizzying feats of food prep and waitressing, and choosing piano lessons over pedicures for many years. You learn to love your children more than anyone else’s precisely because you have given up so much of yourself to help them become who they will be. All this is to be expected. You work hard, and, with any luck, you’ll work yourself out of a job one day.
Learning that we were expecting our 10th child was a family affair. Our 16-year-old and our niece who lived with us at the time (because 9 isn’t enough?) both had dreams that I was expecting. I laughed. My husband and I were frazzled and not really getting along at the time, so how could that happen?
When you have 9 children, ages 3-19, you have a fair amount of parental experience under your belt. I have a magnet that says, “You can’t scare me. I have kids!” Spilt milk, diaper blowouts, entire boxes of Cheerios dumped on your clean floor, kids backing the car out of the driveway – solo, stitches in the middle of the birthday party, toddlers locking you out and decorating the house that was “real estate ready” with red lipstick – we’d been there. We were survivors! So when the test came back positive, we looked at each other and said, ”What’s one more? After all, we know everything there is to know about babies.” And God laughed.
The night Tanner was born was a good night after an emotional two weeks. I had begun to wonder if I could really do childbirth again. After nine children, you don’t exactly forget the birthing process, no matter what they say. In desperation, and torn between scheduling a C-section or continuing with my home-birth plan, I saw a news story about birth hypnosis. I excitedly dialed KCRA 3 and asked about the story. No luck there, but I hit the jackpot in the yellow pages. There was a hypnotist right here in town that specialized in birth hypnosis. I got an appointment for the next day. Turns out I’m a good subject for hypnosis, but don’t try to make me act like a chicken; I don’t go there!
The team was assembled. Husband, mid-wives, hypnotist, and assorted children were on hand the night that our son was to be born. My grandfather had passed away and we were naming the baby after him – but backwards. Grandpa was James Tanner, and the baby was to be Tanner James Sellers. As luck would have it, it was a smooth delivery, made even better by the hypnotist, who told very relaxing stories about going down a lovely path, and almost had me asleep. Then, it was time, and Tanner was born! He was caught by his cousin who volunteered after an open invite to all the kids. She was thrilled with her accomplishment. The boys were excited to have another brother to balance their odds, though their fear that we’d spend our weekends at the mall instead of camping had been proven unfounded.
Tanner was beautiful, blond and perfect. He was weighed and measured and tied for 2nd place in our family line up at 9 pounds, 1 ounce. There were hugs all around. I got out of my swim suit and into my pajamas while the kids held the baby. Then, after all the kisses, everybody else headed off to sleep and It was just Glen and I, and the mid-wives. They talked about some things that went well during the birth, kneaded my mid-section unmercifully, and generally cleaned up and cleared things out of my room. I sighed with relief, knowing the task I’d been dreading was done. I took a breath…and then my life changed forever.
We all gathered around my bed holding the baby when sweet Marlene, the lead mid-wife unwrapped Tanner in all his pink perfectness and said she would “like to share some of Tanner’s special gifts.” She pointed out his tiny ears, that were slightly higher relative to his eyes, the wide space between his first and second toes, some reflexes that were good and some spots that were not very responsive. “Are you saying he has Down syndrome?” I asked. Glen sat bolt upright. “They didn’t say that. Where did you get that?” To be honest, I don’t know where. I just knew. The mid-wives explained that there were tests to be run, and that their assessment wasn’t conclusive, but I knew. Life just took a major turn. For better or worse, only time would tell.
It was the strangest sensation to have the stars realign right there, peacefully, in the quiet of my room. I felt my universe shrink. I no longer needed to save the world, run for office, or volunteer at the school. I didn’t have to take casseroles to everyone who was sick or raise money for school children in Africa . I had a new life’s mission. I was Tanner’s mom; and that was enough.