When I last wrote about how the Ranch got started (June 13), I left off the story with the discovery of a positive pregnancy test taken in February of 1984, when I was 41. The three older girls were 24, 20, and 16.
I called Jerry at work, not sure at all what I'd say when I got him on the phone. After he answered, I blurted out, “We're going to have a baby!” There was silence at the other end of the line, then:
“But I thought we got the dog spayed!”
“Not the dog, honey,” I said with great restraint. “Me, I'm pregnant.”
Since I am famous for leaping to conclusions, and Jerry is famous for requiring dossiers of information before arriving at one, we immediately got into it.
“You're probably just imagining it,” he said.
“I am not. I've been feeling funny and I'm very late. I'm pregnant.”
After a trip to the OB's office, he was convinced and we went home to begin revising our the empty nest plan we'd started working on. When the girls came home we took them out to dinner and broke the news. Martha was thrilled and Janny, the 16 year old) was mortified–there was probably no other 16 year old in the world who'd ever had to endure her mother being pregnant and giving birth.
I promptly dubbed the baby “Ishmael” (I was in the midde of re-reading Moby Dick). Martha was scheduled to spend her UT junior year abroad in Spain, but immediately said she was going to change it to the summer program because she wanted to be here when the baby arrived in September.
The pregnancy was uneventful and I felt great after the first few months of morning sickness.
I was working in the office of a software company, and the last day of March flipped over the page of my appointments calendar. I saw that I had an amniocentesis scheduled in a few weeks in San Antonio. “Not doing that!” I thought to myself, and dialed the number of the clinic to cancel the appointment, which took only a moment to do.
Then just as I was leaving the office to go to lunch, the phone rang. I picked it up and it was the geneticist himself. He wanted to talk to me about my chances of having a child with Down syndrome.
I told him I was aware of the risk, but would not terminate the pregnancy regardless of the results. The doctor then told me, “Mrs. Horton, you probably have heard your chances are one in 50 or 60, but I assure you they are more like one in fifteen or sixteen. And termination is not the only option. You could still choose to continue the pregnancy but you would have time to learn about the condition and prepare for it.”
This was all very reasonable, but my decision came down to this: I wanted this baby with all my heart. I loved her and wanted to enjoy the time she would remain safely inside of me. I was afraid the procedure would hurt her. At the very least it seemed highly unwelcoming and intrusive. I refused.
I believe the doctor was genuinely concerned for my family's welfare, but by the time I got off the phone I was rattled. I gathered up my purse and keys and headed out for a bite of lunch before my hour was over.
I only had a few minutes, so I popped into the closest fast food joint–a Taco Bell as I recall. I got my food and drink and sat down at a table. Not a minute later a young woman sat down at the booth next to me, accompanied by a tiny girl with long blond hair and blue framed glasses perched on her button nose. The little girl clearly had Down syndrome.
I felt as though I'd been body-slammed into the wall. The room literally spun for a few minutes. I remembered reading Carl Jung's story of a patient who was obsessed with the idea of a golden beetle and who steadfastly refused to make progress in her therapy.
One day as the good doctor sat next to the window working with the patient, something flew through the window and landed on his desk. He looked at it for a moment, and then picked it up and examined it carefully. It shone a brilliant gold in the sunlight coming through the window.
“Here's your golden beetle,” he said, handing to the patient.
“Here's MY golden beetle,” I thought, sitting there in the Taco Bell.
I was at the time definitely on a spiritual journey, but my beliefs were in truth fairly incoherent. I certainly did not subscribe to the doctrines of any recognizable form of orthodox Christianity. I was sure there were forces for good, and forces for evil. Who could doubt it? But I could not believe in any sort of divine being that could take a personal interest in me. The most I could conjure up was an inarticulate sense of some force out there somewhere.
I stared at the little girl. I could see the slowness in her movements, the constant prompting of her mother, reaching out to help her. I figured her to be about four, and thought of my girls at that age–chattering, opinionated, funny, and capable.
Could I do this? I didn't know.
But then something occurred to me: If the Universe is bothering to tell me that this is what is going to happen to me, then I will trust the Universe to tell me what to do about it.
And with that, the fear was gone.
I was certain the baby would be a girl, and that she would have Down syndrome. I was far from happy about it, but I knew it was so. I said nothing to Jerry.
Summer came and Martha went to Spain. My office job had ended so I accepted an assignment to teach intensive Spanish at Austin Community College for two sessions. By August my students sat bug-eyed in class, watching me grow ever larger before their eyes.
During my last month I developed strong contractions every time I walked more than a hundred feet or so. The doctor told me to stay pretty much horizontal for the rest of the pregnancy, so I reclined away the rest of August and beginning of September, watching every event of the 1984 Olympics.
Martha returned in time to begin the fall semester at UT, and together we set out to interview pediatricians. On our fourth visit we met with Dr. Ana Garcia, who was warm and funny and did not freak out when I told her I'd refused the amnio. “I did, too!” she declared. We knew immediately that she was the one.
Coming home from that visit, I told Martha something I told nobody else: “Sweetie, you have to know that even if there's something wrong with the baby, we're going to be all right.” She looked at me strangely, and then asked if I knew something. I said no, not really, just a feeling.
And we went home.