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Nella's birth story
Kelle had no idea that her soon-to-be born daughter, Nella, had Down syndrome. These beautiful photos tell the story of the life-changing day that Nella was born.
For more details, read Kelle's moving account of Nella's birth.
This was the hardest day of my life. The hardest and yet the most beautiful.
Brett and I were expecting our second child. We left our 2 1/2-year-old, Lainey, with Grandma and came to the hospital.
I'd dreamed of this moment for so long, it seemed surreal.
We waited and prepared and finally, these last weeks, we had everything just ... perfect.
The favors I'd designed and tied every ribbon on were stacked in a box, ready to pass out to the flood of hospital visitors.
The birth music was ready to go, the blankets I'd made packed and ready, the coming-home outfit picked out, the big sister crown made for Lainey, the nightgown bought just for the occasion.
My heart could hardly hold the excitement.
Before I knew it, Nella was here. The minute I saw her, I knew that she had Down syndrome. Nobody else seemed to know.
I held her and cried. Cried and gazed around the room to see if anyone would tell me she didn't have it.
I held Nella and tried to take it in. I will never forget the look on my daughter's face in this moment. She locked eyes with mine and stared, boring holes into my soul.
Love me. Love me. I'm not what you expected, but oh, please love me.
I don't remember a lot after that. My friends have filled me in, but the next few moments are a black hole. I know I held Nella. I know I kissed her. I know I begged every power in the world to make it not be so.
But I knew in my soul exactly what was going on.
I wanted to say the words but couldn't. So I didn't ask if she had Down syndrome. I asked why her nose was smooshed and why she looked funny.
But I knew. I cried and cried while everyone smiled and took pictures of Nella like nothing was wrong. I kept crying and asking, "Is there something you aren't telling me?" They just kept smiling.
Without telling us, the nurses quietly called for the pediatrician to come and assess Nella for Down syndrome.
Someone popped champagne and glasses were raised in a toast. "To Nella!"
Everyone carried on for me as I sat, confused, trying to take it in. I remember feeling nothing. As if I literally left my body for a bit.
When the pediatrician walked in, my heart sank. "Why is she here?" I asked.
The room grew quiet and everyone was asked to leave. I started shaking. I knew it was coming.
The pediatrician knelt down next to my bed, smiled warmly, and held my hand tight. And she never took her eyes off mine.
"I need to tell you something," she said.
I started to cry hard. "I know what you're going to say."
She smiled again and squeezed my hand a little tighter. "The first thing I'm going to tell you is that your daughter is beautiful and perfect."
I cried harder.
"But there are some features that lead me to believe she may have Down syndrome."
Finally, someone had said it.
I felt hot tears stream down and fall on my baby's face. My beautiful, perfect daughter. I was scared to look up at Brett, so I didn't. I just kissed Nella.
Then the pediatrician said it again. "Kelle, she's beautiful. And perfect."
I asked for my dad to be let back in the room. And when he walked in, I cried again. "They think she has Down syndrome."
He smiled as his eyes welled up with tears. "That's okay. We love her," he said.
He scooped her up and I asked him to say a prayer. He thanked God for giving us Nella and thanked Him for the wonderful things He had planned for us. For our family. For Nella. Amen.
It was time to nurse Nella. This was another dreamy moment I'd long anticipated, yet it felt so different than I expected. I remember Nella latching right on and sucking away with no hesitation, completely accepting me as her mama and snuggling into me.
I felt so completely guilty that I didn't feel the same. I felt love, yes. But I kept envisioning another baby, the one who I felt had died the moment I realized this baby wasn't what I expected.
But the nursing ... oh, the nursing. How incredibly bonding it's been. It's been the most beautiful gift as I've fallen in love with this blessed angel. When I look back at pictures of this moment, I see that I smiled. I don't remember smiling, but ... I smiled.
The hallway at the hospital was filled with friends and family waiting to be let back into our room. I've been told stories of what happened behind those walls while they waited. Suffice it to say, there was more love in that building than the place could hold.
When they re-entered the room with anxious eyes, I held Nella and told them all, crying, what the doctor had said. I knew that more people were on their way to come celebrate Nella's birth and I wanted them all to be told before they walked in.
I couldn't handle telling anyone else, yet I wanted people to know as soon as possible because I needed the troops.
The troops rallied in just the way I needed. All of the blessed souls in that room celebrated as if there was nothing but joy. There were a few puffy eyes, but mostly it was pure happiness.
More friends trickled in. More smiles. More toasts. And hugs with no words.
But hugs that spoke volumes: arms pulled tightly around my neck, lips pressed against my forehead, and bodies that shook with sobs. Sobs that told me they felt it too. That they felt my pain and wanted to take it away.
And Brett... well, he never left our girl's side. He was quiet through all of this, and I'm not sure I'll ever know what he felt.
But I know the daddy of our babies, and I know he loves them with all his heart. And he did from the very start.
I changed into my own nightgown and was wheeled to my new room upstairs. When I got there, someone told me that my 2-year-old Lainey was on her way.
I cried new tears. I hadn't even thought about how this would impact Lainey – what she would think, how her life would be different.
Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry when Lainey gets here.
I'll never forget her face, the cute outfit that someone put her in, and her eyes when she walked into that room, and the way she tried to hide her excitement with her shy smile.
I'll never forget the day that my girl became a big sister.
I'll never forget the moment when her little sister was placed in her arms. I watched in agony, tears, and admiration as my little girl taught me how to love. She showed me what unconditional love looks like.
She was ... proud.
And that was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I needed that.
As evening came and people started trickling out, I was afraid because I knew that with darkness, with the absence of everyone celebrating, the grief would come. I could feel it coming, and it hurt so, so, so very bad.
That night, I think I cried for seven hours straight. It was gut-wrenching pain. I held Nella and I kissed her but I writhed in emotional pain on that bed in the dark until the sun came up.
I begged for morning to come. Once I mistook a street light for sunlight and flipped on the light switch, only to find it was 3 a.m. and I still had hours to go.
I suppose it's horrible to say that you spent the first night after your daughter was born in a state of agony, but I know it was a necessary stage for me to go through in order to move on to where I am today.
Morning finally came. And with it, hope.
My sister arrived the next day and gave me a speech that changed everything. She told me I swallowed the blue pill. She told me I could never go back. But that I held a key to a door that no one else had. And, with tears in her eyes, she told me how lucky I was.
She told me that I was chosen and that being chosen is the most special thing in the world. She told me it was going to be just fine.
And she was so right.
The day after Nella was born, I fell in love hard. I knew she was mine. I knew we were destined to be together. I knew she was the baby that had grown in my beautiful round tummy. The one I thought about when people told me how beautiful that belly was. It was. It was Nella all along.
My friends and family will never know how special they are to me. I've never felt so loved. Here's my message to them:
You all truly gave me your hearts to borrow while mine was breaking. And you loved my baby. You loved her so good. You washed her with tears when you held her. You kissed her. When she cried in the middle of the night and I needed some blessed sleep, you rigged up the jaundice lights, put your sunglasses on, and took turns sleeping in a chair just to hold her.
You promised to be there on this journey and that alone means more than I can ever tell you.
Over the course of the next several days, things became beautiful. I cried, yes ... but the tears soon turned to tears of joy. I felt lucky. I felt happy.
My Nella, my special little bunny, my beautiful, perfect, unique girl, will be my constant reminder in life. That life is about love and truly experiencing the beauty we are meant to know.
And so, we came home ... happy. In fact, walking out of the hospital with our new baby girl and our proud big girl, wearing her big sister crown, gripping the handle of the car seat with Daddy ... it was beautiful.
It was just how I'd imagined it.
My girls. I am complete.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I love Nella. I wouldn't trade her for the world, and y'all can have back that heart you let me borrow.
My broken heart has been healed ... and if you held Nella, you'd know what I mean.
Where to go next:
• Read the complete, amazing version of Nella's birth story.
• Learn more about the characteristics of Down syndrome.
• Visit our Down syndrome discussion group.
• See beautiful photos celebrating children with special needs.