What is a journey and why do we talk about it so often?
Journey, according to dictionary.com, is a passage or progress from one stage to another.
I believe a journey can be short or can take a while and I also believe a journey can never be fully complete.
I want to share about my journey…our journey…
We are still navigating it…as our destination is still far from reach.
I will start from “our” beginning…
Steve and I met and fell in love in 2002, engaged in 2003 and married in April of 2004.
In January of 2005, we welcomed our first baby…our four-legged, furry Golden girl, Cassidy!
It was only days later we learned I was expecting our first child!
I had a textbook pregnancy, labor and delivery. In September, 2005 we welcomed our first little angel…Jacob Steven LaGanke.
This was hands-down the best day of my life…the happiest moment in time! I was a Mommy, to this precious baby…I thank God each day for our wonderful gift.
In March of 2007 we found out we were expecting again. We were thrilled, but I wasn’t sure I was actually ready for a 2nd child…I was fearful. Like every mother, the fears of “What will I do with 2 children? Can I really love more than 1 child? How will Jacob handle the news?” all came rushing to my mind. However, we settled in and became overjoyed with excitement.
In June of that same year, at just 13 weeks, I went into what can only be described as labor at home and miscarried our baby. To this day I think of that little one…what might have been.
With that, God revealed a bigger plan for our family. And without the loss of that child we may never have been blessed with our sweet angel, Nicholas.
December 16th, 2008 at 38 weeks pregnant I went upstairs to lie down because I wasn’t feeling well..
Moments later I called for Steve. Apparently there was a tone in my voice he wasn’t accustomed to because I am not sure he has EVER responded so quickly!
He confirmed my suspicion…my water had broken. So…without any contractions I began full labor…I was ready to push!
We frantically rushed around making last minute…no, no, no last second decisions with neighbors for Jacob who was already in bed sleeping and we rushed to the hospital. Within 15 minutes of our arrival to the hospital, Nicholas Asher LaGanke was born.
Steve knew immediately. They whisked Nicholas away from me and began their work on him to clean him up, grade him, exam him etc. and I either don’t remember, blocked it out, or was in such pain I didn’t notice…
Then nurses began their hushed tones and whisperings and soon after… the questions started…
And finally, the words…we suspect he has Down syndrome.
Down syndrome? What does that mean? All I could envision were images of people generations ago with Down syndrome and to me, that was not what I had envisioned for my child! My thoughts rushed to Jacob. He was my concern…what would he think, how would he feel, how will this impact him? My thoughts and concerns were also for Nicholas…why him? Why must his life be harder? Why must he be less accepted? Will he be mistreated? Will he have a full and happy life?
I was despondent, fearful of the unknown, but I knew I had to be strong. I needed strength.
My inspiration was seeing Jacob’s face light up the moment he walked into the hospital room!
He was madly in love with his little brother, his love was without fear and worry…he was the proudest little guy I had ever seen…I drew strength from that. I haven’t had to worry about Jacob’s love for Nicholas ever since that first moment!
The next day as I sat all alone in the hospital room with Nicholas trying to get him to nurse, but he couldn’t, he couldn’t nurse, he wasn’t strong enough; a cardiologist came to my room…he may or may not have introduced himself all I heard was “blah blah blah…he has a heart defect, blah blah blah, he could die…”
I called Steve immediately…
Down syndrome was no longer a concern, we just wanted our baby to live.
Eight weeks later, Dr. Tom Spray at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia helped save his life. I am forever grateful to him and his staff. I will always be thankful that he honored my request to lay hands and pray over him prior to surgery…thankful that he was humble enough to say, “I’ll take all the help I can get!”
Our prayers were answered and surgery was successful. Nicholas, or St. Nick as my brother likes to call him, was discharged from the hospital with a repaired AV Canal and even strong enough to breastfeed!
It was after Nicholas’ recovery we began participating in events with the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware and Best Buddies Delaware and lobbying Congress with the National Down Syndrome Society…it was during this time we realized just how amazing a support network we had…our friends and neighbors had become our family. To them I am forever grateful for their unyielding support during this leg of our family’s journey.
As with any journey there can be unexpected twists and turns in the road…
In early 2011 we found ourselves at a crossroads and had a decision to make…do we stay or do we go???
In August of that year, we left our Delaware family behind and continued our life’s journey here, to RVA.
Fear ripped through me once again…will people come to love Jacob and Nicholas as our Delaware family had? Would Nicholas be accepted here? How and where would we find the support, community and love???
The short answer, yes. Yes, people have come to love Jacob and Nicholas. Yes, Nicholas has been accepted here. Yes, we have found the support, community and love here just as we did in Delaware. I am so thankful to our new friends and neighbors…so thankful for our RVA family!
Recently, Jacob asked me IF I could go back in time and change one thing in my life, what would it be?
It didn’t take long for me to answer…I look back at those first moments after Nick was born and I wish I had a “do over.” If I could change anything I would change my first thoughts. I would not have been so fearful of the unknown…I would have allowed greater joy looking down at the miracle of life sleeping in my arms. I would see the journey that lay before me and I would embrace it.
If I knew then what I know now and if I knew how it would bring us to this point and if I knew life would be more than I could ever have imagined, I would choose that time to change. I would choose that time as my “do over.”
Gone are the visions and stereotypes I had in my head of people generations ago, instead I see a beautiful child, a wonderful little boy with love in his heart, a smile on his face, a desire to learn, a talented, capable and amazing individual, I see my son, Nicholas. I also see a wonderful little boy, a talented, capable and amazing individual. One who has a deeper compassion for others, a respect for all life and a love so fierce for his little brother I venture to say it is unmatched. I am so proud of my Jacob for the little boy he is and the man I know he will become.
When Nicholas entered our family, he changed us, made us better. We see things differently now, more clearer. Our faith, our marriage, our love, our parenting…it is stronger now. We have two amazing little boys to thank for that. And I wouldn’t change a thing!
I am a woman of faith and without my faith this journey would feel impossible, without my family and friends this journey would be lonely, without our new RVA family this journey would be less encouraging.
I am forever indebted to the people in our lives, from Delaware to Virginia and and all across the world. We are a blessed family and I am happy with my life. I am happy to know my children are loved and respected. I am happy to know we are helping to make a mark on this world…showing the world Nicholas is more alike than different. His life should be celebrated just as all life should be celebrated.
With our journey yet to be compete, I feel as though we have come full circle. We, as a family, have come full circle, that doesn’t mean we don’t have room to grow and change, it just means that as we continue our journey our circle will just have to grow along with us.
Traci was born and reared in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She earned her Bachelors and Masters degree from The University of Tennessee. She and her husband began their married life and family in Wilmington, Delaware. They have been residents of Virginia for 3 years. She is the Virginia Ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society and actively advocates for people with “differing abilities.”