Shining hope for her son with Down syndrome

Special to The Times

I FIRST saw her in December, a month before my son was born. Hunched over my swollen belly, I waited in my car for a green light. What about her turned my head? Not her beauty. She sat on the bus stop curb, stocky in winter layers, mouth a grim rectangle. I liked the way her neck rested right on her shoulders, the planted look this gave her. I liked her jutting chin and how she stared, unblinking, into the traffic while not smoking the lighted cigarette in her gloved hand. A slight blankness to her expression made it seem that a daydream -- no doubt compensatory, probably romantic -- had pulled her inward, away from her own solid body and the cold. With a stab, I remembered having such daydreams as a young woman, those needs I had then, needs that over the years I’ve not so much filled as lost track of.

The driver behind me honked. An old loneliness clutched at my throat. I left the girl behind.

I saw her again in February. I’d left my children with a sitter -- first time for the baby -- and was driving to the gym. Like me, the girl was alone again, this time picking up garbage on the roadside. (An environmentalist even!) As she bent to pick up a can, her body in jeans and a sweat shirt looked to me hippy, comfortable, a body some man could grab hold of. Then as she straightened to bag the garbage, I saw her face more clearly. I slowed for a U-turn. What made me notice first? Her thick glasses maybe, and then the mouth, that rectangular shape, like my son’s, then back to the glasses, the eyes, their upturned corners. Lines from my son’s geneticist’s report hawked me . . . “epicanthal folds; neck somewhat appreciated.” I drove by the girl four times.

After I was sure she had Down syndrome, I skipped the gym.

My son has mosaic Down syndrome, a rare form. Some of his cells have an extra chromosome, some are typical. No one can tell me what his future holds, but I know what I hope for him.

Driving aimlessly that day, I thought of the girl’s hair -- shiny brown, curled, the most hopeful hair I’d seen in ages. For better or worse, perhaps not forever, I drove away from the hard-headed woman I’d been, the one who’d served on the board of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, the one who’d refused the white wedding dress and scoffed at the ring. No matter that I’d directed a film about marriage ambivalence or taught my daughter to call Mrs. Claus Santa’s “partner.” Sometimes all I know are my own special needs.

For the next hour and a half, I daydreamed of my daughter-in-law. I prayed, let her wait for my boy. And that night, between breast-feedings, I slept peacefully for the first time since his diagnosis.

Karen Sosnoski is a writer, mother and filmmaker based in Alexandria, Va.