Well, the day has come. In the big picture there are far, far...far, FAR worse things... but my baby boy, Elijah, is near-sighted and needs glasses. This should be no surprise, really. And not just because he has Down syndrome (which comes with an entire laundry list of eye problems associated with that pesky extra chromosome,) but because both Charles and I were nearly blind from near sightedness prior to the invention of Lasik eye surgery.
When you're pregnant with a baby, you play (or, rather I played) the Which-genes-will-he-get game. You know the one: Great hair? Dad's eyes? My formerly bad skin? Tall? Bad eyesight? And I think I "played" it even more once we found out that Elijah has Down syndrome. Will our genes come into play at all? How much will that extra chromosome override? Will he look like his brother? Will he look like us? Is there any chance in hell with both parents having bad eyesight AND a Down syndrome diagnosis that he could come off scott-free without any eyesight issues? Apparently the answer is a resounding, NO. But, as I said, there are far worse things, so I'm embracing the eyesight issues- despite my own childhood shame and embarassment from having to wear glasses.
We had our first Pediatric Opthamology appointment yesterday. I was a little nervous. I could tell that Elijah wasn't seeing very well, and I was really worried because he wasn't able to focus his eyes on much- his eyes seem to move in a pendulum-like effect, as if he is trying to focus. The focus issues have improved significantly over the last few months and it's obvious that Elijah sees because of the giant, all-body smiles he gives people. However, I could tell that he didn't seem to see anything further away than about 3 feet. As a reference, our Regional Center Coordinator told me that at his age, he should be able to see about 30 feet away. Yeah...definitely not doing that. So, I made the appointment with the Opthamologist last month, and it took us 4 weeks to get in to see him. I brace myself for doctor appointments these days. It's kind of sad to say, but in my experience, the medical community is extremely ignorant and categorical about Down syndrome. What's worse, is that most claim to be knowledgeable... We arrived a little early to our appointment and took a seat in the waiting room. Of course, the timing was such that Elijah needed to nurse as we arrived. The nurse told me that we could go ahead and wait in a room, so that I could feed Elijah while waiting for the doctor. She told me she would get a few "particulars" and put some drops in Elijah's eyes to get them dialated before the doctor came in. She took notes on my concerns, and then said, "Downs babies are the happiest babies!" (Deep, cleansing breath.) I smiled and said, "Yes, well just like all children, sometimes they're happy and sometimes they're not, but the stereotype is really a lovely thought." She didn't say anything in response, but I felt pretty good about the exchange. It didn't seem like I made her feel uncomfortable, but it did seem like her wheels were turning just a little bit. As Elijah finished up nursing, the doctor came in and introduced himself. He had me sit with Elijah on my lap, facing him. As he darkened the room he looked into Elijah's eyes with a lighted instrument. Then he held up a lens in front of his eyes and looked through that. Honestly, I'm kind of in awe. It's amazing what they can tell about a child's eyesight by just looking into their eyes! When he finished examining him, he said, "Well, the good news is that his ocular structure looks good, and he is not blind. (Thank you Jesus!!) But, he certainly isn't seeing clearly and has near-sighted vision. In some cases, I would just say we could wait it out a little bit and see what happens, but in his case, I think it would be worth the effort to try some glasses. He also has Nystagmus (that pendulum-like effect I described), but I'm hopeful that the corrective lenses could improve the condition. Plus, if the glasses help stimulate the optic nerve (? Don't quote me here...medical jargon goes awry in my brain) then it will be beneficial to his learning." I love that. Not the part about the poor eyesight & Nystagmus, but the part about our Doctor taking a proactive, optimistic approach. Thank you. I asked, "In your experience, do you have any teens or young adults with Down syndrome who have successfully been able to wear contacts?" He said, "No. But, I won't rule it out. Look, if in 12 years or so, you and I think he could handle it, we'll do it. Who knows? I learn something new everyday in my practice, and just because I haven't seen it, doesn't mean it wouldn't be possible. Maybe it will be and we'll write a paper in 12 years." Yes. We'll write a paper. Why not?
So, we left the doctor's office, and made a left turn into the optometrist. To pick out Baby Glasses. Wow. The woman who helped us was super friendly and immediately pulled out some soft, flexible frames. We giggled over how tiny they looked, but most were even still too big for Elijah's face. We tried on some blue, round frames, some charcoal round frames and some pale blue square frames. He looked like a little Poindexter, and I giggled again, "I think the pale blue frames are best on him and the color is neutral enough to go with most outfits." So, I pulled out my debit card and paid the (gulp) $244 (plus the Opthamology office visit co-pay & yearly eye exam fee) for Baby Glasses. Yikes!
I can't remember how old I was when I first started "wearing" glasses (and I put wearing in quotations because, in theory, I was supposed to wear them but instead chose near blindness...) I hated them. As soon as I was old enough, I begged my parents for contacts and wore my glasses as rarely as possible. I remember a time in high school, when I had a contact-free day. People would wave and say hello, and I had no idea who they were...I couldn't see any detail to their face to know. To make matters worse, I had accidentally sat on the one pair of glasses I owned and broken off one of the temples. Then, a few weeks later, I accidentally stepped on the glasses and broke off the other temple! Now I had just the front part of the frames and lenses. So, I would sit as far back in my classes as possible (I couldn't see sitting close anyway- close was still too far away...), and when no one was looking, I would hold the frames up to my face to see the chalkboard. Seriously. Embarassing. I don't know why I didn't tell my parents. Probably because I knew they cost a fortune (hello $240 Baby Glasses!!) and didn't want to have to tell my parents to shell out more money for something I hated anyway.
So, I'm just a little worried that getting Elijah to wear the glasses will be a struggle. Maybe he didn't get my Aversion-to-wearing-glasses gene?? One can hope...
The glasses are ready next week. So be ready for the onslaught of "Elijah in Baby Glasses" pictures....Really- Is there anything cuter?