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gillian marchenko

Author and Speaker


Premonitions and Down syndrome


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Premonitions and Down syndrome

I’m fascinated by the notion of premonitions.

Pre·mo·ni·tion. n. 1. A presentiment of the future; a foreboding. 2. A warning in advance; a forewarning.

I’ve had them off and on throughout life; that stirring thought that something is coming… that alarm that goes off in your head… the foreboding.

But none stronger than when I was pregnant with my daughter Polly who was born in Ukraine and later diagnosed with Down syndrome. I just knew something was wrong with my baby and it scared the hell out of me.

What’s even more fascinating now is that I’ve heard from several other special needs moms that they had premonitions during their pregnancies as well.

Something’s not right.

Towards the end of my pregnancy with Polly, fear became a daily companion. It grew with my stomach. Polly started to move less often. When she became sluggish, all I wanted was to get on a plane and fly back to the States. I was sure the doctor was missing something. My hands were tied, though. It wasn’t easy to just pick up and go home, and no one else seemed to think anything was wrong. When I’d start to worry, I’d go over the facts with Sergei: the baby is growing, although she is small, I felt her kick every day; my doctor thought everything was okay.

But I’d still ache for a doctor and a hospital back in Michigan. Doctors in the States wouldn’t let anything slide under the radar. I would trust them if they told me the baby was fine. Instead, I was stuck here in Ukraine.

My mom knits. If I close my eyes, I can still see her sitting in a chair in my childhood home. Already in pajamas at 7 p.m., her hair wet from a bath, a Coke sweating on the side table next to her on top of a flimsy paper napkin. I see her hands moving, click, click, click, click. Sometimes she’d unravel a sweater or a scarf that was nearly done. I didn’t see the point after coming so far to start over because of a few mistakes. “Who wants to wear a sweater with mistakes?” she’d say. Later on in her life, she started to ignore mistakes more often. I guess by then she wasn’t afraid of a little imperfection.

I’d think about my mom and her knitting while dealing with my premonitions. What if this baby was being knit together wrong?

Sergei prayed and I worried and time passed. Somehow, each day I convinced myself I was overreacting. I drank lots of orange juice and spent afternoons lying on my left side on the bed, counting kicks. I’d lay there and cry and at some point almost always felt a soft kick to reassure me of her existence.

And I ate a lot of Big Macs.

Mondays were our family days. We’d pile into our white Ford Focus purchased after three years of dragging the kids around town on busses and trains. We’d drive to METRO, an indoor mall in Kiev that housed a huge, modern grocery store and a skating rink, outlined by a dozen fast food places, clothing stores and flower shops.

My pregnancy weight packed on but I didn’t care. Every Big Mac tasted like home. We’d sit right up to the skating rink glass and chuckle as beginner skaters flailed around on the solid, slippery surface. Elaina and Zoya were appeased to sit still for a while thanks to vanilla soft serve ice cream cones that dripped on to their shirts.

A couple of times Sergei took the girls skating. I’d sit alone with my Big Mac and my third little daughter quiet and still inside me and giggle as they crept along, the three of them joined together by locked hands, digging their blades sideways in the ice to move forward. A chord of three strains isn’t easily broken it says in the Bible. Not so for my family. They’d fall on the ice and I’d giggle until I tasted my tears.

Have you had a premonition? Please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear about it. 

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  1. Julie says:

    Yes! I ended up having an amnio to find out for sure, but I knew already. At some point in my pregnancy before the amnio, I remember siting in the bathroom praying that the baby would be a boy because I thought it would be harder to have a girl with Down syndrome than a boy (ironic because we then adopted a girl with DS!). So when we got the results, we spent some time being sad and grieving. I think our adjustment actually went rather smoothly, and by the time Jack was born, we just wanted to meet him.

  2. Lauri Eisenhauer says:

    Its funny you say that. I never had a premonition while I was pregnant with my son, I had no clues. My pregnancy went awesome, but my sister did and she did not tell me till after he was born.

  3. Karen says:

    So I was 44 when we had Caleb. Should’ve known better, right? But even with monthly ultrasounds, Down syndrome was never really detected. There was one slight marker in his nuchal fold, and my bloodwork came back with a slightly increased risk, but we didn’t think too much about it.
    I was about seven months along and was working at our local Publix, when a friend came by who didn’t know we were expecting. “What is THAT?” She exclaimed, pointing at my protruding belly. “Our son!” I responded, feeling quite proud. Just then, this feeling came over me. Something felt wrong, and it had to do with Caleb. I had no idea at the time, just knew that something was wrong. Never mentioned it to my husband. It was the weirdest feeling. I’ll never forget it.

  4. Justine says:

    I cried alot during my pregnancy because no matter how hard I tried to be happy, I was fearful. It seemed like unexplained fear. I would tell myself over and over again that everything was going to be fine, but in my heart knew different. I really struggled after my son was born, so I see now I wasnt meant to know during pregnancy. Even now I struggle and feel conflicted. I pray I come to full acceptance in time.

  5. Heather says:

    I had a few. After becoming a mother I knew in my heart that we would face some health concerns, at some point in life, with one of our children. Prior to being pregnant with Charlie we were choosing kindergarten for our daughter. One class had a boy with Down Syndrome. The other school was flawless, except I wanted her in class with the boy with Down Syndrome because I wanted her to experience being around him. Against my gut, we chose the school with the boy with Down Syndrome. Once I became pregnant with our third, Charlie, I. Just. Knew. I didn’t know what I knew but something was different inside of me. I was extra cautious and careful with everything I did with him. On the 20 week scan they found two holes in his heart and thickened nuchal fold and we had it confirmed by amino. My Mom also had a feeling about my pregnancy.

  6. jisun says:

    Yes, I knew somewhere in my bones, the minute I peed on the stick. I was plagued by fears of miscarriage. I had a hard time preparing at the end of my pregnancy, I felt strangely surreal when taking out our baby things. Towards the very end, I started feeling anxious and convinced myself that I was just anxious about having three children.

    We are animals, don’t forget. Animals know things about their offspring and life that are beyond conscious thought. I know so many women who felt similar things and went on to have a child with Down syndrome, I can’t believe it is coincidence.

  7. Hello Gillian, SO Interesting! It came flooding back when I read this. I replied with an entire blog. Short answer: Yes! Thank you for asking. Feel free to stop by with the long answer.

  8. Kimberly says:

    I knew my bear cub had Ds and even told others that she did before she was born although the only sign was hydronephrosis, which my youngest also has, but I didn’t worry about it with her. I also knew the hydronephrosis would clear up for her at birth although my neonatalogist told me that I was being unrealistic.

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