Hi everyone! Welcome to JillianBenfield.com, formerly known as News Anchor to Homemaker. If you’ve been around for a while, I’m sure you’re wondering—why the change? To put it simply—the name wasn’t me anymore. Let me give you a bit of background.
I started this blog back in 2014. I worked with a designer and the name, the graphic fit perfectly for what I wanted this blog to be, a food blog. The site launched and then days later we got our son’s Down syndrome diagnosis. Since then, that cute name, that adorable family graphic, just didn’t fit. I’ve taken my readers down the many roads of grief, reflection and enlightenment as life has thrown us many unexpected hardships and subsequent lessons over the years.
Not to mention, this year makes five years since I’ve been a news anchor!
I did some soul searching this summer while I was 9 months pregnant and living at a Ronald McDonald House (a place where contemplating your life just comes with the territory) and I realized changes were in order. Not just the name, not just the design, but also the content.
I had put myself in a box—special needs parent and Christian writer. I rarely opened the flaps to go outside those limits I set for myself. I thought it was my “brand”, but you know what? My life, my experiences, my thoughts go beyond those two titles.
So, what can you expect? My greatest hope is that you will feel both connected and inspired here. You will get what you’ve come to know from my words—real life, raw honesty, all with a heaping dose of encouragement and hope. You will also get more topics—parenting (both special needs and the regular kind), marriage, Down syndrome and advocacy, many spiritual reflections and also more fun—more recipes, more parties, more tips of things I’ve learned along the way.
I also want this space to be more about you. How can you be apart of it? Join my new Facebook group—Real Life, Roaring Hope. This is a community where we will listen to each other and lift one another up.
So, grab a cup of coffee/tea, glass of wine or bowl of popcorn and explore my new virtual home. Read my mission for this site, dive into my story, get to know the family and make sure you also follow along on Facebook and Instagram so we can laugh together in the midst of our sometimes-serious reflections.
I’m so thankful for my readers, I hope you all come to love this new space.
It’s very common for parents to say they “can’t believe” their child is now whatever age they are turning. But I don’t feel that way. Every week, it becomes clearer to me that you, my first baby, are turning into a little girl.
It’s not just because of your size either! Although topping the charts in the mid-90’s certainly plays a factor. But mostly it’s because little by little, your not-so-little personality is coming out. And little by little I can imagine the person you will become.
Your teachers call you a “social butterfly” which I know to be true. Every day you ask me to play with friends and it makes me smile because I remember being the same way.
Your grandma told me that you’re a kid that loves fun. And I love that about you. You get so excited about the littlest things. Whether it’s pretending the shopping cart is a choo-choo train, the flowers we see on the side of the road or just planning out what you’ll have for lunch, you get a true sparkle in those big baby blues.
You’re sensitive, too. Your teachers tell me you’re the first one to let them know if a classmate is hurt or sad. You also hate being in trouble, which can be troubling for me when I need to stand firm.
You’re an expert negotiator. You try to sell your way throughout the day—always trying to sneak more fun in. Wanting something more to look forward to.
As you are getting older, you are also becoming cuddlier. In my busy part-time working, heavy volunteering, mom-life, I always try to make the most of these moments that I know too soon will start to fade.
Many people believe that becoming a parent is saying good-bye to adventure, but for me, having you was when the real adventure began. Thank you for making (most) of my days brighter, for showing me that life is bigger than myself, for helping me grow, for awakening my softer and sillier side and most of all for teaching me how to love.
Favorite memories from year 3:
Llama Llama MAADDDD at Mama
Violet the Pirate phase
Coming home to you after being away for your brother’s heart surgery
The phase where every older woman with dark hair was a witch
Watching you play with your cousins
Disney World- one of my favorite parenting days- to date
You not wanting to leave the ocean
Halloween-you as Ariel, your brother as Sebastian
Nighttime Dance Parties
Christmas Day in your Minnie Mouse Helmet
You realizing your Elsa dress sings “Let It Go”
Trip to Tombstone and Cowgirl Violet
Picking flowers on our evening walks
First Easter Egg Hunt and catching you and your friends eating all of your candy
“Tomorrow…” How you start your negotiations
“It’s a good deal.” How you try to further your negotiations
“It’s a great idea, mommy.” Again, how you further your negotiations
“Sleeping dooty” (Sleeping Beauty)
“Christmas apple sauce” (Criss-cross applesauce)
“Silly old bed” (Silly old bear – although you adamantly deny this one.)
“Is it a pizza pie? No! It’s a pumpkin pie!” (whenever we have pizza)
It was December 30th and I was in a wretched mood. Well, my 20-month-old daughter Violet was the one having a really bad day, which in turn made all of us (particularly my 38-week pregnant self) pretty miserable. It was so bad that I actually apologized to my parents, more than once, for the terrible attitude I had put on display all day long. Looking back now, I think I was anxious…I knew he was coming.
I had a doctor’s appointment late that afternoon. My husband and I waited for an hour to be seen by the ultrasound technician. The tech was very talkative (when you’ve had something go wrong in a pregnancy you’re used to them being silent until a doctor arrives) and said, “Your amniotic fluid is low.” “How low?” “It’s only a 3.” I knew what that meant. I looked at Andy with tears in my eyes and said, “I hope they let us go home and get our things.”
I already had a bag packed, my parents could have easily brought it to the hospital, but it was Violet. I had been so impatient with her that day. I needed to see her. I needed to hold her tightly one more time as my only child.
When we got home, I sat on the floor of my daughter’s playroom and cried. My parents didn’t understand, how could they? Having a baby had only ever been a joyous occasion for them as were all 10 births of their grandchildren. I told them how scared I was. I read the books on babies with Down syndrome. I knew what could happen at the hospital. Mothers of children with Down syndrome assured me for months that it would all be better once he was here…what if they were wrong? I worried that we would search his little body all over for signs. I worried that we would feel sad instead of elated the way we were at the birth of our daughter. All of my fears that had built up for 4 months were coming to the surface at once.
So, I did what I always do when I feel my worst. I took a hot shower and I cried it out. Then I put my game-face on… a.k.a makeup. I even applied mascara, so I couldn’t afford to cry now. I was not going to let my fear take over the entire birth. As silly as it sounds, I wanted to look like the fierce mother I wanted to be for our son.
We got to the hospital and the doctor told us that Christmas may have passed, but “We have a Bethlehem type situation.” There were no rooms available, so they put me in a triage room and the stress of it all made me go into labor on my own. Two hours later we finally got a room in labor and delivery. The doctors didn’t want me to be in labor too long so they gave me Pitocin to speed up the process.
There we were, in the last period of waiting during this pregnancy. I’ve written about the waiting periods in our lives during 2014. We waited to find out where we would be stationed. We waited for the blood test results. We waited for the amniocentesis results. We waited to see if we would move and then we waited for where we would get moved to next. The waiting was about to end on the last day of the year…fitting, right?
As I waited this time, I wasn’t filled with fear. Instead I prayed. I prayed for hours that night. I brought my prayer journal and I wrote down my prayers to God. We made it no secret that we were praying for God to take away our son’s extra chromosome. It’s a decision people have both supported and criticized. But we prayed this not because we think a life with Down syndrome is less of a life, but because we are his parents. If we could ask God to take away a syndrome that would make parts of his life (the parts so many of us take for granted) more challenging…that would require years of therapy…we would ask.
But as I felt myself pouring my thoughts out on those pages, I felt my words coming up short. I didn’t feel my heart 100% behind them. I didn’t feel right about the words looking back at me. I thought it was because it was 3 a.m. and I was delirious and sleep deprived, but really I think it was God’s way of telling me that he had answered this prayer we had been praying for months by saying “no”.
The nurse came in to check me and I was at 6 centimeters. A half hour later I called her to come back. I told her something was wrong, that I could feel everything despite getting an epidural. She was a new nurse on L&D and she told me she didn’t want to check me again for a while. Good thing I insisted because I went from 6 to 10. All of a sudden, dozens of people were in the room. I didn’t understand what was happening. They told me it was time to push.
Andy held my hand and I pushed for what seemed like seconds (in reality 5 minutes) before I heard the tiniest cry. It was like a scene out of a movie. I kept saying, “He’s not crying, he’s not crying, what’s wrong?” A nurse from the NICU told me that he was fine and she told Andy to come over and take pictures. I saw his body language. He looked heavy. The doctors then handed my son to me and I knew. The answer was in his eyes. He had Down syndrome. And I wasn’t disappointed… I felt at peace. I stared at the gorgeous, darling boy in my arms and I knew his life might be different than I had imagined and I knew it would be okay.
We had two names picked out for our son. We had decided that if he had Down syndrome we would name him after his dad. The doctor asked us, “What’s your son’s name?” Andy and I looked at each other and said, “Anderson” in unison.
It took a long time for the staff to leave our room. When they did I said to Andy, “I feel like you need to put your head on my shoulder and cry.” And he did. We didn’t speak. I knew what he was feeling. It was the end to the 4 worst months of our lives. It was every emotion at once. It was joy and fear. I knew he needed to feel everything before moving on.
And he did…quickly. I thought something was wrong with Anderson from the moment he came out. He seemed too lethargic. When a nurse came back into our room, she noticed it too. She ran a quick test, discovered low oxygen levels and off to the NICU our baby went. Andy immediately went into Dad mode. He calmly asked the doctors questions and put it all into a language I could understand. He was either at my side or Andersons’ side, comforting us both.
Call it a premonition, a mother’s intuition or the Holy Spirit, but I predicted Anderson would be born on New Year’s Eve. We all picked dates a couple of weeks before. Andy asked me why I thought the 31st would be the day. I told him that I thought God would show us a miracle on the last day of the worst year of our lives. I said all along that our son would be a blessing whether he had Down syndrome or not. But he’s not only a blessing…he is a miracle. He has changed my heart. He has opened my mind. He has made me better. I know his work isn’t done. I know I will continue to grow because of him. I believe he will have the same impact on those who come to know him. My sweet boy, Anderson, is a miracle.