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HARNER: Birth of daughter ends long battle, opens next chapter

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By Andrew Harner

ST. LOUIS – We weren’t all made to be athletes.

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I, along with anyone who has ever had the misfortune of watching me attempt to play sports competitively, can vouch for that.

Fortunately, we were all made to do something, and one of the most wonderful life experiences is helping guide someone in finding their life song.

I’m only a week into that particular process, but I love every second of it.

Miranda Jane Harner was born to my wife Elizabeth and me at exactly 2:40 p.m. last Thursday at St. John’s Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. She weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces, and was 19 inches long – her image a perfect combination of our features.

It marked the end of a long – and sometimes disheartening – journey that saw our precious angel being named a candidate for numerous conditions after a 20-week ultrasound revealed a potential neurological problem.

At that time, the circumference of the lateral ventricles in her brain were measuring 2 millimeters too large, a potential sign of Down syndrome or several other serious issues.

It was scary diagnosis, but one Elizabeth and I were plenty willing to accept in exchange for the privilege of becoming parents and starting our own family.

Bombarded with information and finding ourselves lost at times in the maze that is St. John's Mercy Hospital, we waited out the unknown, beginning some preparations for the worst, but always hoping for the best.

A blood test came back with a negative result for Down syndrome, but the ventricles had grown to 17 millimeters by the beginning of June – 7 millimeters larger than the upper threshold of the normal range – so there was still a battle to be won.

Our radiologist suggested the problem was a rare condition that would potentially give our baby girl future seizures and stunted growth. Another doctor thought she could need surgery shortly after birth to install a shunt to drain the excess fluid.

Both very hard diagnoses for first-time parents.

Even worse, all we could do was wait.

After three weeks in limbo, it was time for another ultrasound, and on that late June day, we had no expectation of learning what we did.

We learned that Miranda is a fighter – just like her mother, and her mother’s mother – when we saw that the enlarged portion of her brain was beginning to shrink – dropping in size to 14 millimeters. Three weeks after that, the measurements remained stable.

A post-birth ultrasound last Friday showed that the ventricles had healed themselves, reducing in size to within the normal range, and doctors don’t believe there will any long-term medical effects.

Simply amazing. Our own miracle baby.

It's a reason to take pause and remember that we don’t have that long to shape our children’s futures, and that we should never take these gifts for granted – even if they choose you as the target of their first spit up or wiggle their arms out of that swaddler blanket no matter how tightly you wrap it.

Seven of my 6,574 days to sculpt my daughter are gone, and I know that if I’m not careful, the other 6,567 will have passed before I know it.

She’ll live a life surrounded by sports – which, fortunately, are a good tool to shape the next generation – but I’ll never force her into a life that revolves around my passions.

Perhaps she’ll love T-ball when she turns 5.

But if she doesn’t, I’ll trade the bat, ball and glove for nights of sipping tea with stuffed animals before spinning her through the ballroom of the queen’s castle.

Perhaps she’ll giggle when I lift her up to dunk a basketball.

But if she doesn’t, I’ll gladly trade those games for hula hooping contests in the backyard. P.S.: Miranda, you will certainly have no problem beating me.

Maybe volleyball will be her sport.

But if it’s not, what’s to stop us from instead taking fall safaris through the park with our butterfly nets?

Maybe she’ll want to be in a gymnastics class.

But if not, what’s to keep Daddy from doing his own tumbling – down a snow-covered hill in the winter just to see if his “clumsiness” can bring out his favorite smile?

Maybe she’ll want to be an artist, or a doctor, or a paleontologist, or a partner in a law firm, or be in some other career that doesn’t even exist yet.

But no matter what path she chooses, she’ll always by my little M.J., and helping her find her life song will always be worth all the uncertainty we endured to get her here.