Enjoy millions of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more, with a free trial

Only $11.99/month after trial. Cancel anytime.

Sun Shine Down: A Memoir
Sun Shine Down: A Memoir
Sun Shine Down: A Memoir
Ebook152 pages2 hours

Sun Shine Down: A Memoir

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Read preview

About this ebook

"Lifting my hand, I placed it on my breastbone and slid it towards my navel. My mid-section felt numb. Pushing down, it was as if I tapped another person's toneless stomach. White gauze held my empty abdomen tight. I had been eight months pregnant."


What if? What if you dreamed of having a beautiful child and in your mind you saw the life you'd share with that child. First steps, little league (or ballet). Maybe the child would play piano or make you proud on the Honor Roll. There'd be eventual graduations, college, even marriage and grandchildren. You might dream it out that far. Or not. Every parent has hopes. No parents wish for pain—their own, or a child's.

Then you had a premature delivery in a foreign country. And the words swirling around you said a different kind of "what if." What if something was wrong? The dream was at risk—or so it seemed. Would you be ready for that? Could you make peace? Or would it take you down?

These are the questions author Gillian Marchenko faced as she woke up after an emergency C-section in Ukraine. Only her newborn child could answer them, in time. But first she had to find a way to hear more than the words "Down syndrome."


From the very first page, Marchenko tugs the heartstrings of anyone who has ever experienced—or wanted to experience—parenthood, leaving us with a broadened view of the universe and a deeper understanding of what it really means to love one another. Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free

Gillian Marchenko's Sun Shine Down is a moving account of the birth of her third daughter, Polina. She describes her depression after Polly's birth and her own difficulty in loving her child. Beautifully written, this memoir is hopeful without being glib." —Susan Olasky, World magazine

Release dateMar 1, 2015
Sun Shine Down: A Memoir
Read preview

Gillian Marchenko

Gillian Marchenko is an author, speaker, wife, mother of four daughters and advocate for individuals with special needs. Her memoir, Sun Shine Down (T. S. Poetry Press), chronicles her experience having a baby with Down syndrome while serving as a missionary in Ukraine. Gillian writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection and adoption. Educated at Moody Bible Institute, she previously served with the Joni Friends Chicago Teaching Team, helping churches cultivate inclusive environments for individuals with disabilities and their families. In addition to being featured in numerous radio interviews and guest blogging on several websites, Gillian has written for publications such as Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Gifted for Leadership, Today's Christian Woman, Literary Mama, MomSense Magazine and EFCA Today. She and her husband Sergei spent four years as church planters with the Evangelical Free Church of America in Kiev, Ukraine, and they now live with their four daughters in St. Louis, Missouri.

Related to Sun Shine Down

Related ebooks

Reviews for Sun Shine Down

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

1 rating0 reviews

What did you think?

Tap to rate

Review must be at least 10 words

    Book preview

    Sun Shine Down - Gillian Marchenko


    The summer before second grade I thought God ripped my arm off to teach me a lesson.

    It happened on the playground at Cardinal Field—the social hub of Dryden, the small town in the thumb of Michigan where I grew up with my cousins. We were trying to make a fort out of two tractor tires near the swing set. I was the oldest at seven. Gary was six, Jason was five, and little Mandy could not have been more than three. Jason and I shared a birthday, March 2, which in our minds made us smarter than the others. How clever of us to be born the same day.

    Working together, we lifted one tractor tire and started to roll it to the other tire. Hold it this way, Jason, I admonished my tow-headed cousin. Mandy, stay back! Gary told his sister. It was all very serious. We had a job to do. I held the tire from the left side and Gary and Jason stood on the right. After moving a foot or so, the tall tire came crashing down on me. I lay there, my body flung out, my left arm pinned. I tried to wiggle my fingers, but I couldn’t feel anything.

    Mandy, go tell my mom I ripped my arm off! My cousin’s eyes looked like two empty white cups. She started to cry and took off into the fields, as her brothers bent down to lift the tire. Leave it, I said. My mom will be here in a minute. A sharp pain pulsed through my shoulder. The ground seemed to freeze like a Minnesota lake in the dead of winter.

    I waited for help and thought about Daniel, a boy who wore a prosthetic. Daniel’s leg wasn’t like the rest of ours. He’d clank and clatter when he’d play tag, walking as fast as he could, trying to pass it off as a run. A thick leather strap looped down his leg and under his shoe.

    One day at school I came out of the girls’ bathroom and stopped to get a drink from the water fountain. I noticed Daniel on the ground, wedged between the large, steel boys’ bathroom door and its frame, naked except for his white underwear.

    When I saw him, I looked away—because of his underwear and because a knobbed leg stuck out, the other full leg tucked behind him out of sight.

    Help me, Daniel pleaded. Crying, he fixed his eyes on me. My mother had taught me not to stare, but his lack of a leg fascinated me. It stopped where a knee should be, rounded, smooth. I knew something was different about Daniel’s leg; all the kids in our class did. But I didn’t realize it was gone. A mixture of nausea and fear washed over me, and I turned and started back towards class. Please, help me! Please!

    I slipped into the classroom. Kids worked on math problems at their desks. I sidled up to the teacher’s desk, returned the hall pass, and made my way to my seat. No one knew Daniel was wedged between the wall and the large steel bathroom door. What did I just see? How did he get stuck? I tried to wipe Daniel out of my mind. But every time I closed my eyes I saw him. I was afraid to tell my teacher he was naked and stuck, half way out of the bathroom. I was afraid to tell anyone he didn’t have the bottom part of his leg.

    A few minutes later a student from another class poked her head into the room and told the teacher about Daniel. Class, keep working! She rushed out. Kids started talking and laughing and acting up. I stared down at my wide-ruled paper and gripped my pencil.

    The morning the tire tractor pinned me to the ground, my older brother came through the field, pulled the tire off and carried me home. Pain ripped through my arm. God was punishing me for not helping Daniel.

    My mom inspected my swollen shoulder—its piece of bone sticking out—then rushed me to the hospital. My left arm was broken. The doctor had kind eyes and huge, soft hands. He explained my operation; I would take medicine that would help me sleep, and he would fix my arm and then wake me back up. One of his large hands rested near me while he talked—his fingernail beds perfect half-moons.

    Two hours later, I woke up in a room with Disney characters painted on the walls in red, blue, green and yellow. I noticed my arm was casted from shoulder to wrist. Somewhere, I have a black and white picture of me in the room. I look small and sullen, drinking ginger ale out of a tall Styrofoam® cup with a straw. I remember being surprised I still had two arms.

    Before seeing Daniel, I did not know there were people in the world without things like legs. Broken people existed. What a frightening discovery.

    ~ 1 ~

    I woke up just before seven the morning of April 5, 2006, in a surgical recovery room in a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine. Sluggish, I scanned the room, unable to take in my surroundings. A thin white sheet covered my body. I shivered. A metal table housed a tiny television in the corner of the room. The bare walls were a pale shade of blue gray.

    Did Sergei leave? Lifting my hand, I placed it on my breastbone and slid it toward my navel. My mid-section felt numb. Pushing down, it was as if I tapped another person’s toneless stomach. White gauze held my empty abdomen tight. I had been eight months pregnant.

    Five hours earlier, I stood naked in a warm shower, my blond hair tucked into a flimsy paper cap. A delivery nurse crouched in front of my middle. Krasata, she hummed in Russian, smiling, telling me I was beautiful, while methodically shaving me.

    I couldn’t see the nurse’s face over the bulge of my stomach. Her brown hair bobbed in and out of sight as she talked. I imagined her gold tooth sparkling as her mouth moved. In Russian, krasata means beautiful as in, you are a beauty. My skin was now translucent, stretched to its limit. I looked like ET’s pregnant cousin, wide-eyed from fear, hair thinned.

    Tebye nada peesat? the nurse asked as she cleaned off the razor. I nodded – yes, I have to pee, and then I squatted, awkward, as my bladder emptied. I hadn’t peed in front of someone since kindergarten, when I used to make my best friend, Carol Peruski, go to the bathroom with me. The yellow stream swirled around and around the shower floor before sliding down the drain. I wanted to be back home in Michigan, tucked away in an American hospital. I wanted to understand everything being said to me.


    I had hugged my daughters goodbye that morning, expecting to return in a few hours. Elaina, five and a half years old, had a habit of patting my tummy hello and goodbye. Zoya, eighteen months younger, stood on her tiptoes and aligned her lips with my belly button for a kiss. They hurried our departure. They had big plans to make a fort underneath the dining room table with their beloved Ukrainian nanny, Lena.

    Our stalinka—the historical apartment in Kiev where we’d been living for the last three years, since we’d moved from Chicago to Sergei’s native Ukraine to help start and grow churches—showed few signs of a baby coming. A pack of diapers and some second-hand clothes were piled in the corner. A stroller stood in the hallway by the front door next to a line of shoes. We needed more supplies: ointment and shampoo and bottles. Infant clothes needed laundering. There wasn’t a place for the baby to sleep.

    After saying goodbye to the kids, I’d inhaled in an attempt to flatten my protruding belly, needing at least two buttons of my coat to fasten. Giving up, I grabbed a scarf hanging on a hook near the front door and looped it around my neck to keep the Ukrainian winter air at bay. There were three weeks left until my due date. A simple pregnancy check-up coaxed me out the door with a promise of some much-needed time with my husband.

    We’d sat in the car a few minutes, waiting for the engine to warm and for the frost to break up on the windshield. I could see my breath. Let’s swing by that American restaurant on the river after your appointment, Sergei suggested.

    You’re on! I said. And I know what I am going to order: Eggs Benedict. I am going to eat it all, too. It’s not like I can get any bigger than this, right?

    You look beautiful, Sergei said.

    At the appointment, I lay on a long brown bed and watched the obstetrician measure my stomach with the kind of measuring tape my mother used to make our clothes when we were kids. The doctor measured once.


    Shto shto? I asked in Russian. What? What do you see? Is something wrong?

    Upon hearing my question, Sergei, who sat on the other side of the room, stood up and walked over to us.

    Shto takoye? Is there a problem? Sergei asked.

    What? Oh no. Not a problem. I want to measure Gillian’s belly one more time. The doctor

    Enjoying the preview?
    Page 1 of 1