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It happened again. I found myself explaining to someone that
being a mother of a child with Down syndrome isn't horrible or like being in prison.
I shared with a woman I had just met that I was tired after
having spent a long weekend with my son. She asked how old I was, and when I
told her I was 46, she said, "Oh that gives me hope. I'm 37 and looking forward to having children one day soon. Your son's happy and healthy, so I'm
I should have left it there. I should have ignored the urge
in me to address the "healthy" part, because I know what people do when they
learn I have a son with Down.
I've seen the season on their faces go from
summer to winter and the pity arise in their eyes. And I remember what I
thought about parents of children with special needs before I was one. I recall
the terror I felt and how sorry I was for them—the parents, the kids, all of
Her words, "He's healthy," rang in my head. I started to
ignore them, but then I felt myself doing what I do.
"Well it depends on what
you mean when you say 'healthy,'' I said. "He has Down syndrome."
Parenting a young child in your 40s is more than notion. And there is nothing you can do to be ready.
I knew what
was coming, but this time I was ready for it. Her face contorted. Her head
lowered and her eyes bulged. She was actually a lot more dramatic than most
have been. She then apologized to me because my son has Down syndrome. "I'm so
sorry," she said.
I saw myself in her response, the fear that once overtook me,
the color rushing out of her face the way it had once rushed out of mine. I
stood before her with a huge smile on my face. For the first time I wasn't
offended. I didn't take her fear as a personal attack.
Having a child with Down syndrome has taught me many things
about myself and about my son. One of things is that parents of children with
special needs should share their unique parenting experience so it doesn't
occur as some type of plague. Our voices and journeys need to become more
In that moment of her projected sorrow of being too old and
possibly having a child with Down, I shared how amazing my son is. I told her
about his joy. I told her about his love for learning, his compassion and
ability to light up room with his smile. I felt her spirit lighten a bit, but I
could see that she was genuinely troubled by her belief that older mothers have
a greater chance of having children with special needs than younger ones.
Her mind was spinning, and I could see it clearly. So I
looked her straight in her eyes and said, "Being an older mom doesn't mean you
will have a child with Down syndrome—it will mean that you will a
40-something-year-old mother with a toddler, and you will be exhausted by
the demands of parenthood. Parenting a young child in your 40s is more than
notion. And there is nothing you can do to be ready for the demands of being 40-something
and riding a skate board, playing basketball and wrestling. If I were you I'd be more worried about that, than
about having a child with special needs."
She looked at me with a confused
expression, because you have to be a mother to understand what I shared with
her. She gave me a fake smile, and we parted ways.