I’m just going to leave this right here…
I’m just going to leave this right here…
We’ve just crossed the 1 year threshold and it’s almost entirely gone – the uncertainty, the fear and the sadness. In fact, there’s only one time that sadness comes back to knock the wind out of me and sting my eyes with tears – and it’s not when I think of my baby girl. It’s only when I think of myself. See, I don’t feel sorry for Frankie at all, or me, or Seb, or our family and friends. I only feel sorry for the “before” me – the me that didn’t know that she was about to have her world changed the instant she looked into her baby’s gorgeous kaleidoscopic sapphire eyes.
I guess I’ve never dealt well with my own naivete. Always embarrassed after the fact at the things I didn’t know, before I knew them. I think of myself planning for the baby I thought I was going to have. Trying not to act excited as I bought a new robe and PJs for the hospital. As I packed travel sized shampoos and toiletries for my stay. Trying to be nonchalant as I bought just one more gender neutral onesie – “It’s definitely a boy, but, you know, just in case…” In the aftermath of Frankie’s birth these things seemed so trivial and inconsequential and I felt like such a silly naive girl preoccupied with it all. I remember feeling angry, thinking to myself how could I have cared about that stuff? How did I think I was just going to walk in there and walk out with a perfectly fine, healthy baby.
And then there was the cringe-worthy “hopeful” phase – nervously googling, taking it to heart when the hospital pediatrician said “It’s probably nothing.” The me that thought “She can’t possibly have it, LOOK at her.” But those eyes were so telling…I knew. And I knew I knew.
And then finally there was acceptance. Maybe I’m not SO embarrassed by this final phase of me. But I still feel stabs in my heart when I think of myself handing my beautiful girl over to each new admirer and simultaneously blurting out “She has Down syndrome.” Each time was cathartic and freeing and met with the most sincere words of love and encouragement, but pierced right through me nonetheless.
There were weeks that followed when I repeatedly crumpled into my husband or my parents still hoping to wake up to find it all a dream. When I muffled my cries so my older son wouldn’t wonder what was wrong. Where I sat on the steps in my robe long after everyone had left for school or work for the day, ugly crying my way through nap time. When my baby girl’s face was wet with my own tears as I pledged to give her the very best in me with Natalie Merchant’s Wonder on repeat in the background.
Somewhere in there it all changed for me. I’ve come to accept that it was – it is! – a process and I try not to be too harsh on myself about the way I’ve dealt with it all. I am still sad for that woman who didn’t know the pain that she was about to encounter on the eve of an occasion when she expected nothing but joy. But now, I feel so lucky to be the woman who gets to experience such joy when she expected such pain.
I guess life is funny like that sometimes…
Today is the annual day of awareness for the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. For the uninitiated, the R-word is “retarded” or “retard.”
You remember saying it without a second thought in the 80s and 90s, right? Me, too. And I will admit that even now, though it doesn’t slip out anymore, I’m not completely shattered if someone says it flippantly to describe something they think is stupid or uncool. But more and more, it makes me stop and take a deep breath. And if someone ever said it about Frankie…well, I’m afraid I’d have to get all mama bear on them.
But, here’s the thing, when someone uses it, it’s offensive to anyone with an intellectual disability. It belittles their achievements and their value as a person. Which isn’t nice.
So just don’t use it. Find another word, there are tons to choose from. It’s not going to save the world, but it’s one more step towards a kinder society. And that means a lot to a lot of people.
Strong. Independent. Smart. Sassy. Beautiful.
These were all things I imagined when I dreamt about having a little girl. A headstrong little miss with hands on hips and pouty lips. She would grow to be a woman who was savvy and intellectual with inner beauty and strength.
These were qualities and traits I valued before having a child with Down syndrome.
When Frankie was born and her diagnosis sunk in, all of those dreams of mine dissolved. In the darkest days I remember irrationally crying that she would never be pretty or smart, that I felt like all I could do was dress her up and make her look cute. That was all she could be. And I wanted so much more for her. My perfect daughter was gone in an instant.
How wrong I was!!!
You are 1 year old, baby girl!
You are so strong, you blow your physical therapist away at every session and she says you’re the best she’s ever seen.
You are so independent, you push my hands away at least 10 times every day, saying without words “I got this, Mom!”
You are so smart, you are constantly figuring out ways to do just what you want to even when your little body is not quite ready.
You are so sassy, I get a preview of the fights and struggles you and I are going to have when you’re a teenager every time you glare at me from across your highchair’s tray.
Almost every day we are approached by strangers – whether in the store or on the street or on the train. They smile, they coo, they literally gasp. I’ve heard “She’s beautiful.” “She’s perfect.” “Those eyes!” “A baby like that makes you forget there is bad in this world.” They say simply and yet with a sincerity that always catches my breath, “She made my day.” What could be more beautiful than that?
I am sorry I ever underestimated you, beautiful girl. I should’ve known better from that first day we met when you pulled my hair and checked out my diamond ring and I saw that glint in those sparkly, sapphire eyes. How could I ever doubt you would fulfill all my dreams? And more importantly, I can’t wait to watch you fulfill yours.
Happy 1st birthday, Francesca Catherine.
It’s taken me much longer than I thought to decide to write about our experiences with Frankie’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. It surprised me – writing is usually my go-to form of expression, but there was something about putting it all out there that kept stopping me. Ultimately, I think the reason was that I didn’t want my little girl to ever know that I felt anything but utter joy at her arrival. I knew it would take time to work through the fear and to unravel the tangle of emotions and I couldn’t bear the thought of her one day stumbling across my untempered thoughts.
But I realize now – at nearly a year in – that that’s not what this story is about. It’s not about overcoming hurdles and struggles. It’s a love story. One that started differently than I had expected, but has blossomed into something so much greater.
Our girl was not what we had expected and, at the time, that felt devastating. But I understand now that no child is ever what you truly expect or without his or her challenges. And truthfully, she’s so much more than I ever could have imagined!
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