I remember when, several years ago, a group of women friends and I sat around chatting, and the conversation turned, as it often does with a group of women, to pregnancy and motherhood. One friend in the group was recounting her amnio with her last pregnancy, telling us all how it really was no big deal. She said, “Of course I had an amnio – I could never handle a kid with special needs.”
In this whole firestorm over the new prenatal tests aimed at detecting Down syndrome, and the ongoing debate about terminating pregnancies when a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is made, there seems to be a common refrain: “Not everyone is cut out to parent a child with special needs.”
Who is cut out to parent a child with special needs? I can tell you that since becoming Finn’s mother, I’ve been told more times than I can shake a stick at that “special kids are given to special parents.” I think this is a well-meaning platitude that sounds good but really doesn’t carry any weight. I can assure you that the badge of Special Parent is only given after the fact. I wasn’t special before Finn was born – and the truth is, I’m not special now, either.
How does one envision a person who is cut out to parent a child with special needs? What traits and qualifications does that special parent supposedly have?
I’m just a regular girl with no special qualifications, and plenty of faults. I’m not especially long on patience; I’m a little on the anal-retentive side; I’m a creature of habit; I value me time. I enjoy a good book, a nice martini (when I’m not knocked up), and an occasional night out with the girls. I think it’s important for my husband and I to have somewhat regular “date nights.” I swear. A lot. I like a good dirty joke and I’m not above potty humor.
I have no special skills – nor are any required of me – to be Finn’s mom. All that’s required is that I love him – and that’s easy. As easy as breathing.
I know that when Finn was born and we learned that he had Down syndrome, I, too, protested: “I’m not cut out for this!” I’m not even sure what I meant. I’m not sure what I, at the time, thought made a person better qualified than me to have a child like Finn.
What sort of picture do people who insist they’re not cut out to parent a child with Down syndrome have of the everyday lives of families of children with Down syndrome? I’m trying to remember what picture I may have had. I don’t think I really had a particular picture in mind, just a sense that there must be a whole lot of sadness and sacrifice involved.
That’s not what our life looks like in reality, though. Our family life really hasn’t changed at all since Finn was born. Michael and I still have date nights, we have two wonderful babysitters who adore Finn and have no qualms about sitting for him and the other kids. We still do Little League and gymnastics and swim lessons. We still take the kids out to dinner and ice cream once in a while, we’ve managed a couple of family road trips, we go to the park and we have picnics. We crank up the stereo and have dance parties in the living room after dinner. We laugh. A lot. We have a busy, raucous house. Finn hasn’t changed that; he’s only added to every aspect of our family life.
What are any of us really cut out for, anyway? Life lobs so many curveballs at each of us over the course of our lives. How many things have you already stood up to and discovered that, yeah, you actually can do this – things you never dreamed you were cut out for? What would life be like if we all could opt out of every challenge or unexpected event that landed on our doorstep? Do we avoid the things in life that teach us, that expand us as human beings, that show us what we’re really made of just because those things do not fit into the plan we had for ourselves? And if so, what does that say about us?
Something to think about.