I’ve had two dissonant parenting articles making the rounds in my head and heart for a couple of weeks. One is from the UK Daily Mail, in which Gillian, the mother of Stephen, a 47-year-old man with Down syndrome states unapologetically that she wishes he had never been born. She says if she could go back in time she would end her son’s life before he was born “in an instant.”
The other is this one by my friend Jeannett in which she says she hopes her daughter (also named Jillian, coincidentally), who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy never hears any pregnant woman say “as long as it’s healthy” while she rubs her belly. No matter how well-meaning the phrase, if her daughter hears this, she wonders, will she think herself unwanted, unworthy, or less because she isn’t “healthy”? Will she wonder if her mother thought for one second that she could trade her for a healthy child? Will her heart drop to her stomach as her mind replays every 911 call, every ambulance ride, every hospital stay her mother has taken with her. Will she wonder if her mother regrets the life she leads?
This is just about Jeannett’s greatest nightmare. Because unlike Gillian, she rejoiced in the baby she gave birth to – disability and all.
These two opposing posts are rattling around in my mom-heart, and as these sorts of things usually do, they’ve made their way out into a blog post of my own. Because, also, this happened:
I posted a link on my Facebook profile to the Daily Mail article where Gillian recounts how her son with Down syndrome has basically ruined her life, and how she wishes he had never existed, and someone commented on my post, “That’s so sad, but I don’t think I am very well equipped to raise a special needs child.” (This is a paraphrase, and I should note, the person who wrote that comment does not have children.)
But she is correct. She’s not equipped. Because she doesn’t have such a child. If she had a special needs child, and was willing to accept this gift from God, then she would become equipped real quick-like. How do I know? Because God doesn’t make mistakes. I firmly believe that He gives us the kids we are supposed to have and he gives us what we need to be their parents. Jeannett didn’t dream of one day having a child with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, but she does and she rocks her job as Jill’s mom LIKE A BOSS. She in uniquely equipped to be Jill’s mom, just like she is uniquely equipped to parent her three other “typical” children who each have and will have their own needs or problems that Jeannett will help them with along the way.
And listen. I did not think I was equipped to raise a child with significant developmental delays, to teach her, to work with her, to become an at-home speech and occupational therapist. But when my daughter was diagnosed with said delays, after I cried my tears and finished wailing to my husband that SURELY our daughter needed a BETTER MOTHER, I got on it. And I learned, I learned fast. I had no idea what I was doing, but you know what? God equipped me. All that was in there inside of me just waiting to be activated. He gave me a child who needed to be taught and he gave me the skills to teach her. Yes, she had therapists, but they told me what to do and I did it! And though we were told she’d need 3-4 years of therapy, and she graduated in just 18 months.
Hear me, sisters:
God gave me the child I was supposed to have and then he gave me the skills to give her what she needed. It is that simple.
When I read the article Gillian wrote, even though her desire to wish her son’s life away gives me chills, I do not feel judgment. I have not walked in her shoes, but I have experienced thinking you have a “typical” child and then getting smacked in the face with the reality that you do not. I feel sadness for Gillian. I am just so, so, sad for her. Because she could have chosen to accept her sweet boy and be the best mom for him, but instead as she says in her own words, she never came to terms with his disability.
I do not think she ever saw him as anything but a mistake. And I think she missed out on a lot. (Side note: please go read the article. It’s pretty chilling, and I don’t want you to think I am attacking some poor misunterstood mom.)
Listen, mamas. All our kids will have some sort of issue. Some may struggle academically, others behaviorally, some may sail through their school and teen years and then have trouble functioning as a young adult. Some of your daughters may struggle as young mothers. Listen, listen, listen: whatever your child needs at any stage, you can give it to them. I am not saying you can magically become a surgeon if they need an operation, but you can offer emotional and physical support and guidance. You can be THE MOM they need at that exact time.
You can do it, because they were born to you, and you were born for this.
One of the things that surprised me about motherhood was how so unnatural it is to me. I expected to be like a happy, glowing mom in a detergent ad, I guess, and…that’s not what happened. It is hard. All the sacrifice is hard. And I am selfish. And yet…I think I am doing ok, because of this:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.
This is the answer the apostle Paul got back from God when he was begging him to take away an affliction that he could not handle. It is the answer I get back when I think I cannot meet the constantly-changing needs of three different children at the same time. It is the answer that has proved true time and time again.
When I am weak, I am strong. I am naturally weak at mothering. But God makes me strong and equips me for the task.
Mamas, you have what it takes to be YOUR kids’ mom. They are yours, and you are theirs, for a reason.
An earlier version of this article appeared at Mommin’ It Up.