When my son was born, I worried terribly at the lack of maternal love I had expected to feel for this child. A fierce sense of what I would call protection or obligation, perhaps responsibility, yes. But love? No, not really.
Until the fifth day. The day we were leaving the hospital. And when it hit, it was like thunder in my soul. I felt like my bones had turned to steel and my heart tripled in size. It was a moment that changed my life. And I promised him. Everything. Without reservation or hesitation. Everything.
But when my daughter was born, five years later, I dreaded the burden that kind of love for her would lay on my shoulders. She had three holes in her heart. We spent months in and out of hospital, through bouts of heart failure, failure to thrive, feeding tubes. We lost touch with family, friends, life. My son asked what we would do if she died. And my first thought was that life would go back to normal.
The only thing that held back the guilt and fear was the enormous sense of duty to this helpless child. We soldiered on. We saw her through open-heart surgery, and several life-threatening infections during her recovery. I took pictures every day, knowing that I would never be able to remember any of this experience. In the middle of everything, we were told that she had Down syndrome. I heard ‘death-sentence.’
It was a week before her first birthday. She’d just been given a clean bill of health. Except for the fact that she would never be ‘normal.’ She would never have the life I wanted and expected for her. She would never finish school, hold a decent job, get married, have kids. She would never fit in with friends. I wondered if she would be able to talk, walk, even think.
I was lying on the living room floor with her, watching as she tried with Olympic determination to pull her big toe successfully into her open mouth, eyes crossed in focus on the object in hand. And that’s when it hit me. The love. It took my breath away.
I wanted to promise her the world. But while my heart felt it, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the words. I had no idea how to help her. I didn’t know anything about Down syndrome, special needs, advocacy. I didn’t want to know about those things. I didn’t want to be one of those other people.
But I now had no choice. She was my daughter. And I loved her. That decided everything. And so I promised. Everything.
She is now thirteen years old. She reads. She writes. She answers the phone and her email. She goes to school and has friends and opinions and thoughts and ideas. She has a wonderful sense of humour and the most contagious laugh. She does chores and makes me coffee on Sunday mornings.
I had no idea.
There’s a sign on my wall now. I don’t remember when I made it or when I hung it up. But it keeps my head on straight.
“From the moment that I decide, ‘I will,’ it does not matter that, ‘I can’t.'”
Not being able to do something is no excuse for not doing it. Learning how might take some time and effort. But with a goal in mind, details fall naturally into place.
I’ve often said that having my son changed my life.
And it did.
But having my daughter changed me.