Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day

Mother's Day -- a time when all mothers should be treated like the queens we are. I have been a mother for 30 years and always enjoyed receiving the plaster casts of hands, the flower planted so carefully in a cup, or the poem written by my child. As my children got older, I laughingly told them that the best way to honor a mother is to give her a day of solitude. 

Twenty-seven years ago, I was looking forward to celebrating Mother's Day. My son was 3, and I was pregnant with my second child. I didn't know much about this child in my womb; back then, there weren't 3D ultrasounds. The due date was around May 1st, so I spent my days busily preparing for my next child.

Early in the morning of May 6, I went into labor. I had planned everything and was ready, but as usual, life didn’t go as planned. The doctor detected problems and performed an emergency C-section. Next, the pediatrician and my husband came into the operating room to tell me that my new son had clubbed feet. The pediatrician wasn't worried because she said the feet could be corrected. Finally, almost as an afterthought, she said, "Your son also has Down syndrome."

"No," I thought. "You are wrong. I'm only 29. This doesn't happen to young women, only to women over 40." 

I stayed in the hospital five days, and every one of them was horrible. I took as much pain medication as they allowed so I could avoid dealing with this situation. When I went to the nursery to get my son, I looked longingly at all of the other babies. All of my plans for my son were gone. I didn’t know if I could handle any of this.

Growing up in a small town in the South, I had never been around many people with a disability. There was no inclusion at my small, segregated private school. The only special day school was over 45 miles away. When I was growing up, many parents did not take their children with Down syndrome home from the hospital.

I brought my son home on Mother's Day. My husband tried to make it a joyous time, buying me a World's Best Mom t-shirt. But the disappointment I felt was all-consuming. I was grieving the child I had lost, the one who would not play sports and would not be handsome, smart, or healthy.

The next week, I threw myself into learning all I could about Down syndrome. I learned about early intervention, and my son actually started speech and physical therapies at two weeks old. I became the authority, and as a teacher, I felt that my new mission was to educate people about this birth defect. 

Over the past 27 years, I have been proven wrong about what I thought I knew about Down syndrome. First, this genetic abnormality occurs to women of all ages. Down syndrome is one of the most common genetic birth defects. About 1 in 700 (or 6,000) babies are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States. 

There are many other facts I learned along the way, but the most important is that there are no limits for my son. He is an active athlete, having won many gold medals in various events in Special Olympics. He is super handsome and is one of the most popular people I know. If you want someone to "like" your Facebook status, post his picture. He is also super smart, maybe not academically, but he has a job. Actually, at one point, he was the only adult child of all of my children and stepchildren who had a job. He's also been blessed with excellent health.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Tomorrow, I’ll remember that day 27 years ago, but I won’t dwell on it. Tomorrow my son comes home from being at camp for the past four days, and I can’t wait to see him. Tomorrow begins a new year of watching him accomplish so much more than I ever thought possible. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all!