How did you make your peace?

*I recently received an email from a reader that I have been in touch with since she received a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. Because I feel that other readers may relate to her sentiment, I asked her if I could share her question and my response here in hope that someone else might find encouragement. She graciously said yes. (I’ve changed her name for privacy.)

Dear Lauren,

Jacob has arrived. I love him but I’m still really not at peace with the diagnosis…at all. I was brought up in a very traditional Catholic home. At the moment I just feel very angry with religion/God. Why us? None of my friends have children with additional needs. How did you make your peace with everything?

Colleen

***

Colleen,

I’m so glad you wrote. I am reaching through the computer with a hug. Congratulations on the birth of sweet Jacob! I completely understand how you’re feeling — I had incredibly complicated emotions after Kate was born, as well. I absolutely loved her with every part of my heart, but I was sad, scared, and confused about her diagnosis. I get that. You are absolutely not alone.

If I can offer you any piece of advice to start with, I would simply say: be patient with yourself.

Your body just did an incredibly big thing and this season is tender and sensitive. It takes time to get to know any newborn, no matter what their ability. I’ve had a moment after each of my children, where I held them in the hospital, looked into their big blue eyes and thought: well, hello there, who are you?

It takes time to grow in relationship with each other and the best thing you can do now is not worry about Jacob’s diagnosis, but try and focus on doing what you would do with any baby: snuggle him, feed him, rock him, sing to him.

You don’t have to worry about what YOUR ENTIRE LIFE will be like raising a “child with special needs,” all you have to think about is what today holds. Be easy on yourself and just try and enjoy his soft skin, his new-baby scent.

And then, next week or next month or in a few months, you may need to see a specialist for something — and when that day comes, you will be ready for that. As he grows, you will grow. As his needs expand, you will be ready for them. It will be uncomfortable at times, you may feel frustrated or confused for a little longer than you think you should, but it will get better — day by day. The more you grow to know him, the more comfortable you’ll become.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of community, though. In those early days, I was surrounded by parents and a husband and friends who loved my baby girl and me and who encouraged me that everything would be OK (even if I didn’t believe them at first). If you don’t have any friends who have walked this journey, I encourage you to reach out to your local Down syndrome society. You’d be surprised at how many incredibly fun, loving, adventurous, thriving families there are with a child with Down syndrome — and not in spite of them, but quite the opposite!

So let yourself get there naturally. As Fr. Teilhard de Chardin says, don’t try to force yourself to be today what time will make of you tomorrow. We all have to go through one season to get to the next, that’s ok. Just know — you will get there.

I can honestly say today that having a child with Down syndrome is one of the most incredible gifts I have ever received. Kate is so smart, capable, funny, enjoyable. I love to just hang out with her and laugh and play. She brings out the best in everyone in our family — and they bring out the best in her. I wondered what God was doing when I first got her diagnosis as well — but now I know: he was giving me a gift.

So have patience with yourself. When tomorrow comes, you’ll be ready — when next week comes, you’ll be ready then. Day by day, you’ll have the grace you need. One of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Jacques Phillipe writes:
“Grace is not kept in reserve. It is humbly received day by day. It’s like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert: when you try to preserve it, it spoils. We must gather it up each day. This is not to say there’s no need to exercise virtue and grow, but we must not lean on ourselves and create false security in doing so. In the Our Father, when we confide our needs to God (who knows them better than we do!), we do not ask for a store of bread, we ask for the bread for each day — just what’s necessary for today, forgetting the past and not worrying about tomorrow.”
You ask me — how did you make your peace? And I can say, I didn’t make it. It slowly came to me like a butterfly in the Spring and landed on my shoulder and there it stayed. Had I chased it when it wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t have been able to catch it. But with time and grace and days fully lived with my beautiful daughter, it came to me. It will for you.

In the meantime, surround yourself with people who tell you all of this and more every day. I promise, you’ll get there.

Love,

Lauren

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Spring will come.

It froze last week.

The kind of hard freeze that smells like firewood and icicles.

We wrapped the pipes in old rags in the moonlight and covered the heavy-potted patio plants with a big sheet. But still, most of our green has turned yellow and then brown — and has wilted, shriveled, hardened.

I stood by my boy who stood by our sad-looking asparagus fern the next morning and told him: It’ll come back.

It always does.

The winter has her bite, but if the plants have strong roots and nourishing soil, they come back just as strong and pretty and full as before — even more so. They’re not gone forever.

God has a beautiful way of revealing truth to us through nature. His seasons of bare branches and budding leaves, dormancy and blossoming, remind us of the seasons of our own lives — the winters and the inevitable Springs.

Spring will come. It always does.

When I look at the winter seasons of my life — the ones that metaphorically rocked me, shocked me, left me feeling a bit bare — I recognize that it was in those times, that I grew back even stronger.

The times of testing, though hard, are purifying.

They are like a forest fire that rages through the underbrush, ridding the overgrown forest of decay, clearing way for more sunlight, encouraging the growth of wild flowers.

And so, as the fire does for the forest, God does for us.

He clears out our weeds to make room for his light. And in it, we blossom. It is in these times — and often only through retrospect that we realize: had we never felt the fire, we would have never been able to bloom like a golden field of daffodils.

In a month or so, we’ll cut off the dead foliage of our garden plants to the roots.

Day by day, we’ll watch the green grow fuller and thicker. We’ll watch the flowers peek with tiny petals. We’ll barely remember the dreary days of barren branches — for all we’ll see is the beauty of life made new. We’ll admire the Spring with a glass of iced tea. We’ll feel the warm sunlight on our skin.

If you are in a season of winter — so it is with you.

Spring will come. It always does.

“It is very often the case that just when the soul believes itself lost that it gains and profits the most.” — St. John of the Cross

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A story of two types of mothers

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She was an only child born on a summer afternoon. A shy sort, she stayed close under the wing of her persnickety mother — the “helicopter” type who constantly fluttered about over her young one.

If little one wandered, she quickly corralled her. Her body language said: it’s a dangerous world out there. Little one heard the message loud and clear. Little one didn’t stray.

Three months later, little one’s sister was born — a darling thing with the sweetest face you’ve seen. This was a half-sister, born to another mother, from the same father. Surprise twist, you see.

However, the little sister’s mother was another sort. She was a gypsy-soul with oil-black hair and an appetite for adventure. When her baby was born, she followed her cues and nudged her gently, saying: you can do this, go on, go on! 

Well, time has gone by — and the story is quite predictable.

The first only child, never allowed to stretch her wings — she still stays cooped up, most comfortable within the confines of the only world she knows to be safe.

The half-sister, though, she’s grown into her own. A self-confident girl ready for what life throws her way.

And where is their father, you may ask? I knew you’d ask about him. And all I can say is what anyone would say who knows him: he’s a cocky sort.

A loud-mouth, really.

Seems to think he has it all figured out.

But what else would you expect from a rooster?

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What she would have said

Have you read the news story about how after a mother gives birth, her baby’s fetal cells stay hidden within her body forever, acting as tiny super heroes that promote healing and protect her from all sorts of diseases?

Not only is that a beautiful example of God’s design, but also just a hint at the many profound ways motherhood changes us.

In fact, I was thinking today of what 23-year-old me would say if I had told her over a latte: hey, in a decade or so, you’ll have almost half a dozen kids (and over a dozen chickens).

You’ll homeschool and homemake and homestead and wear the constant perfume of baby spit-up.

You’ll live on borrowed sleep and yesterday’s clothes and tomorrow’s prayer that you’ll be able to do all you can for these little people who are pieces of your heart walking around outside your body.

And you — who still shops at Abercrombie & Fitch and sun tans — you’ll one day wince at those pop lyrics you used to sing out loud.

You’ll mute TV commercials and turn around smutty magazines in grocery store lines and fight for a culture of goodness.

You’ll search for and believe in your values — what’s right and wrong, beautiful and deceitful, what sacrifices are worth it or not.

And you’ll realize that your actions are now on profound display. That tiny humans are watching you, all the time, with huge, blue eyes and little parrot mouths ready to repeat to you what you’re proud of —

and what you’re not.

I wonder what she would have said if I told her that everything she’s looking for — the peace and purpose and joy she longs for — would be found not in “finding herself” in some moment of glory, but in giving herself away.

She probably wouldn’t know what to say. Because she was there and I am here and there is no way of getting from one place to the other without living.

Without waking up, day by day, to a first-born baby and then a second. To sleepless nights and ER visits and first haircuts and a Down syndrome diagnosis. Life moves in seconds and minutes and sometimes jumps in leaps and bounds and before we know it, we have changed our mind, our hearts, our entire lives; we have grown.

The gift of children is that, if we’re lucky, we become better as we strive to give them even half of what they give us.

As we try to create a world as good and true and beautiful as they are.

As we fail and try again and aren’t afraid to say, “I’m sorry.”

As we try to live out a love that is patient and kind and always persevering.

Motherhood is heroic.

It is humbling.

It is the most important work of all.

The day my son was born, I simultaneously died and was reborn. Every day before that day, my life had been about me and what I wanted the world to give me. Every day since, my life necessarily has been about what I can give to someone else. And that, I think, is why the world needs more children—and more parents.”  – written on the side of a Starbucks cup

 

What I stand for

I stand for off-white linen curtains that fall beside morning windows, which are smudged with the curious fingerprints of a 7, 6, 4 and 2-year-old.

I stand for zip-up sleepers that cover the chilly toes of my gurgling, chubby baby.

I stand for hot, fresh bread made from 6 ingredients, topped with yellow butter made from cows who eat grass.

I stand for Autumn days.

And Spring ones, too.

And Winter mornings when the sky is icy grey.

I stand for dark, stormy afternoons that give full permission to stay inside under a blanket and read Harry Potter.

I stand for kissing my husband when we say goodbye — and hello — and excuse me, I need to reach my cup of coffee —

And oh, I stand for coffee. With real cream and something sweet.

I stand for friends who know you and love you anyway.

And for taking care of each other.

For bringing leftover cake to a neighbor’s doorstep.

And bookshelves stuffed with books.

I stand for the hypnotizing, contagious, world-peace-inducing grin of a baby.

And the joy of a full dinner table.

I stand for standing up to offer help.

And also, for sitting down.

I stand for dresses on sale from Anthropologie and imperfect, homemade gifts.

For cello music.

And The Sound of Music.

And singing out loud in the car to Adele.

I stand for faces instead of screens and long, good conversations that keep you up way too late.

I stand for Sunday brunch and mimosas.

For picnics under trees.

And for family reunions that make you feel like a kid again.

For the simple things that have nothing to do with power or fame or whatever it’s so easy to think is so important.

I stand for hand-writing letters,

And hand-making pretty things,

And rich, black dirt under too-short nails from digging up the sweet potatoes.

For backyard chickens,

And front-porch sitting,

For writing and snuggling and praying and knitting.

And for lip gloss. I also stand for lip gloss.

I stand for the pursuit of truth and justice —

And for dark chocolate after lunch.

For telling stories and hearing stories and writing stories that matter.

I stand for a world where we can all be

exactly who we were made to be:

people who create art

and love each other

and eat cake

and act silly

and think deeply

and who live a life

that stands for something.