I will never forget the Whap! Right upside the head a friend lovingly delivered to me shortly after Wil was born…
Our son, William James Taylor, was born February 5th, 2007. It was an easy, uneventful pregnancy, which was a relief, especially after having a very high risk pregnancy with Wil’s twin sisters who are just over a year and a half older than him. The delivery was very easy, too. I did not have time for an epidural for delivery of our twins, so I could not get over how wonderful it was to watch my pain-free contractions on the monitor just prior to delivering Wil. All went by the book, and our beautiful seven-pound baby boy was born without incident.
For about three minutes. The nurse walked up to me, and said she noticed he was ‘floppy’.
What does that mean, floppy? What are you talking about? I want answers NOW lady!
That nurse was so nice and kind, but I just wanted to grab her by her scrubs and shake an answer out of her NOW!
She calmly explained that children with Down syndrome have low muscle tone and that is what makes them ‘floppy’. Then our doctor confirmed this suspicion by noting his short fingers, thicker neck and small facial features. Excuse me, but what baby does not have a short, little neck, tiny fingers and small facial features?
Could somebody give me some better indicators, and right now, puhlease?!
When the doctor put Wil in my arms, the shape of his beautiful almond eyes told me what I needed to know. I didn’t need that painfully long, three-day wait to receive the genetic test results back proving that yes, Wil has Trisomy 21, which is the most common type of Down syndrome.
And, as Wil got to be a few months old, and we joined a play group with other babies, I noticed something I never did before. That babies without Ds have long slender fingers, and many of their facial features are much larger than Wil’s. So, all those things the doctor noticed, I began to notice myself. That was the beginning of my awakening to the fact that so many things I need to learn have been staring me right in the face, I just need a good knock upside the head sometimes to notice.
A dear long-time friend gave me a much needed knock upside the head a few days after Wil was born (isn’t that what best friends are for?!). I had called her to tell her the news. I was crying, and I felt scared and lost. I had extremely limited knowledge of what Ds meant and what kind of life my son would have.
As I sobbed all of this to my friend on the phone, she stopped me and said, “So, what’s his name? How much does he weigh?”
SCREECH!!! The brakes went on in my brain, and these questions brought me back to the reality that I had this beautiful baby boy and all I was doing was throwing a blubbering pity party for myself. I will forever be grateful to my friend for these simple questions that snapped me out of my pity party and back to what really matters. Funny how over and over we are shown how the complex questions are answered so simply.
I did, and still do, have a huge learning curve in front of me. That is not to be underestimated.
However, I have learned to cherish the journey. Some days are hard and challenging, and I cry and get frustrated, and am not proud of some of my reactions, but there has not been one time that I have not come out the better for it. Some days are full of progress and excitement, and I soak those up for all that they are worth. I equate this experience to running hills…as you run down the hill you gain momentum, and if you get as much momentum as you can(soaking up the good times), you make it half way up the next hill(the challenges) before your legs even begin to feel the burn.
We will always encounter obstacles and challenges, its life and it shapes you. I’ve learned that staying positive through these challenges and keeping focused on the true heart of the matter is what is key to our progress and success. And by positive I don’t mean putting on a fake smile through everything. Positive people cry, lose focus, stomp their feet in protest and have just as many unexpected circumstances thrown at them. The difference is, positive people are able to rein in all the wild emotions before they get the better of them. At that point, they have the wherewithal to look around, and find that little spark of light in all the darkness that gives them the direction to move forward.
My dear friend did that for me, she was my spark of bright light. At that point, I was able to step out of my pity party and love my little guy with all my heart and have the motivation to search out supports and therapies to make his future the best it can be.
I’ve gotten my share of black and blue marks by knocks upside the head, and I’m thankful to all my friends for caring enough to deliver them. That pity party is a nice safe place to stay, but it doesn’t do us or anyone around us any good. So, if you are a real friend, deliver those whaps when needed, and take them to heart and learn from them when you are on the receiving end.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem