When a Woman’s Smile Vanished After Seeing My Child With Down Syndrome
Today I was in the checkout line at a Kroger grocery store, and there was a pregnant lady in line ahead of me. She and the cashier were making friendly small talk about her due date and her toddler at home. When the cashier looked over and saw me and my daughter, she said something along the lines of, “Oh, look! There’s another sweet little one.” As she did, the pregnant lady, all smiles, turned to look at my daughter. The second her eyes locked on my daughter’s face, her smile vanished. In place of the smile was a raw, reactionary look of fear and pity and sadness. The friendly conversation abruptly ended, and she turned away. She said nothing else as she finished loading up and walked out the door.
I know this lady wasn’t trying to be mean. I know her immediate reaction wasn’t voluntary, and I might’ve done the same five months ago. I know it can be impossible to know the right thing to say or do in situations you don’t have any experience with. I get it. I really get it. I also knew these things were going to happen and have dreaded them, but this was my first experience with it.
Rather than letting it ruin my day, I want to use this experience to say a few things to hopefully help eliminate some of these situations in the future.
If you are ever put in this type of situation, please don’t look at that new special needs mom with pity or sadness and turn away. Please realize that mom — and, more than likely, a whole lot of other people — love and value that child just as much as any other child. Be kind.
With all of the doctors’ appointments, therapies, the shock of the diagnosis and added worries that come with being a special needs parent, this mom has been through a lot. She will appreciate a kind word and the normalcy of your conversation.
While you might look at the child and just see Down syndrome, the parent looks at their child and just sees their child. If there’s one thing I long for, it’s for the world to see my daughter for who she is and not what she has. For people to look at her and see a valuable human being. For everyone to realize that, yes, she has a different genetic make-up than most, but she has just as much to offer the world as anyone else.
And as far as the fear thing goes, know this. It is scary. It is so so scary, especially at first. But if you ever have a child with special needs, you will rise to the occasion. You will figure it out.
You will find more joy than you thought imaginable, and you will be so much stronger than you could’ve dreamed. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Follow this journey on I Heard It Thunder.
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