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Please Don't Say 'I'm Sorry' When You Find Out a Child Has a Disability

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“I’m so sorry.”

That is usually what we hear when we share the complexity of Callie’s medical situation.

When she was first born, those were some of the first words we heard from doctors, nurses, specialists, and counselors.

“I’m sorry.”

But doesn’t saying “I’m sorry” in response to a new parent of a child with a disability lay a tragic foundation for their life?

Doesn’t speaking the words over a new baby and within a few hours of the miracle of their birth cast a shadow over the event? Doesn’t that take away those first few hours of joy, bliss, empowerment, love, accomplishment, and togetherness that a new family should feel?

These should be the sweetest moments, not the ones a parent looks back on in pain.

Let’s not start the conversation about a child’s disability with “I’m sorry.”

Looking back, I can see that they meant well, but it also brings up a lot of questions.

Did they think that because of her diagnosis, Callie would not amount to “as much” as an able-bodied person?

Doesn’t saying “I’m sorry” convey that her diagnosis was bad?

Did they think her life was less valuable now?

Doesn’t that set a very low bar for her? Would that continue through her life?

Was that really how society saw people with disabilities?

Did they think that with this diagnosis she would be considered less worthy?

And how did they know that she would lead a lesser life simply because she was different?

What exactly were they sorry for?

The thing is… Nothing positive ever follows the phrase “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry” is a phrase followed only by something negative.

In addition to mourning the loss of our plans and expectations, now we were had to brace ourselves for more bad news.  As time went on, we realized the diagnosis wasn’t bad, but I wish we would have had that insight and opportunity from the beginning.

In those early moments of life, we don’t know what lays ahead for our little ones. And who are we to project a life of “tragedy and hopelessness” onto someone for being born different? Can we shift the perspective to the infinite possibilities instead of the loss? Can we try to look at all the ways they are perfectly and beautifully made instead? Can we assume competence and achievement? Can we treat this as a gift with endless amazing opportunities? Can we revel in the miracle of a brand new life?

I think we can.

Originally published: February 9, 2021
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