Reflections on Holland


Shortly after Ava was born, I stumbled across this essay late one night as I sat up googling “Down syndrome” and “baby” for the thousandth time. At the time, I felt like this piece of writing gave me some inner peace. Finally, someone understood all of these internal feelings that I had. Some one made it ok for me to be scared and maybe even sad for a second. This was not what we had planned or expected. We were not prepared. How could you ever prepare or anticipate something like this.

image Welcome to Holland
By Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

As time passes though, I find that I am distancing myself from these words more and more. Yes, we were planning for Italy. Maybe we landed off course in Holland there for a little bit, but I think we have found our way back to our original destination. I can honestly say that having a child with Down syndrome is not anymore of a challenge than having a typical 3 year old, which I do. Sure, there are a few more meetings and doctors appointments. There are moments that are very challenging, but they are quickly followed by moments of sheer joy. There are times where we need to adapt to her needs, but every parent does that with their children. Every child is different, special and beautiful, whether they have a special need or not. No child is ever what their parent expects….they’re more. In the end, Ava was always destined for Italy, she’s too flashy to stay in Holland.Refle