* Includes an excerpt from our memoir, Saving Delaney *
First we told them we were "helping Liz and Erica make a baby, but the baby isn't ours." Jared and Julianna watched us go through seven crazy and emotional months as we tried to get pregnant for Liz and Erica. Then they witnessed the celebrations as we revealed to them "We are pregnant with Liz and Erica's baby!" only to come home a few months later with teary blood shot eyes, barely speaking a word and setting them up for a weekend in front of the TV, while we stayed in bed the whole time and all of a sudden we are not celebrating Mommy-O's (my) birthday either.
Then we announce to them, "Well, we are now keeping the baby because Liz and Erica do not want her. She is your biological sister so this is great news, right kids?" I remember they both looked dumbfounded and so bewildered that for once they seemed question less. Then we added, "The baby is fighting for her life, and we all need to show her love and she has something called Down syndrome."
Those two poor kids, I can't imagine what they must have been going through.
At the time we didn't elaborate too much. We had already given them a curve ball and we knew they needed time to process. Soon they began understanding that they were in fact going to have a new baby sister. A few months later, I realized they had no idea what Down syndrome was or what their little sister Delaney was going to be like.
“How can we explain it to them?” I thought. I decided I would show them the same way I learned, with videos. I chose a great video called Just Like You, which is about three teenagers who do not have Down syndrome, talking about the disability and introducing their three best friends, who do have it. This video did a great job explaining in simple terms what Down syndrome meant, and what kids with it looked like.
I drew their attention back to the screen. “This is what Delaney will be like.” I pointed to a girl with the disability.
Julianna’s brow went down. She pointed to another girl, the one who was narrating, who did not have Down syndrome. “And she’ll be like this girl, too?” she asked, as if she didn’t want to believe what I was showing her.
I smiled and shook my head. “Nope, she’s not like that girl.”
Jared just watched the video and listened to us talk.
Soon another girl with Down syndrome appeared on the video. “Delaney will be like that girl too,” I repeated, and pointed to the screen.
Now both Jared and Julianna were totally engaged. They just stared at the screen without squirming or playing for the rest of the video. I could tell they were surprised to see what people with Down syndrome looked like.
It wasn’t long before I looked over at Jared and saw he was wiping away tears. He was beginning to understand that his new baby sister was going to be different. This was not what he was expecting. It was shocking to him.
I wasn’t quite sure that Julianna understood yet. She was still so little.
They didn’t say one word while watching, but I did continue to point out, “This person has what Delaney has,” and a few minutes later, “And this person doesn’t.”
Now they nodded. I thought at least Jared was beginning to understand.
When the video ended, I asked them if they had questions. Jared, who had been unusually quiet for the entire video, had many.
“Is Delaney going to talk funny?” he asked.
“Yes, and she may not talk for a long time. That’s why we’re all learning sign language at dinner.”
“Are people going to be mean to her?” Jared continued.
“Yes, people have already been mean to her.”
Jared, wiping away his tears, said fiercely, “I will protect her.” And by the look on his seven-year-old face, I knew he meant it.
I bowed my head. “No, son, they’re just being mean because they’re scared. You have to let mean people know it’s okay to be scared, but they should give your little sister a chance. Tell them that she’s very sweet,” I explained. I was too ashamed to tell him about my own fears that I had to overcome.
“But if they’re still mean to her, I will beat them up,” he insisted. Jared was going to be very protective.
Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it! I dropped the issue.
Julianna had only one thing to say: “Delaney will be silly.”
“Yep, if she’s like you, she probably will be, eh?” I agreed as I tickled her.
Sometimes the pureness in a child’s heart makes everything so clear. We adults get so clouded by our own egos. We hide in imaginary boxes so no one can see what’s truly in our hearts. We can’t even see it ourselves. We’re so worried about what other people are going to think of us. At first I was terribly worried about what others would think of me if I were to have a baby with Down syndrome. Will people think there’s something wrong with me? was my initial egotistical thought.
Jared and Julianna were free of their egos.
They didn’t care that Delaney had Down syndrome. They had a “we’ll be okay” and “we love her no matter what; nothing else needs to be said” attitude. It was just that simple for them.