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 Rembrandt's. 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.
Dear Abby: A few years ago, you printed an essay titled “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley. The subject was having a child with Down Syndrome. Enclosed is an article my daughter, Diane Armitage, wrote, inspired by “Welcome to Holland.” Her message is directed to childless couples who are considering adoption. (Diane and her husband are the parents of two adopted children.) Perhaps you will consider it worth publishing.–Kathryn Relnalda, Blairstown, NJ
Dear Kathryn: I’m delighted to share what your daughter wrote, and I’m sure many readers will appreciate its insight:
Different Trips to the Same Place
Deciding to have a baby is like planning a trip to Australia. You’ve heard it’s a wonderful place, you’ve read many guidebooks and feel certain you’re ready to go. Everyone you know has traveled there by plane. They say it can be a turbulent flight with occasional rough landings, but you can look forward to being pampered on the trip.
So you go to the airport and ask the ticket agent for a ticket to Australia. All around you, excited people are boarding planes for Australia. It seems there is no seat for you; you’ll have to wait for the next flight. Impatient, but anticipating a wonderful trip, you wait–and wait–and wait.
Flights to Australia continue to come and go. People say silly things like, “Relax. You’ll get on a flight soon.” Other people actually get on the plane and then cancel their trip, to which you cry, “It’s not fair!”
After a long time the ticket agent tells you, “I’m sorry, we’re not going to be able to get you on a plane to Australia. Perhaps you should think about going by boat.”
“By BOAT!” you say. “Going by boat will take a very long time and it costs a great deal of money. I really had my heart set on going by plane.” So you go home and think about not going to Australia at all. You wonder if Australia will be as beautiful if you approach it by sea rather than air. But you have long dreamed of this wonderful place, and finally decide to travel by boat.
It is a long trip, many months over many rough seas. No one pampers you. You wonder if you will ever see Australia. Meanwhile, your friends have flown back and forth to Australia two or three more times, marveling about each trip.
Then one glorious day, the boat docks in Australia. It is more exquisite than you ever imagined, and the beauty is magnified by your long days at sea. You have made many wonderful friends during your voyage, and you find yourself comparing stories with others who also traveled by sea rather than by air.
People continue to fly to Australia as often as they like, but you are able to travel only once, perhaps twice. Some say things like, “Oh, be glad you didn’t fly. My flight was horrible; traveling by sea is so easy.”
You will always wonder what it would have been like to fly to Australia. Still, you know God blessed you with a special appreciation of Australia, and the beauty of Australia is not in the way you get there, but in the place itself.