I’m quite used to it now.
Ever since my child was born with Down Syndrome, I became Conspicuous.
We are no longer passed by on the street, unnoticed. We stand out. We are smiled at, hugged, patted on the arm, greeted warmly as if we are long lost friends, and welcomed. We have also been frowned at, turned away from, and even cried to.
People notice us.
Once, when Stella was only about three months old, she slept in her carseat next to me while we ate at a restaurant. One of the employees began to wipe down tables near us, looking inquisitively in our direction. She cleaned closer and closer, until at last, she walked right over to me, staring at my baby.
“What a beautiful baby you have there,” she began.
“Thank you. She’s pretty new.”
“She is adorable.” The lady cooed at Stella, then her misty eyes began to drip.
“Is she very hard?” she asked.
“Is she very difficult? To take care of, I mean?”
“She’s quite easy going, actually. She likes to be cuddled. She has been to doctors quite a lot, but she is pretty calm there, too. She’s a content baby.”
The stranger then started to cry. She explained to me how 50 years ago, when she was a very young mother, she had given birth to a child with Down Syndrome, also. The people in her life and the doctor convinced her that the child would be too much work for her. “Too many needs,” they said. “They told me she was a big problem and that she would never function in the world and she would be a burden on me the rest of my life. But you know what?” The woman continued, “Not a day has gone by that my heart doesn’t break over her. I wonder what she is doing, and what she would look like. I wonder if she was ever happy. She will be fifty years old this month. They never even let me hold her before they took her away…”
I held this woman’s work-worn, wrinkled hand while she cried in the restaurant. Then I placed Stella’s tiny hand in hers. She held on, and my daughter’s hand became the link that somehow connected her to her own long-lost, beloved daughter.
When her tears had run dry, we hugged and parted ways.
“I wanted her.” She said. “I always wanted her. And I love her to this day.”
My own heart ached with this woman’s fifty years of hidden pain and regret. I wish I could have said something to her, to support her way back when she was a young mother, afraid. I wish I could have put her baby’s hand in hers, and helped her give and receive the Love that her child brought. The Love that they both needed to be happy. My heart aches with compassion for her and all Mothers like her, those who hold on to pain and heartbreak instead of small hands.
I am a very Conspicuous Mother, noticed and confided in where ever I go, holding my child’s hand. And I promise you that Mothers love their children forever, no matter what.
I am so grateful to have this small hand to hold.