Here's the thing. I've never been one to make friends easily. So, why would I think I'd become BFFs with strangers simply because our common bond is parenting a child with special needs?
The truth is that parenting is hard, and marriage is hard and oh yeah, being an adult is hard, too. Wah, wah, wah, no one said life would be easy, blah blah blah... and friendships take work.
When we received our son Charlie's prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome (Ds), I wanted to talk to... no one. Not even my parents. I was struggling with so many new fears, insecurities and a no-holds-barred self-blame game, and I didn't have the emotional capacity to hear someone else's story.
Thankfully, I married The Husband
His proactive approach to the diagnosis meant he was ready for when I was ready to learn.
You know that crazy thing called serendipity? It smacked me in the face the night before I went into the hospital to have Charlie, a very unexpectedly seven weeks early. The Husband had lined up a dinner with two couples who also each have a child with Ds.
That evening, I sobbed openly minutes after meeting them. I revealed my sickening fears: that my son would be unloved by anyone but us, and other children would tease him and shun him.
I had hinted at these fears, but I'd never let out the gut-wrenching sob that escaped my lips as we sat tucked in a corner of the restaurant, me with my back strategically turned toward the rest of the room.
When the evening ended, I thought perhaps I had made friends for life. Then life got in the way. Struggling to accept so many new things so quickly, I didn't reach out the way I should have.
I went to a few Moms' Night Out dinners, but I was so riddled with continued self-blame and the stranglehold of postpartum depression, I even cried silently to myself during one dinner, after hearing a mother brief the table on a local child with Ds who had passed away. It was more than my fragile heart could bear. With my track record of public tears, I didn't expect an invitation to the next slumber party anytime soon.
Two years later: More calm, more cab
Well, Charlie is 2 years old now, and his sister is 10 months old. Life has slowed to a manageable pace (she said, rocking herself in a corner with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon locked in her grasp), and I've started to reach out. I'm more forgiving of myself and others. I realize just because another woman has a child with Ds, that doesn't mean we're automatically going to be best friends. We might need to bond over another passion. Like that darn cab, but please bring your own.
I've discovered new respect for other women. We each deal with the challenges that accompany parenthood -- and those specific challenges that come with having a child with Ds -- in our own way. It's called survival.
Sometimes a parent needs to show a rough exterior, and sometimes a parent needs to cry shamelessly in all public forums (OK, that one's me).
We do share a bond. We don't have to love each other. But this community is unconditional.
And I'm so thankful to have a second chance.