Holland? Really Rather Nice After All...

Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley

Welcome to Holland

I've been reflecting this last week or so about this exact time of year, 5 years ago. 

Crisp, sun-blessed Autumn days, interspersing dull, dark, damp ones.  The urge to dash out and plant little clumps of daffodil bulbs around the garden whenever I had a moment and the weather allowed.  The pre-christmas excitement.

Only 5 years ago I was heavily pregnant with our second child.  And our bright, bubbly, beautiful first born was not yet in school.  It was she and I planting those bulbs together, enjoying precious Mummy and first-born time that can never be repeated in quite the same way.

I remember an overwhelming sense of urgency to get everything organised.  Nesting I suppose.   Baby clothes had to be fetched from the loft, to be washed and ironed.  Christmas presents were bought, wrapped and sent, cards written.  My husband was made to move that heavy granite planter from A to B across the garden for...well...just in case the baby would like to see flowers from the window in January.

Deep down I just knew she was going to come early.
I often look back on this time, the time before our lives changed for ever, the blissfully ignorant, arrogantly complacent time.  The time before we broke through the glass ceiling, and understood what life was really all about.  The time we protected ourselves with a false sense of security that a healthy, clean living, vitamin and supplement taking woman like me, who had attended natural birth classes and planned for the worlds greatest Doula to be at
our home birth, would, of course, be expecting a healthy baby.  

She did come early.  2 weeks early in fact. 

The home birth was amazing, our Doula incredible, but, on the bathroom floor, emerged a tiny, silent, blue baby. 

The next 6 hours I guess were spent in limbo.  Husband standing in a freezing lane in shorts waiting to direct the ambulance.  Not knowing if his baby daughter was dead or alive inside the house. 
Midwife doing CPR.  
Rushed ambulance journey to hospital.  People kept telling me how beautiful she was.  Why?  She clearly was not, so why were they saying that?  Kept focussing on her unusually long pointed fingernails whilst holding oxygen to her mouth.
On arrival, baby snatched away.  Nothing said.  Nothing said for hours....

Then... a pre-diagnosis from a nervous top consultant.  (We are still in touch and I thank him for saving our daughter's life, but his delivery of unexpected news needs some work.)

In amongst his nervous babble, of which I remember little (I had entered severe physical shock by that stage) these snippets remain, "Some of 'them' even go to school these days."
"One of our nurses has a daughter with Down's Syndrome, you might like to talk to her." and "Here's a leaflet about Down's Syndrome".  

I actually couldn't speak at that point. Physical shock had taken over. When he left the room a nurse pointed out the poem about Holland.  I have thus always associated this poem with that traumatic time.  
My first thoughts about it were that I felt I had landed in war-torn Afghanistan, not Holland! I have not been able to look at the poem since.  Until two dear friends pointed it out again and asked if I would put it on my blog.

As it happens, it really is a rather fitting poem to accompany how we feel now...5 years on...a week before our youngest daughter's birthday... Holland seems really rather nice after all.


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.

1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley


  1. love it, for all sorts of reasons. here's to your incredable journey haley, you and your family. Love you. xxxx
    p.s. have to post this anonymus, but it's me, Katinka. xx

  2. That always moves me to tears.x

  3. Very moving, although for completely different reasons to you. That feeling of "where am I?" "how do I get to where I need to go?" "Am I going to be in Holland forever and not be able to return home?" What a perspective on life as a whole.

  4. Yes, it does resonate for all kinds of unexpected twists and turns in life's path doesn't it.

  5. Wonderful Hayley, your birth story is almost identical to mine. I love that poem, it is on my website too. I am very much in love with Holland :) x

  6. Holland does indeed sound like a beautiful place.


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