Guest Post - Holland and Italy: A Mother's Journey

Thank you to the beautiful Beth for sharing her thoughts on being welcomed to Holland, but then deciding to visit Italy after all. It is a wonderful story of the journey so many of we parents of a child with Down's syndrome go through.

Beth and her beautiful daughter in Italy

Welcome to Italy

We are a family of wanderers. Butlins or Berlin, we're really not that fussed. Scattered up and down the country, and with a stepmother in the Czech Republic and a Mother-in-law in Switzerland, we do our fair share of arguing over whether or not to go for the M6 toll road and trying to sneak extra hand baggage onto budget airlines. 

But there is a place that has always had a special hold on me since, aged 18, I stumbled out of a train in Venice at an ungodly hour, thanks to a seemingly impromptu train strike. I hadn't even been planning to stay for a night, but Italy had other plans. It was so cinematically, theatrically, dazzlingly gorgeous. It tasted amazing. People strolled. They did impossibly glamorous things with scarves. Even at midnight the stones of the buildings were warm to the touch. 

So when years - ok decades - later I found myself slumped over in a hospital bed dripping tears onto a printed poem called 'Welcome to Holland' the words were more bitter than sweet. My perfect daughter had just had her post natal diagnosis of Down's syndrome confirmed. The poem in my hand told me we thought we were going to Italy but we'd ended up in Holland, and Holland would be beautiful too, so long as we didn't spend our lives still wishing we were in Italy. 

Those early weeks are a blur and as I tried to rub out the possibilities I had thought would be my daughter's future (double first at Cambridge, obviously) and replace them with something else, (but what?) the Italy thing started to worry me. What if all those glamorous people didn't want people like us anymore? What if they stared ? What if they were really mean? What if? The world, suddenly full of danger and unkindness, was shrinking fast.  'It's not her. There's nothing wrong with her,' I'd find myself saying whenever people found me crying. 'It's everything else.' 

One day, walking along the river pushing the pram, caught up in an elaborate cycle of worry, I saw a girl walking towards me, the sun in her hair, listening to her iPod. She looked so happy and carefree and as she got closer I realised she had Down's syndrome. She was fine, better than fine, and the world was fine with her. 

And slowly, day by day, the fog lifted. Our girl, smiling from the first week of her life, didn't give a hoot where she was. Holland, Italy, Butlins, Berlin; her Dolce Vita was right here, right now. Like all children, she knows what matters and has an instinct for joy, an appreciation of slapstick comedy and a taste for quality ice-cream. She will no doubt continue to kick us off course and surprise us in infinite, marvellous ways as she gets older, but plans are often overrated. 

Shortly after her first birthday we took her and her brother to Italy. There was snow and sunshine, strong coffee and stylish shades (there were also sickness bugs and a few tears but we'll gloss over that) and I can confirm not a single person redirected us to Holland. 

You might also like to read Welcome to Holland
featuring the powerful poem by Emily Perl Kingsley 
that Beth refers to in her post. 

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