To me, empathy means a willingness to understand other people’s feelings without needing to have lived their experiences yourself.
Empathy is a gift, and at times a treasure, as is not always found easily in our communities.
I’m not the person I was ten years ago when the doctor informed me that I was expecting a child. I’m also no longer the mother who delivered that child, stuck between the joy of meeting the person who grew inside me for 9 months, and the uncertainty of not recognizing the extra chromosome that sabotaged what I wanted to fit into my perception of perfection.
In fact, I’m not even the same person I was yesterday! I could blame my constant transformation on my zodiac as I’m a Pisces and I’m supposed to always swim in different directions. Or I could blame my ADHD diagnosis for the sudden changes I have experienced through my life and for my never well-established perception about things. Instead, I like to believe that I’m still growing up, and that no matter how many mistakes I may make, I’m still evolving and learning and becoming something better every day.
I feel relieved to have all these feelings sailing the destiny of my life and the lives of my kids, since I myself have overcome a diagnosis. I look at them with joy. I freely enjoy their achievements and accomplishments. I accept their limitations and their challenges, and of course I accept my own, as well .
That doesn’t make me better than anyone else, just more experienced, and with that experience has come the moral responsibility to be empathetic towards others who might not be as far along on their path as I am on mine.
Once in a while, we should all look back at the person we were years ago. Nine years ago, when my son was born, I was scared. Later, when my daughter was born and they told me she too had Down syndrome, I was angry.
I survived many of the same feelings that I recognized in other new families.
I didn’t want to cry all the time. And yet, that’s who I was then. And the last thing you need in those moments is judgment from others.
As an experienced parent of children with special needs, or part of the family, friend or community member, please never forget the importance of Empathy.
Many times people ask “How can I help?” For me, there is only one answer: BE EMPATHETIC.