Motherhood is never perfect. In fact, “perfect” and “motherhood” probably shouldn’t be used in a sentence together without incurring some kind of penalty, like an electric shock or a 20-minute delay on your first cup of coffee in the morning.
When we are moms-to-be, we don’t see the imperfection of motherhood. Like getting kid poop in your hair … no one ever prepares us for that. Sleep deprivation, mom guilt, constant second-guessing? We see none of that while we are waiting or wishing to become mothers.
Just ask stand-up comic Bethany Van Delft, who shares her personal experience with ideals of perfection and motherhood via The Moth, a popular non-profit group dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling.
Van Delft’s words not only speak to mothers who have kids with Down syndrome, but to all mothers who have ever felt lost, hopeless, or faced with self-doubt. These words are for all mothers who have ever had to redefine “perfect” and what motherhood truly means.
Van Delft begins her story talking about her perfect pregnancy, which should make you want to throat chop her, but it doesn’t. She waited until she was in her 40s to start a family, which brings about fun phrases, such as “advanced maternal age” and “geriatric pregnancy.”
But, in spite of hearing things like, “This is a miracle at your age,” Van Delft really did see her pregnancy as perfect.
She envisioned leaving the house as “just us” and returning as a family. She imagined the rush of love she’d feel when she met her perfect baby for the first time. She’d even picked the perfect name: Lucia Esperanza. Esperanza was her grandmother’s name and she admittedly chose Lucia for the fact that it could be shortened to “Lulu.”
Van Delft’s labor was perfect in that it was easy and short. But then the wrecking ball hit. Her perfect baby showed signs of Down syndrome.
Van Delft reported feeling fear and panic, rather than the rush of love she’d anticipated. Imagine her relief when the pediatrician walked into her hospital room and announced, “Congratulations, your baby is perfect!” He went on to explain that Lulu had solid APGAR scores, perfect hearing, 10 fingers and 10 toes … and that he suspected she had Down syndrome.
Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic condition that occurs when there are three copies of the 21st chromosome instead of two. A child with Down syndrome may take longer to reach baby milestones like sitting, walking, and talking. Certain health conditions are also associated with Down syndrome, such as heart problems and hearing loss.
The presence of Down syndrome can be detected with certain prenatal tests, but Van Delft chose not to undergo all the diagnostic tests available due to the associated risks and side effects.
“No matter what,” she told her husband. “This is our baby.”
Van Delft took Lulu home and went about the business of trying to be the best mother she could. At the same time, she started making lists of the things that were never going to happen and things they’d never do. While she did all the things new moms do to bond with their babies and make them feel loved and secure, thoughts of, “Whose baby is this? Where is my baby?” persevered.
For Van Delft, expectations didn’t match up with reality, but she continued. She took her daughter to playgroups and enrichment programs. She did her research on what Down syndrome children were capable of, and vowed to give her daughter the best … all the while feeling she wasn’t doing enough.
The one thing Van Delft did not do was to talk about how she felt. At least at first.
Fast forward a few years to a beach house in Florida. Van Delft opened up to a new friend about her fears and her feelings of inadequacy. Finally talking about everything that had been bottled up inside lifted a weight and allowed her to see what a fun, warm and smart little girl Lulu was through other people’s eyes.
“She was our Lulu, our light and our hope.”
Van Delft came to the realization that some of what she was feeling and experiencing was common to all moms. Down syndrome or not, all moms cry a lot, worry about the future, and whether or not they’re doing a good job.
“I used to wish I could go back in time and get that [genetic] test after all, but now I wish I could go back in time and allow myself to feel the joy that a new mother feels …,” says Van Delft emotionally.
All mothers have moments where we feel inadequate. We have our days when nothing we do seems right. Also, if you think you’re the only mom internally beating herself up because of what you don’t feel for your child, think again.
This is a story about how one mom reshaped her idea of what motherhood is supposed to look like. We have all been there and know someone who will be there. The greatest gift we can give others is to listen and be present. The greatest gift we can give ourselves is grace.
If you’re looking for further inspiration, check out The Moth’s book, All the Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown.
h/t: The Scene