This past weekend we celebrated our son’s 16th birthday. While all of our children’s birthdays are special, his are a yearly reminder of God’s goodness in caring for him when he was a critically ill newborn. Back when he lay in his isolette with tubes taped to him and monitor leads stuck on him, we didn’t know that he would become the healthy, strong and happy young man he is today. So we celebrate!
I wish we could have known back then that he would be ok. I also wish we could have known that having a baby with disabilities is not the trauma it looks like at first.
It was 16 years ago yesterday that a doctor we’d never seen before interrupted our celebratory hospital dinner (champagne, steak, éclairs) to bluntly tell us that our son had suddenly begun having trouble breathing, his heart wasn’t working right, he would have to be transferred to a larger hospital, and oh, by the way, we think he might have Down syndrome.
Great bedside manner, that guy. It was like being hit by a ton of bricks. At first, we chose to deal with the health issues rather than the spare chromosome and what it meant, because the health issues were more pressing. But once our son began to stabilize, we had to face the fact that he was quite different from his siblings in some important and unchangeable ways.
Like most parents with a special needs child, we discovered that there’s a grief process you go through when you have a child with disabilities. You have to accept that he won’t be president, won’t be a scholar, and in the case of Down syndrome, won’t get to raise a child of his own someday.
But once you learn to stop focusing on the things he won’t do, you can begin to celebrate the things he does. You learn about them as they happen. He brings joy to your family, he works hard to master every little step of development, he teaches his siblings about love and sacrifice, and he’s used by God to strengthen your faith. I hope I don’t come across as a goody-two-shoes when I say that he is actually a great blessing. I wish we could have known that when we got his diagnosis, but at least we know it now.
He’s a lot of fun as well as an occasional source of frustration. That makes him just like his siblings. Yes, I worry about his future, especially when I read terrible things like this. But I also worry about our older children: our daughter living alone in a large city, our son traveling all over the country on business (and out of the country on mission trips), and our younger daughter, who is just reaching the age where she must make some important decisions about her future. Parenting has exponentially increased my prayer life!
And that’s a good thing. God uses parenting to grow us and to make us into the people he wants us to become. The tools he uses for this are our children, who happen to be a blessing in their own right.
That’s just one reason why their birthdays are so special. In the case of our youngest, we also celebrate the fact that he’s made it through so many challenges and is still here with us. For that, we are grateful!