Lately I have been thinking a lot about raising a child with a disability. Recently I heard that an old college friend had a baby that was born with some severe disabilities, and I have really been pondering about it and just thought I’d share my take on this. If I had the time, I would love to compile a book of short stories and experiences that families have gone through while raising a loved one with extra challenges.

I feel like there are not enough positive stories out there for when parents first learn “the news”. I know when I was pregnant, I was in search: longing for happy, uplifting stories, something that would calm my heart and fill me with peace. Thankfully, another mother (of a special-needs child) from my church came to my rescue and shared this remarkable poem with me. I can honestly say it has changed my life. That is a dramatic statement, but true. I wanted to post this because there might be other parents out there that need this as much as I did.

“WELCOME TO HOLLAND ”
by Emily Perl Kingsley

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 Rembrandt’s.

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.

(end of quote)

Since having my daughter, Katie, who was born with spina bifida, I have truly realized that “Holland” is such a beautiful place. I have learned a new “language” and met amazing people I would have never met before. Just the experience of going to her little preschool and being around those sweet kids is something that I wish more people could experience.

Not that I would “wish” having a child with special needs on someone… but I must say…. when I hear of a couple that is going to have a child with disabilities, my first reaction is typical: my heart sinks. The reason it sinks is because I know how hard it is to watch your child be wheeled away for surgery while you’re left in a waiting room… to wait. I know how hard it is to not know what the future holds. But then seriously, seconds later, I think about their “Holland” experience. They will get to experience a life that not many people get. One that is full of miracles and life lessons. Now, I know that Katie’s Spina Bifida is a lot easier than many special needs. But regardless, it has put us in situations that we may not have ever experienced and for that, I am grateful.

Photo by Lisa Hawkins

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