I Landed in Holland
The whole time our daughter Hannah was sick, I couldn’t keep up. I had worked hard to have this baby. There were eight other babies before her. I was running my race (1 Corinthians 9:24). I didn’t want to fall down. But down I went. Depression hit so hard and so fast that I didn’t know how to stop it.
Over twenty years, I had eight able children. What does one do with a disabled child? Or a sick child for that matter? No one prepared me for it. I just didn’t get it. From the time Hannah was born, people treated us different. I was used to “Congratulations!!!” … “What a beautiful baby!” … “She looks like you!”
Before I knew how much trouble Hannah was in, I started asking questions. With the transport team on their way from Children’s, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I needed to know what danger my baby was in. To my surprise, the pediatrician agreed with me when I shared my suspicion that Hannah had Down syndrome. By the look on the doctor’s face, I thought it couldn’t be good. Up to that point no one else dared to believe what I was thinking.
In the NICU the nurses had their own opinions. Before the test results came back, one nurse smiled and said she could tell which babies had Down syndrome by the rolls on the back of their neck. I wasn’t used to such comments. If she had smiled and said my baby had pretty hair or a pretty face, I would have understood.
In the hospital there was no positive attention for my child. The doctors and nurses were too busy trying to do their job. One time when Hannah was a little older, she had a baby roommate. All the nurses found time to say how cute the other baby was. I noticed when they came over to take care of my baby, they just did their job. There were no kind words or cute compliments on this side of the room. It hurt me to see the attention the other baby without Down syndrome was getting. I know nobody knew me or my baby in the hospital. But I felt more disabled than Hannah. She was perfect. I just didn’t know it yet.
Before we left the NICU, a nurse I hadn’t seen before ran and got it. It was a printed copy of a story that was titled “Welcome to Holland.” As quickly as she came, she went, never to be seen again. She was like an angel delivering a message. I read the message then, but clearly didn’t get it until after I started writing this book. Remembering that she gave it to me, I pulled it out and here it is:
Welcome to Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley
©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
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 flight attendant 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 Rembrandts.
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.