By Heather O.
This is the title of Kathryn Soper’s new book about the year her son Thomas was born, her 7th child who was also born with Down Syndrome.
When I got to page 4, I said out loud to my husband, “Kathy is just such a good writer!” I was prepared for that, of course. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kathy on the journal Segullah, the Segullah staff book the mother in me, and I already knew what a good writer and editor she is. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the honesty with which Kathy presents her story as she describes her reaction to Thomas’ diagnosis and the conflict between her genuine love for her son and her grief at having a son with disabilities. With that grief also comes a sense of guilt, and she has to make her way through that too.
This is not a simple story with simple emotions. It’s one full of blood, sweat, and tears, but you find yourself rooting for Kathy the entire way.
More than just a story about Thomas, however, this is also a story about depression, and Kathy describes in acute detail the overwhelming blanket of exhaustion that assaults her, and her initial resistance to get help. When she finally does find the help that she needs, she is awestruck at how good she feels.
“Is this how everybody feels?” she asks her husband.
“This is how healthy people feel”, he tells her.
Wild, she muses.
This book also gives the reader a view into what it means to a mother and a family to have a sibling and a son who has Down Syndrome. For somebody who has never had this experience, it meant a lot to me to see what such a family needs, and what kind of comments are helpful, and which ones are not.
I finished this book last Thursday, and the next day found myself at my son’s elementary school family fun night, eating pizza next to a family who had a son with Down Syndrome. He looked to be about Little Sister’s age, so I asked how old he was and what his name was. His name was Owen, and he was just 6 months older than my toddler. I watched the two children working on their pizza. They both reached for it, demanding it with insistent grunts. They both grinned when they got it, and they both made a complete mess, although I think my daughter would have won the contest for smearing the most pizza sauce on herself.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to the family much, however, until later, when we were in the school gym, and bigger kids starting racing around, threatening to knock Little Sister over with their size and speed and general cluelessness. Normally, I would seek out other toddlers who can play with my daughter at her speed. In this case, I glanced over at Owen, who was happily playing with on a gym mat, but hesitated. Then I remembered a scene in Kathy’s book, a painful one where her son Thomas is automatically dismissed as a potential playmate for another woman’s baby. Remembering how that made Kathy feel, I dragged Little Sister over to Owen, plopped her down next to him, and said, “Here. Play with Owen.”
The two toddlers eyed each other, then Owen busted out a thousand watt grin. Little Sister smiled back, and they circled each other. Then Owen fell back on his bum, and discovered his shoes. Little Sister discovered some dirt on the floor, and the interaction was over. Owen’s mom had come over to stand next to me, and we laughed together.
“You know, I just read a great book about Down Syndrome. It’s called ‘The Year My Son and I Were Born.’ My girlfriend wrote it about her son, you know, just about what it’s like for her,” I said.
The mother nodded and said, “Kind of like her story?”
“Yeah,” I said.
She nodded again and said, “Well, that title certainly describes how I felt when Owen was born. It’s been quite a journey for us, too.’
So we talked about Owen. I asked if he had a NICU stay, like Thomas had (he had, but only 5 days), if he had health issues she worried about (he does–his heart), and if she found out before he was born about the Down Syndrome (she had–and she grieved too, but had an overwhelming sense of peace when he was born.) It was an good conversation. Normal. Easy. And it struck me later–why wouldn’t it be easy? My favorite topic in the world is my kids. Why wouldn’t it be her favorite topic too?
But it weren’t for Kathy’s book, I probably wouldn’t have approached that family at all. Not exactly stellar behavior, but it’s true. So I have Kathy to thank for that conversation.
The Year My Son and I Were Born is avaiable here. Check it out. I promise, you won’t regret it.
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