The night that Nathan was born, the pediatrician came in the recovery room following my c-section to tell us she “suspected” that he had Down syndrome. She then went into a laundry list of reasons why she “suspected” it and the tests that were to follow. I wasn’t getting a good feel from her whether it was a remote possibility or an absolute certainty, so I cut to the chase and asked her what her gut instinct was. Gratefully, she was honest and told us that she believed he did. When I saw him later, I knew instinctively that she was right. In the first several weeks after Nathan was born, however, I struggled to find the features in his face. It seemed that it was only in photos – rarely in holding and interacting with him – that I was able to spot the physical features common to people with an extra 21st chromosome. Now that he is a little bit older, I can spot it more easily, but it’s hard to tell sometimes if other people see it, too.
Nathan is a happy and friendly baby. He smiles a lot and, in particular, flirts with the ladies (oh, my!) Because he has a seven year old sister, he gets dragged all over the place – swim meets, guitar lessons, Target, Chick-fil-A, church… Often, he will catch someone’s attention and they will talk and smile and coo back at him, and tell me he’s beautiful. He IS beautiful. He has the most brilliant blue eyes – the same color as Sarah Kate’s – and it is easy to get lost in them.
Whenever we are out-and-about interacting with people, my mind inevitably questions “Can they see it?” While it doesn’t make any difference to me what they do or don’t see, the next thought I always have is “Should I mention it?” For people who are friends or casual acquaintances, I usually do say something to the effect of “You know that he has Down syndrome, right?” I do that mainly because it feels like I’m keeping it a secret if I don’t tell them, and since they are going to learn of it, anyway, I’d rather them hear it from me with a smile on my face than from someone else with pity in their voice. Friends and acquaintances, I have learned, will take their cues from me. If I am fine with it, they are fine with it.
With strangers it’s a little bit tougher. If they don’t see it, I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable that I brought it up, but if they do see it, I want them to see me as positive and happy, and Nathan as a person to be valued. I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that he’s non-typical – after all, he is much more like other children than he is different from them – but I also don’t want it to appear that I’m hiding his non-typical-ness. What I usually do is watch their face to see if I spot some glimmer of comprehension, and then decide whether to speak or not to speak. I always wonder if I have done the right thing.
The bottom line is that I really shouldn’t give a rip about whether a stranger is or isn’t comfortable nor whether they do or do not see it. I should be reminding myself of that old saying “The people that mind don’t matter, and the people that matter don’t mind”, but I feel like it’s not as simple as that. I want the world to see that he is, indeed, a beautiful and delightful little boy who just happens to have “a little something extra” in his chromosomal makeup.