I sat down in the waiting area of the doctors surgery, LittleM and LittleJ were both starting to get restless and upset. I tried straddling the double pram so I could begin a dummy in, dummy out battle with their tongues, the eyes of other patients glancing my way. Like when you have a sore in your mouth and you shouldn’t be touching it with your tongue, but you can’t help it, those eyes kept returning to watch me and take in the dance. I don’t feel any judgement, I’m well past that insecurity with two babies already under my belt, but it’s still disconcerting being on show for an introvert like me.
I avoided the older woman sitting a few seats up from me, I could feel her trying to catch my eyes to start a conversation. I guessed it would be something along the lines of, “I’m a twin” or “my sisters are twins” or even “my husband has cousins who are twins”, and if she didn’t have any twin life experiences to share with me it would be “double trouble/blessing” and “you’ve got your hands full!” Knowing I couldn’t avoid it I smiled at her and engaged. Through conversation it turned out we had a shared acquaintance.
“She had a little mongol baby didn’t she?” The woman asked out of the blue, unaware of LittleJ’s own extra chromosome..
Blindsided I abruptly ended the conversation, nappies needed to be changed anyway. Up until that point I had been in protective bubble of kind words, acceptance and modern attitudes and here I was reminded of the ignorance and backward thinking which still exists in our society.
It was the beginning of something new, not offence, I can’t hold ignorance against people, that would be hypocritical. I was suddenly becoming hyperaware that certain comments, ideas people had did not sit well with me. I would react internally and have to spend time wondering why I didn’t like what had been said.
The derogatory nature of calling people with down syndrome ‘Mongols’ should be self explanatory, but there were other things, less obvious things that just didn’t sit well. Phrases like “Downs baby/boy/girl” or people questioning if there was a ‘spectrum’ to down syndrome. I don’t want to shame people, and I’m not ready to educate people either, I’m still educating myself!
I can only imagine this is the beginning of a lifelong interaction with people outside of my tribe. And I know I’ll need grace and love to deal with these situations. But at times it has made me mad. Mad for the ignorance that permeates every aspect of our culture. A culture where value and success is so often measured by academic and financial achievements. A culture that excludes the ‘other’ and caused me to fear so intensely the thought of having a baby with down syndrome.
And I can honestly say that now as I look at my little boy waves of intense love and fierce protection follow, so far from the initial trauma of diagnosis. I’m not scared anymore, I’m excited.