Author Karen Lawrence questioned everything when she found out her seventh child, Martha, had Down Syndrome. But in the end her daughter taught her about God, faith and what it truly means to be loved.
I thought my new baby was going to be the good thing God owed me. After a horrible year in which my father died, I had a miscarriage and my husband was made redundant, this seventh child was going to complete the family and make everything right again. When the medics told me our new daughter, Martha, had Down Syndrome, I wasn’t sure that I could trust God anymore.
We had said no to pre-natal testing because we were good Christians who didn’t believe in abortion. But, faced with a “damaged baby”, I discovered that a “correct” philosophy wasn’t enough to get me through the lived experience of parenting a disabled child. In those painful early weeks, I thought about giving my baby up for adoption. I even thought about smothering her with a pillow. I felt guilty at having brought a defective child into the world. And I couldn’t speak to God at all.
Well-meaning people offered platitudes: “special people have special babies” and “these children are angels”. But before I could accept the child I had been given, I had to grieve the imaginary “perfect baby” I had lost.
I travelled through all the stages of grief. I denied her diagnosis, even to the doctor’s face. I thought that if I fed Martha all the right things, and spent hours every day doing therapies with her, maybe the Down Syndrome would go away. I sank into deep misery. And I was furious with God, although I didn’t dare tell Him so.
The people who helped most were the ones who didn’t try to offer answers, but who were there with a loving hand in mine, or a promise of prayer.
I kept on going to church, because that was what I had always done. And I found support, sometimes in unexpected places. The people who helped most were the ones who didn’t try to offer answers, but who were there with a loving hand in mine, or a promise of prayer. I met other parents of disabled children, and began to realise that the world was full of sorrowful mothers. I was not alone in my pain.
It was just before Christmas, when my baby was almost a year old, that I went to confession at my local Catholic church. I told the priest that I was angry with God for giving me a disabled child. I expected him to instruct me to read an improving book, or to say extra prayers. But instead, his words were simple and inspired. He asked: “Have you ever thanked God for this baby?” I had not. Although I dearly loved my daughter, I had been focused on all the problems. I had never accepted her as a gift.
Although I dearly loved my daughter, I had been focused on all the problems. I had never accepted her as a gift.
That day I finally said “thank you” to God for Martha, my beloved, beautiful and most precious baby. And, as I repeated my “thank yous”, tears of release poured down my face. I realised that Martha was the good gift I had been longing for all the time. And the journey to unwrap God’s gift had changed me forever.
I used to think that I could control things. And that if I tried hard enough, God would reward me with the “perfect” family. Martha has taught me that we are all disabled; none of us is perfect, in body, mind or spirit. But God accepts and loves us as we are, just as I love Martha. None of us is accepted because we do, or say, or even believe, the right things; we are accepted because we are loved. That is enough, and it is everything.