If I could time-travel, I would go back to the day you were born. And the days, weeks, and months that followed and tell myself the following five things.
“You were expecting a ‘normal’ child. Your world has shattered into a million pieces. You have lost something you never had. But that you were preparing for the past nine months. You think your life as you know it is over, but I am here to tell you it has only just begun.
Listen very carefully to these five very important things.
Number One. You will love this child. This is a love that has no bounds. A love that can and will move mountains; will stop you in your tracks; make you breathless; make you stronger, prouder, and braver than you can ever imagine. This is a love that is borne out of who your child is, not in spite of. It is a primal, elemental love that cannot be rivalled.
Number Two. The future is your enemy, and the present is your friend. Do not think about all the things that might be difficult in the future. All the battles, all the differences and all the challenges. No one, especially not the professionals, knows what the future holds. No benefit can be gained from suffering over the what-ifs. In fact, the what-ifs are usually much worse in theory than in reality.
Number Three. Other people are ignorant, thoughtless, and thoroughly tactless. They are also well-meaning, kind, compassionate and unknowingly prejudiced. They mean no harm; want to alleviate your pain, give you optimism, and contribute to lessening the burden they see you carrying. Their input will usually involve personal accounts of their cousin/neighbour/best friend’s brother, which they will naively assume help your cause. They won’t, but you won’t tell them that. Rather, you’ll smile sweetly and change the subject.
Managing your expectations
Which leads me to Number Four. For every friend you lose (and there will be scores), there will be a new friend who will change your world. Some may be travelling a similar path; some may cross your path for other reasons. You will encounter a whole new team of superheroes. Your child’s advocates - teachers, therapists, care workers. You will entrust these amazing individuals with your child’s life, and you will cry and celebrate with them. They will show you a whole new species of supreme humanity.
Number Five. You will overhaul your expectations of life and parenthood. You will recode the hard wiring of what you have come to know as happiness, pain and love. The joys, woes, challenges, celebrations, will be the same as parenting a regular child. But with greater extremities either way. And please believe me when I tell you that the intensity and elation of the up-sides will eclipse the downsides. In this you are truly lucky. In a life where nothing is assumed or taken for granted, you will treasure and savour Every. Single. Moment.
So please don’t be sad. Don’t miss out on the first few precious days, weeks, and months, because of misplaced sadness and grief. Avert those feelings of loss and exchange them for eager anticipation of what is to come. Know that you will be a good parent, a great parent. And be kind to your partner. He or she is travelling their own same but different path, and you are a team. The BEST team. And you are the luckiest parents in the world.”