For years, my in-laws (not yet frum) had been warning us that if we insisted on continuing to bear children at our advanced age, fate would surely strike, and we would end up with a child with Down syndrome. We, of course, as an idealistic frum couple, felt that there wasn't a serious chance. All my older friends had healthy kids, why should we be different?
Thus, on an early morning nearly four years ago, when the obstetrician informed us in the delivery room that our newborn had Down syndrome, I was as shocked as anyone else. and the first thought that came crashing into my brain was, MY G-d, what in the world are we going to tell my mother-in-law? Ribono Shel Olam, how could you give such a validation to her non-religious outlook?
It just so happened that my in-laws were on vacation, and unreachable by phone. They happened later that day to phone a mutual relative, who informed them of the tragedy that had befallen us. The relative later informed us that my in-laws reaction was, Well, lets pray to G-d that the baby dies... Its just as well, it seems, that my husband was not the one to inform them...
We, however, were determined to keep, love, and raise our Gila, along with our other children. We would not hide her, nor apologize for bearing her. We felt and feel that she has a right to breathe, laugh, and sing (were still waiting for the singing, but eventually shell get there), like any other human being. So Hashem made her a bit different. But HE'S the director of this show. (Don't misunderstand me, and think I was smiling with joy in the first few days after birth. I also wished that I could go back and re-do the birth with a better ending. But along with the emotional pain was a mental realization that there are no accidents in this world.)
So, we hoped that my in-laws would accept Gila (Ill give my in-laws credit that they never told us WE told you so...). Their first visit to Eretz Yisroel was when Gila was under one year old. My (possibly prejudiced) impression was that they were avoiding the reality of their newest granddaughter as much as possible. They managed to not come and observe Gilas physical therapy. (I had hoped that exposure to the very positive and sweet physiotherapists attitude, plus getting involved might help them on their journey to acceptance). They certainly didn't play with her very much. In general, their visit that year was very stressful for them. They seemed very angry and bitter over many things, and now I realize with hindsight that much of it was probably fueled by their discontent with the entire situation.
Later that year we did some facial surgery (plastic) on Gila partly due to my in-laws repeated requests. When their reaction to the very successful and well-done job was that she still looks terrible, I was really fed up. I decided that I cant be responsible for their attitude.
So, when they came to visit the next time, when Gila was two and a half years old, I was prepared for war. If they wouldn't accept Gila as she was, it would strain the entire relationship between them and us (me, at least). We had no problems. When we went to meet them on their arrival, Gila gave them one of her thousand-carat smiles. She was cute and lovable, and Baruch Hashem, all went well. What caused this turnabout? I think several factors helped contribute to the healing:
1) Our accepting and dont pity us attitude showed them the attitude we expected
2) Once they found themselves grandparents of a child with Down syndrome, they noticed more information on this subject in the press. They saw press releases about different things DS kids are doing, and I'm sure this helped overcome some the preconceptions that they had beforehand.
3) Im also sure that several of our relatives, who started out with a more positive attitude, talked to them, and even more importantly, show their acceptance.
4) TIME and the real honest LOVE that the grandchild with DS bubbles over with, are surely the best healers of all.
I would like to end with a real siyata dishmaya story involving my in-laws and their acceptance of Gila.
My in-laws, who are not religious, happened to go to a talk given in their city (where the frum community is almost non-existent) by a Rav. This Rav happened to be from our town, and he was speaking on the topic of Why bad things happen to good people. He also happened to mention in his talk several points about the occurrence of special children and how they are truly special. Afterwards, they went up and asked the Rav if he knows us. He smiled and said that of course he did, and that also made my in-laws feel good. They phoned us the same evening, saying that how they understand a bit where we are coming from. (Of course I called the Rav's wife to let her know that her bearing her husbands absence while he's in chutz laaretz is part of a big mitzvah).
I think that this incident was real siyata dishmaya.
This article first appeared in issue #7 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us