My name is Mary. I’m 52 years old and I have eight children, between the ages of 34 and 7.
I was 28 and in graduate school when I had Bernadette. I was not married. She was not planned. There’s almost 6 years between Bernadette and Moira. I was very sad because I thought I was only going to have one child. Then Moira was born and the floodgates opened. We have eight children.
Expect? I think I expected it to be easier than it was and is. I remember being pretty overwhelmed by the transition. I finished my Masters program in the beginning of June and Bernadette was born in the middle of July. I had been working really hard. I finished and then this baby came and everything changed. I kept waiting for things to get back to normal and eventually I realized, oh (laughs), they won’t. This is the new normal.
Even though I’m the oldest of seven and helped a lot growing up, it’s different to be the mother instead of the big sister. I was surprised at how all-consuming motherhood was. Then, as I had subsequent children, I was surprised at how each child changed everything again.
When you have only one child, you have a tendency to be consumed with that one child. Then when you get a second child, you can’t do that. When people say, they grow up so fast, you realize when you have more than one, you miss some things. But you gain some things, too, and I think the children, too, gain some things, by having one another. I think the gains are worth it. I always say, I’m never bored and I’m not lonely. I have other problems, but those are not among them.
My relationship with my husband? We are proponents of the family bed. At one point we had this king-sized bed with a twin bed pushed up on one side because on any given night, you might have four kids in bed and they’re all kicking you. At that point, we had to find ways to have time alone, and intimate time alone. It was a struggle, especially early on. And also the whole parenting together thing. You’re not the same person, so you don’t always have the same ideas and values. Sometimes you can knock heads about things. Other times, it’s really good to have someone there to say, “hey, let’s look at this together.” Or you think, oh yeah, I had never thought about it in that way. If there were no children in our relationship, it would be a very different relationship.
I became a social worker because I wanted to be a social worker. I’ve never worked fulltime since graduate school, but I pretty much have worked most of the time part-time. Then after Mary Ellen was born, I quit. I thought, I’m about to turn 45 and have my eighth child. I didn’t know she was going to have health problems.
We all grow into our goals. That’s one of the things motherhood has taught me, particularly with my youngest being born with physical and developmental disabilities.
When Mary Ellen, my youngest, was born in the birthing center, my friend said to the midwife, “Every time I turn her this way, she turns a dusky color.” The midwife cleared everybody out and sat down with us and said, “Mary Ellen has Down Syndrome and something’s going on with her breathing. We’re going to have to transfer her to the hospital. We’re going to life flight her.” I didn’t know if we would ever see her again.
When our babies were born, I always assumed that they would be fine. They would grow up, graduate from college, get married, and have children. They would be successful in whatever path they chose. But that’s not always true.
Having children has really taught me to go with the flow and that things happen and we don’t always understand why they happen, but I think we’re always given the strength, the internal strength, but also the strength of the community, to deal with them. In our experience with Mary Ellen, we had thousands of people praying for her recovery. When she had her heart surgery, there was more food than we could possibly eat.
There’s a story they tell you in the Down Syndrome community. It’s called “A Trip to Holland.” The idea is that you’re planning a trip to Italy. You study Italian, brush up on Italian painters and culture and the Vatican and you’re so excited that you’re going to Italy. The plane takes off and the pilot comes on and he says, “we’re on our way to Holland.” You say, “what? What do you mean Holland? We’re not going to Holland. We’re going to Italy.” At first, you’re angry. You’re grieving. You’re thinking, I wasn’t supposed to go to Holland. I’m not prepared for Holland. What am I going to do in Holland?
As time goes by—and it’s a long trip—you start to think about Holland and you remember, oh, there’s the Dutch masters, tulips, windmills... It’s not the trip that all your friends went on. It’s different. But that doesn’t mean that Holland is a desperate place, with people dying in the streets. It’s a different place with some gifts, too.
That was a very, very helpful concept to me in the beginning.
How have I changed? I’m not the person I would be if I weren’t a mother. I’d like to think I am a better person. Being a mother makes me more compassionate and less judgmental. That saying comes to mind… “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Advice? Buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Don’t get too caught up in struggling with how things should be, because they just are.