As often happens in this beautiful Down syndrome community, sometimes we only meet other parents online and yet there is a deep connection that occurs. From the moment I ‘met’ Helen, I was impressed with her expansive knowledge and wise, yet humble, approach. I feel honoured that she has honestly shared her experiences of meeting her son with us and offered words of wisdom for other parents who may feel the same way. Thank you Helen x
It’s normal to feel unconditional love and connection with your newborn baby, right? So, what happens if you’re hit with a diagnosis and the opportunity to bathe in bliss is snatched away and replaced by fear and uncertainty? I know that I certainly didn’t feel overwhelmed with love and joy as soon as my son was born, in fact I was an exhausted frightened first time mother, who was very far away from feeling connected to my beautiful son.
Despite the intimate surroundings of a home birth, skin on skin contact, breastfeeding and co-sleeping, this sense of disconnect went on for some time and I was aware but not alarmed by the thought that there could be more in terms of a love shared. I was very much on auto pilot in those early, with a practical frame of mind that protected me from feeling the hurt, grief and confusion that had punctured its way through my heart. This invisible armour helped me get on with the job at hand, feeding, bathing, settling, trying to give my full attention, whilst wrestling with a mind that was running away with questions that had no answers.
Five years later and I have come to understand that these jobs at hand are acts of love in themselves and that our hearts are and always will be intrinsically bonded with our children at a very deep level, whether we feel it or not. This understanding brings great comfort to me during the tricky days. When we are filled with anxious thoughts, rather than a free and easy heart, they help to imbue the simple and monotonous tasks of daily life with new meaning. Every act, no matter how small, can be an act of love and kindness, if we choose to see it that way.
Fear is part of the journey of life, it has its place in our repertoire of feeling and helps us know when something isn’t right, or that we are in danger. Long term fear however isn’t helpful and can be experienced as anxiety or depression. This type of enduring fearful state is the antipathy of love – a powerful and all-consuming emotion that can paralyse the body and heart and run the mind ragged with the task of trying to make everything safe again.
When fear is centre stage, we cannot feel love. Instead we find ourselves at the mercy of fear’s mercurial nature, which can make us feel trapped in a cycle of hopelessness. The antidote to this seemingly impossible struggle is, ironically, love, it’s as simple and as complex as that. When we find our way back to love and to our own hearts, fear no longer rules and all the issues that were magnified in its presence no longer appear so intimidating.
So, how do we find our way out of fear and back in to a place of love? Isn’t that the million dollar question for the entirety of our lives! For me personally it wasn’t about seeking or receiving external comfort or reassurance. I had to go deeper than that and tackle things from the inside. The first step in this process of breaking out of my straightjacket of fear, was acknowledging that the acts of love I was performing for my son on a daily basis meant something. They meant that I cared and was caring. This is what it means to turn up, to participate in life even when you don’t want to and it’s a brave and courageous thing to do.
I then acknowledged that even though I felt so far away emotionally from my son, it wasn’t his fault and it wasn’t mine, it was simply the fear that held us apart from each other. I began to acknowledge that I had a deep fear of losing him. I held on to fears for his safety and health, fears for his future, of the unknown and fears about how I was going to cope. I then came to the realisation that the mind, although useful on occasion, is actually not at all helpful at the task of overcoming fear and overwhelm. So, I stopped giving my mind such an important role in my life and reassigned it instead to my soul and a larger force than me, which was an act of deep surrender and a huge relief.
On a practical level, I’ve learnt that when fear grips me, usually after a dodgy blood test result, an assessment of any description, or any number of daily events, thoughts, feelings or words, I find time to sit quietly and get in touch with the sensations in my body. If you do the same, you will notice that fear and all associated emotions such as grief, anxiety, powerlessness and despair, are actually felt in the solar plexus, the area that sits just under the rib cage, and not necessarily in your heart or head.
This is why we often feel sick when strong emotions are present and this is the place we need to calm when feelings arrive, before they trigger the fight or flight response and our minds go into overdrive. Try sitting with your hands on your solar plexus and breathe deeply into this area, allow your breath to release the tension and feelings that reside there. I guarantee this method is more effective than any meditation as it treats the root cause rather than the symptom, which is a frazzled mind.
Lastly, the act of gratitude provides a direct and fast track road to the heart. Even in the darkest days, the darkest moments, there is always something to be grateful for and the acknowledgement of that brings sweet and instant relief from despair.
The image of a woman in ecstatic rapture after birth or deeply connected to her child, can perpetuate a particular kind of expectation for mothers which can set them up for a silent misery if it doesn’t happen. Let’s be realistic and understand that, for every woman who has experienced intense feelings from the start, there are several others in the shadows who are feeling confused, and perhaps guilty or ashamed, that they haven’t.
If you haven’t found yourself deeply connected from the get go, for whatever reason, then please don’t panic. Deep in your heart and soul, you always have and always will, hold love for your little one. If fear is the elephant in the room that is getting in the way of feeling that joy with your child, then please know that’s all it is and, with some insight and detachment, you can tame that wild child of emotion and allow beauty, peace and love to flow from a heart in bloom.
I would like to dedicate this article to Annie Love and her son Nicholas, whose remarkable, tangible and enduring connection demonstrates the pure and fearless love that resides within us all.
Originally from the UK, Helen spent many years travelling the world before settling in Australia and discovering a passion for natural medicine. After qualifying as a Naturopath, Helen ran her own private practice, developed courses and workshops and has been a regular speaker within the business community. On returning to Melbourne, she combined her love of food and health into running cooking and nutrition classes for adults and children, she was a feature writer for the Australian Natural Health Magazine and also lectured in nutrition. Helen has spent several years studying energy medicine and working as an intuitive healer. She lives in Melbourne with her five year old son, Oliver, and is undertaking further study, whilst writing articles for the Three 21 Wellness Foundation. You can also find her on Facebook.