Family Matters

Family Matters

Listening to Your Heart: Sometimes Life's Greatest Gifts are Disguised as Disappointments

By Elizabeth Flynn Campbell

November/December 2010

Sometimes when my younger son, Jesse, does something that exceeds my expectations—like the other day, when he was the first to notice that our dog, Cody, ­wasn't feeling well—I'll say to my husband, "Wow. Maybe he doesn't have Down syndrome after all." This is our inside joke, of course, since Jesse's Down syndrome, which he—and we—have lived with for 12 years, isn't going anywhere. He has an extra 21st chromosome in every cell of his body, and always will.

I suppose you could say that we "chose" Jesse, despite the amnio results confirming his Down syndrome, because we decided to gamble—on our belief that having a good life isn't necessarily the same as having an easy, typical life. And yet, for at least the first year after he was born, my belief that we could have a good life with a disabled child was a frail and wavering thing.

A few weeks after Jesse's birth, I ran into my neighbor Susan at the town library. We'd first met about a year earlier at the local playground, where my then-1-year-old son, Ian, toddled alongside her 1-year-old son. The last time I'd seen her was at the obstetrician's office. She, like me, was pregnant with her second child, and we'd joked nervously about what it would be like to have two children under 2 years old. So now, in the children's section of the library, I held my newborn in my arms and asked about her new baby, who would have been born within weeks of Jesse. At first, she said she'd had a miscarriage.…

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