In the last several months, I keep coming across an essay titled Welcome to Holland. Some people love it, others not so much, but I think it’s an easy way to put something so complex into an analogy everyone can understand.
Welcome to Holland
By Emily Pearl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this:
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans… the Coliseum, Michelangelo’s David, the gondolas of Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!”, you say. “what do you mean Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life, I’ve dreamed of going to Italy!”
The stewardess replies, “There’s been a change in the flight plan. We’ve landed in Holland and it is here you must stay.”
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It is just a different place. So, you must go and buy new guidebooks. You must learn a whole new language. You will meet a whole new group of people you would never had met. It is just a different place. It is slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy, but after you have been there while and you catch your breath, you look around and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrants. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That is what I had planned.”
The pain of that will never, ever, ever go away because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in both places at once and other times I feel like I’m in Greenland so far removed from everyone. The point of the essay is to say life doesn’t always turn out like you expect. I have been a parent for nearly 15 years and it hasn’t always gone as planned but even still, I never expected this journey.
When you’re pregnant everyone asks “What do you want? A boy or a girl?” – I gave the standard answer that most parents give “I don’t care, as long as the baby is healthy”. I said that so many times and of course, I meant it. With genetic testing before pregnancy, high risk appointments every two weeks, more ultrasounds than one could ever hope for, I really thought we would land in “Italy” safe and sound. I never even considered a detour.
I have probably spent too much time mourning the loss of a “typical” childhood for Jackson. I fear his childhood memories will consist of hospital rooms, being hooked up to machines, constant pokes, be woken up every night and forced to eat, and stressed out parents worried about him, about money, and everything that comes with this package – I hate that for him. But, I can’t change where our lives have taken us. I can, however, stop and enjoy all of the beauty that our “Holland” has to offer. I’ve been entrusted with two beautiful children, who love me, and make me a better (albeit exhausted) person. This journey is hard but I promise you, it’s worth it. I just hope we can stay in one spot for awhile, I’m not ready to be a “world traveler”.