Dear Young Melissa,
Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: life is so not going to end up the way you planned, and that has very little to do with Down syndrome.
You’re a planner, so it’s going to be really hard for you to watch your plans change. Really, really hard.
But let’s be honest – your original life plan leaves a little something to be desired. In so many ways they are not your plans, but the plans you think you are supposed to have. You are kind of on the right track, you have the right idea, but you don’t have quite the right vehicle for it yet.
You will re-evaluate those plans bit by bit over the years. You will leave teaching behind. You will settle in a town you would have never chosen on your own, but it will quickly become home. You will marry a man that you never dreamed would be your perfect match and that love will turn into a foundation for a pretty exceptional life. Yup. 10 years after graduating from college you will be nowhere near where you imagined and hoped and planned to be, but you will be deeply satisfied in a quiet, confident way.
And as your life continues to veer from those original plans, your true desire will become more and more clear. (And you’ll even get to use those political science and education degrees you thought would be useless when you left teaching.)
You will have a baby girl and she will have Down syndrome. You will follow a path laid out by thousands of parents who have gone before you, a now-familiar arc of surprise and confusion and sadness and ultimately joy. And as you get to know her, and know yourself as a parent, the seed of something planted long ago will start to blossom.
You know how to explain things. You know how to break down big ideas into manageable bites. (Remember that education degree?) You love to write. But most of all, you love to advocate. (Remember that political science degree?) The skills you thought you left behind when you first left teaching, and then left the working world altogether, are going to come in handy as you advocate not only for your daughter, but alongside new-found friends in the disability community as well.
A voice that had long felt stifled and misused and misplaced in jobs that never quite fit will grow. You will start a blog, you will share your life with friends and family. You will speak in front of legislators and new parents and teachers-in-training. You will share your story, and Rowenna’s story, and you will see tiny ripples of change in those around you. Someone who once said “retard” with abandon will use better words; someone who used to rail against “government leeches” will come to understand just how complex and stifling the service system can be.
But more important than all of that is the fact that you will live a full life. Full of love, full of adventure, full of light. All because you veered from your original plans, tried new things, and brought a sweet girl with an extra chromosome into the world.
There will be loss, and sometimes a sorrow so deep you think you might drown for want of holding babies you never meet. There will be financial hardship, but hubby’s quiet patience and absolute faith in your shared future will guide the way. There will be days you wonder what you were thinking when you bought the house, when you had children earlier than planned, and when you decided to stay home “for real” and really dig into stay-at-home parenting. But the love. Oh, the love you have in your future. It’s a love you don’t think you need or deserve, but you will surrender to it and it will be amazing. Through it all will be the deepening relationship with your parents and brother, the steadfast love of hubby, the sunshine of your sweet Rowenna, and the contagious joy of a newborn girl named Afton.
You will still want to plan it all out, but you will have a soft little hand to pat your cheek and remind you that the best things that happen to you are the ones you can’t predict.
You’ve got this.
With lots of love from your older self.
ps Kudos on picking hubby.
pps You are going to have some exceptionally cute babies.