It was a sunny summer’s evening when I walked up the lawn of my colleagues’ front garden to join the celebrations for his wedding. I was greeted by a group of retired doctors and their wives.
Aneena, a retired practice nurse, asked after my family and especially Star. I spoke about what they were getting up to now, how Hannah had been in a dance show, Ben loved football and how Star had loved our holiday on the beach, was learning new words and getting ready to start school. I am not sure if some of the group could hear me above the noise of the band and the celebrations. The conversation came to a natural close and I said goodbye and went to find the newly weds to congratulate them. As I walked away I heard Aneena say loudly to the group:
“She adopted a Downs kid.”
She did not mean it cruelly.
As she is a kind lady and the group were frail, I did not feel it was appropriate to explain that I do not see my family that way.
But it has bothered me since, that I didn’t go back to explain why that choice of words upset me.
Firstly, it made me sound like a saint.
I am many things, saint-like is not one of them.
We adopted Star, because adoption is central to our Christian faith. Because she needed a safe home and family to love her. And we had space and love to spare.
Second, she is not a “Downs kid.”
Star is a five-year-old girl with an infectious smile, and mischievous twinkling eyes. She loves Danger mouse, she loves chocolate cake, she loves to swim, run and colour. She knows all of her phonics and most of her numerals to 10. She gives the best hugs. She also has Down syndrome. Down syndrome is part of her but it does not define her.
Star joined our family through adoption.
Some people assume that she was unwanted because of her extra chromosome – that is not the case. Her birth parents could not parent her safely because of their own experiences.
She joined our family through adoption.
The most important part of that sentence is that she joined our family. Now, how she joined is somewhat irrelevant in terms of how I feel about her.
On Saturday, Star and I printed out some photos for a school project and as we looked through photo after photo of happy memories, it struck me that I do not think of her as my “adopted daughter with Down syndrome” at all.
She is Star, she is my youngest daughter. And I love her.
Last week I went to a GP update evening. Before the teaching got underway another colleague asked about my children and told the speaker “Jane has adopted a little girl with Down syndrome.”
The consultant looked at me, incredulous – but politely trying to hide it.
[Are you noticing a common theme among my medical colleges here?]
Then he said with pity in his voice
“That must be hard”
It is hard to know how to respond to a colleague, an expert in his field who is speaking about one of the best and brightest people in my life as if she is a tragedy. In that moment I wanted to say:
“no Mr Eminent consultant you have this all wrong, she is not a tragedy, she is brilliant and beautiful, and I am a better person for having the privilege of being her Mummy.”
I didn’t say that. The lecture was about to start and I met his eye and replied:
“Yes sometimes it is hard….
But she brings so much joy.”