Saturday, November 8, 2008

Navigating the terrain of friendship

In Road Map to Holland, Jennifer Graf Groneberg talks about her friend "Cathy" and how her son's diagnosis impacts their friendship. A lot of us moms of children with DS have talked about our own "Cathys" - friends who, in one way or another, couldn't deal with our children's diagnosis the way we needed them to.

But what about a different situation. I bring this up here, not to publicly air something that should remain private, but because it's something I am very much struggling with and am hoping for some wisdom from some of you more seasoned mothers of children with DS.

The situation I'm talking about is this: I suspect that I am ruining - or at least damaging - a friendship that is very dear to me. Why? Because of envy. Because I can't seem to get past that ugly feeling.

We shared our last pregnancies and our babies were born within a couple days of each other. Then we became pregnant again within a few weeks of each other, with my due date being a few weeks ahead of hers. It was great going through pregnancy together again, sharing all the ups and downs and the anticipation. Then Finn was born . . . and we found out that he has Down syndrome. And suddenly hearing about the rest of my friend's pregnancy just hurt so much. I knew she'd have a "normal" baby - I mean, come on - lightning struck me, it wasn't about to strike her too. And she did have a normal baby. And I was - am - happy for her . . . but I also still feel a great deal of envy. And I kick myself all the time for it.

I don't feel like I even have the right to feel envious - at least not yet. For a baby with DS, Finn is doing extremely well. He's on track developmentally, he doesn't have any major health issues . . . for all intents and purposes, he is a mostly "normal" baby right now.

But the diagnosis is still there. He is a baby who has Down syndrome, and he will always have Down syndrome. And eventually, the DS is going to manifest itself in delays of some sort. Big or little is anyone's guess, but they'll be there. And I feel like I'm holding my breath waiting for that, and I'm afraid when we are faced with the first obvious delay, I'm going to fall apart.

In the meantime, I struggle with finding a way to hear about my friend's baby's accomplishments without feeling cheated in some way. I struggle with not looking too far into the future and trying to guess at what Finn is NOT going to be able to do compared to what her child IS going to be able to do. I know she wants to be able to share her baby's accomplishments with me - because we're friends! - but she holds back, afraid of hurting me, and I sit here, afraid of being hurt, and knowing that I'm hurting her and our friendship.

There are so many of you who are farther down the path than I am, so I am looking to you for some help here. Do these feelings ever go away? How can I be a better friend while still honoring my own process of acceptance?


Chrystal said...

Definitely not an easy situation. But I can say this, from my own perspective: it does go away.

It took me some time to adjust when my own sister-friend had her child just 3 weeks before I had Malea. I had great plans for the girls to be as close as we had been growning up. And, in an instant, that was taken away from me, it seemed.

Long story short, today I asked her about her daughter. I could hear her talking in the background. And I felt no anger, no sadness, no "gypped" feeling, just curiosity and interest.

So, yes, today, it went away.

It takes time and your friendship can prevail.

Carla said...

This is the stuff of which friendships are made. I truly believe that. We will find our way; you are too dear to me to have it play out any other way. I'll respond to your email soon, probably tomorrow. Big, big nation crossing hugs from Northern NH to Southern CA.

My name is Sarah said...

Lisa, This is Joyce. Yet another post that leaves me breathless with your honest emotion and beautiful presentation. You are such an amazing writer.

Take a look at Sarah's post tonight. Lisa B's mom Kim and I became good friends the day we moved on our street. Then we were pregnant together. Her Stacy was born on July 1 and I celebrated in her delight. On August 8 my Sarah arrived and the next day she was diagnosed with Ds.

For several weeks after I avoided Kim and her family as much as I could, although they lived directly across the street, so it was hard. I couldn't even bear to tell them the diagnosis. We had planned for our girls to be best friends.

Then as time went on and I became more comfortable, we got back to our former existance. Of course it is much easier to write about it 19+ years later, but Lisa B. as Sarah writes went on to be a medical social worker and Stacy is a sophomore at Xavier majoring in special education. And they did grow up to be best friends. Over time, I learned to accept and Stacy became my "second daughter."

Jen said...

You know, I'm not sure it ever goes away. It definitely becomes easier to deal with, and easier to be happy for friends who have easy pregnancies and healthy, typical babies. But for me, at least, it's still there, even if just a little bit.

I was planning a post about this very subject, actually. But not tonight. Stay tuned!

T-rex said...

I don't know what to say except to offer you a huge hug and all my support. You're a wonderful friend and would be shocked if anyone begrudged you your emotions in this. I think you're far too hard on yourself!

Karly said...

I am with Jen on this one. I am not sure if it ever goes away. I think you become okay with it eventually, accepting. But there is still that little reminder of what stage you though your child might be at or how many things should have come easier for them. I am still friends with a coworker who had a baby one month after my daughter, but at this point they are quite far apart developmentally, so it just seems like she has an older child. I don't regularly make the comparison anymore.

Jeanette said...

Wow, tough one. I have three babies around me that are extremely close in age to my Syd. (16 months). One is my good friend who's daughter is only 5 days older. Another is my next door neighbor who's son is 6 weeks older, and a friend at church with a daughter 11 hours older. Needless to say, Syd is behind all three in here physical development. Two of them are walking and she is cruising. She has about 6-7 signs and says no actual words yet. One of them has a huge vocabulary and the other two say a few words.

I am okay for the most part, but I step on those emotional landmines periodically. I have talked to each of the mothers, all good friends, and told them that this will happen. If I cry, just say it's okay and know that I will get over it. They celebrate with me on each of Syd's accomplishments and I celebrate with them as well. It is tough, I won't kid myself.
The best thing for me is to have a strong DS group. We meet once a month and they are a phenomenal support. Syd is not the only one not walking in that group, so there is less "comparing" and more celebrating. I walk in two worlds now, the bigger "typical world" and the smaller DS world. Keeping myself ingrained in both is what keeps my heart and mind in a good place.

jennifergg said...


I've been thinking and thinking about this post. I suppose in my own situation, I had no choice but to "get over it." With two babies growing up side by side, well the possibility for comparing is endless.

I don't remember being hurt by it, but of course I must have been. The thing that hurt me (that I remember) were the books thst insisted we compare our kids to typically developing kids, the ones that used this as the baseline.

Which it is not. Our kids do not develop in the typical manner.

But they DO develop, and it unfolds in its own time with its own beauty.

I guess there's this: you have other children. You understand what all the typical milestones are. You know, already, how it feels to be that kind of parent.

Finn is your only child who will show you about DS. Finn is the child who will open the world to you, a world that you might not have known existed (if you were like me. I only *knew* of it, I didn't really understand it.) By that I mean, the world of difference. Where people live and love and experience life in a not-typical manner.

I suppose this is a glass half-full approach?

But what I see is you are able, now, to see the world more fully. And it's very hard, in the beginning, to make all the adjustments required of us. But truly, almost six years into it now, I can say this: I wouldn't change anything.

Avery is the child I wanted that I did not lnow I wanted.

As for your friendship? Maybe just give yourselves both a little room. I think, in time, as your own relationship with Finn grows, your friendship can be repaired. If you aren't able to manage your feelings right away, can you fake it? (seriously! sometimes by faking it we can see that we really do mean to be that person, afterall...)

And if you can't, can you talk to your friend? Explain it?

And if not, then just keep doing your best. And surround yourself with people who know and love and support you.

It will get easier, in time. It did for me, anyway.


Tricia said...

For me, I had to make my own conscious decision to not let it bother me. I AM happy when my friend's kids accomplish things. I won't say I don't go "Holy carp...already?" a lot of the time (and probably worse stuff too)...but I am genuinely happy for those kids. I thought the delays would bowl me over too...but the good thing is it's not like you wake up one day and go "She's (or he's) not going to walk until she's 23 months old!!!!" One day you're just AT 23 months old and she's taking some steps and you think "Wow! She did it. How cool is that!?" I don't know if it's been harder or easier for me since G is my first baby...but I do know that she's proved me (and her therapists) wrong plenty of times.