On admitting ambivalence about special needs kids

Sorry to go on and on about special needs issues, but I did want to comment on a post Andrew Sullivan made, after quoting a reader who again questioned Sarah Palin's mothering abilities. He said:
If his Down Syndrome does not severely effect [sic] his ability and he is able to read, he will read his mother's autobiography and learn that she questioned if she could love him. He will read interviews that his mother considered even for a split second to terminate her pregnancy, he will become aware that many consider his mother a hero for not terminating her pregnancy - thus knowing that among her fans he is considered beautiful but somehow a burden. She needs to start treating him quietly as a child who will grow into a man. She needs to learn to advocate for him and not allow him to be a victim of satire when it suits her and a victim of discrimination when it can get her attention.

And she needs to stop using him as a political prop. A child with such needs should surely not be hauled around half-naked in front of flash photographers to promote a book tour, or be routinely referred to in speeches for applause lines. It's unseemly. But then so much about this person is.

I have written before that Sarah Palin is using her child as a means. I also dislike the way she holds him up as a badge of moral honor, and I hate the way crowds cheer her for it.

But one thing I don't think she needs to apologize for: admitting her ambivalence about becoming a mom of a special needs kid. I will tell those of you who have never been through it: finding out your child will have special needs is an absolute body blow. The first few weeks after I found out were the worst of my life. We can all pretend that it isn't, and we are expected to. Doctors have been counseled not to express sorrow on giving a diagnosis of Down syndrome. This is not psychological reality, and the more we pretend it doesn't exist, the more isolated parents receiving such a diagnosis feel.

My son will never be able to read and understand what I write about him. But his brother will, and I've thought seriously about that. And Trig Palin might. What will he think? If she has surrounded him plenty of unconditional love, and he feels secure and adored by his family, he'll be able to deal with the fact that his parents were once ambivalent about his existence. Many people whose parents hadn't planned on their arrival have dealt with this.

Honesty is a good policy. While some private things should never be revealed, I don't think people should be criticized for admitting the questioning of such a difficult road.


  1. I couldn't agree more, Elizabeth.

    Moreover, those taboo feelings of ambivalence aren't unique to mothers of special-needs kids. Plenty of people pregnant with babies expected to be "normal" feel the same way.

    I think we do children a disservice (whether they are typical or not) by denying all negative or ambivalent feelings about parenting because it denies an essential reality about both being a parent and being a child; it sends a message that uncertainty, fear, and sorrow are taboo feelings in loving relationships and, I think, ultimately sets a child up to be far more fearful of these natural emotions in himself or others than necessary. It tells them that certain feelings are off-limits, or too terrible to be spoken of.

  2. I agree Elizabeth. My 18 month old is developmentally delayed (to what extent is still unclear) and our next visit will be to assess his needs. It is understandable to hope for the best and be disappointed when it doesn't come to pass.


  3. Squillo, I'm totally with you on the importance of teaching children ambivalent feelings.

    And charo, I'm sorry to hear that. I know how you feel. If it's any consolation, I have already been absolutely amazed at how effective early intervention can be.

  4. What age are these children who should be taught about ambivalent feelings? Didn't we just go through a children-need-black-and-white a post or two ago? Teenagers, yes, but one doesn't usually speak of teens as children.

    My heart goes out to you, charo, and especially your child. I pray for the best for your family.