When the Dr. called to tell me that my fetus had Trisomy 21, I remember the moment quite clearly. In that moment, before I cried or raged, I felt nothing. Not a numb kind of nothing. The kind of nothing that comes between breaths. A crystallized feeling where you simply do not know at any level what will come next. A moment where you have no idea what to even image. I have never ever felt this way in my life. I always knew where to place my foot so to speak. But in that moment, there was no script, no map, no path. I felt that my foot was hovering over an abyss of unknowing. It was not a negative space or a positive space. It was a nothing space. The space in between.
You see there was no script for this moment. Bourdieu would say that my doxa did not include this scenario. Butler would say that I was facing that misstep between the construct and the experience. I simply remember that I hardly dared to breath. That my skin felt inside out. That I was walking wrapped in cotton balls. That my words would shatter against the air. That touch would burn.
When I look back at the posts I wrote about that time, I realized that I was constructing as I went along. Trying very hard to find the words that would build some feeling about what it meant to be carrying a fetus with Trisomy 21. To bear that fetus as a baby into the world. To raise a child with Trisomy 21. I didn't know. I knew one story, and I had rejected it before Jude was even an imagining.
Because I had company in those early days it was very hard for me to construct a story. My mom had started to read "Expecting Adam" but I wasn't ready for much. I tentatively did some Internet searches. I read one or two stories but I couldn't fit into them. They were too big or too small. So I existed in the space between. I relished my friends saying "It's okay. It's good." Early on I did not hear that Jude was a special blessing, or any apologies for something that did not need to be apologized for. I knew those things would come because of the stories I had read. But for some reason, on that first day, they were not said.
Eventually I started to read, and I tried to fit on the stories. I told H that I was grieving the child I thought I was having, and he scoffed "What the hell does that mean? How is Jude NOT the child you were supposed to have?" I pretended that Jude was a miracle sent from God. I was being tested. God was giving me something that would be hard and beautiful. I did not need H to challenge that story. I could barely stomach it in my own head. I was so desperate to find a story that would fit. I was having a hard time writing my story because it was unknown to me. So foreign that it defied telling, one could say.
You see I didn't KNOW anyone with an intellectual disability much less someone with Down syndrome. I had never really imagined myself with a child who had Down syndrome. I had not prepared for this script. Strangely enough I knew how to feel if this child had been dead. I had gone to that dark place, and I knew what one should feel in that circumstance. But this one? I was lost, fumbling for meaning, for words, for language. All because I didn't have the encounters to know. To make human something that at this point was only an abstraction. A set of marks on a piece of white paper. There was no baby to make sense of what I was being told. Only a rather fuzzy ultrasound picture.
Before we moved to Athens, I wrote a thesis on how humans use stories, memoirs, to make meaning of their past in ways that reconcile that past to the present, to the future. I had chosen an odd memoir called Keep Sweet that defied many of the conventions of the way deconversion memoirs are framed. Debbie Palmer, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, seemed to be fumbling. She was in a place where, I argued, where she could see those gaps between what we know and what we come to find out. For the first time, I truly understood that moment. She was in the space between, and she was struggling to fit a script into this experience. She was grasping to make something of this nothing. It is like sculpting with sand and it does make for a pat kind of story.
Now that I am a bit further into this journey, with a baby sleeping on my lap, in a world where I think about Down syndrome every day but not about Jude having Down syndrome everyday, I realize that my experience is vital for a couple of reasons. Reasons that have often made me feel like I am a bit on the outside of a broader community. Because here's the thing, if people with Ds, and ID were really included then there would be a script. I'm talking about an inclusion that recognizes the humanness of all people. An inclusion where we would encounter a person with Ds on our daily walk, in the store, on the bus, in our class room. A world where we would engage and interact and develop relationships. If I, in my 41 years can only recall meeting and talking to someone with Down syndrome twice in my life then it does speak to how much further we have to go. And it's not just meeting people with Ds in the flesh, it's the fact that I don't read about people with Ds in academic papers. That I don't see their ideas in the boarder media. I don't see their art being talked about in art circles. When I read or hear about people with Ds, it is only in isolated places where I go only because Jude had Ds.
If the social world comes to reflect that the world is filled with difference, difference in abilities, colors, genders, etc than we have a richer script from which to draw. If we see kids with Ds on our TVs (yes, I know Glee but I'm talking about more than one show), if we see them not just as special additions but as fully included in the experience of life, we offer more. We side step the need for grief because having Ds could be just another variation in the vastness of experience. We need more scripts, more ways to understand that moment in between. Our stories are going to shape how another woman, like me, experiences that in between. I'd like to take her out of that space faster, so fast that it seems...well, typical.