Over the years since, several mums of newly-diagnosed children have used those same words in conversation with me. "I wish my child had never been born" probably seem like shocking and terrible words. But these mothers are not (and I was not) saying they do not want to care for, or do not deeply value, their child. It's not necessarily a cry for help, or a sign of depression. It's an assessment made, at that point in time, of the balance of expected joys and sorrows ahead. I never react with a laugh or a dismissive comment.
I'd never stopped to think about the extent to which I had valued myself in relation to other people. Competition isn't a bad thing, it drives us to learn, make progress and excel. It leads to amazing sporting and creative achievements that can enrich all of our lives. It can drive innovations that can be a huge benefit to society, it can improve efficiency and service in a business context. I have been competing with, and comparing myself to, other people my whole life - through school, musical contests and sports, to university and then into work. I was reasonably good at it, and quite happy in that context. I'm now watching, with mixed feelings, as my son starts out on that same track in his school where so much of what the children do is treated as a competition.
And if I'm not competing with other people I'm usually to be found competing with myself - I don't need to join a gym class to set myself a workout that leaves me wobbly-kneed and struggling to breathe. Early parenthood can be a competitive experience too, from the ease with which you conceive, or the natural type of birth you "achieve", or the ease with which you can breastfeed. And then follows the all-important milestones that someone else's baby might be reaching before your own, and so it continues.
So for me, when I started out with a newly-diagnosed beautiful daughter whom I loved so much it physically hurt, this competitive environment was pretty much all I knew. I knew right then that she would never win the competitions, and probably this meant that I would stop winning too. This was scary as I really didn't know any other sort of world. I didn't see how either of us could possibly be happy.
It was only over time that I realised there is another world out there with different types of people in it, who are motivated by caring and nurturing, who are not solely interested in having bigger and better possessions and positions than others. Not everyone is obsessed with paying less tax, amassing more wealth or being promoted. There are loads of people who derive huge pleasure from helping others to achieve, and are happy to stand back and let them take the credit. There are many people that simply want to make beautiful things or play beautiful music for people to enjoy, or who want to spend their lives exploring the world or getting out into nature.
And there are armies of "special needs parents" not at the school gate probably, but who you meet and talk to online and at special groups. We are usually trying to offer each other support and a "shoulders down" place to relax and be brutally honest. We listen and share problems, ideas and solutions, and motivate each other to fight the daily battles for the things our children need. We think of the other children almost as our very own, and cry tears of joy when someone else's child makes a breakthrough or gets through a surgery and comes out safely or stronger.
I have, in my hall by the door, a framed copy of some beautiful calligraphy by a friend of mine whose daughter also has cerebral palsy. It is a quotation attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: "Comparison is the thief of joy". It is in the hallway as a check for me. The problem with competition is that any joy in success is short-lived, as the next contest is not far behind - will I be able to maintain my lead?
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It would no longer enter my head to wish my daughter did not exist. I see every single day the joy she brings to people around her. She may not win competitions but she wins hearts. She is happy now, most of the time, and I see no reason why that should ever change, as long as her health and funds allow her to get out and about and be her loving and caring self.