I Support Unicorn Farts
There’s this thing. It happens in the Down syndrome community. (I think it happens in other places too, but I can only speak to what I know.)
When I started reading blogs and articles written by parents who have kids with Down syndrome, part of me was confused. I had a kid with Down syndrome, but someone had forgotten to have me drink the kool-aid. There I was, crying my eyes out, and reading things like, “My child is the best thing that ever happened to me!” or “The sky’s the limit!” Huzzah, Down syndrome! Rah! My life is full of sweet-smelling unicorn farts and rainbows.
I just couldn’t grasp what was happening.
Why on earth were these parents shouting these strangely positive things, every chance they got? Weren’t they sad? Their children had Down syndrome, after all. How is it possible that having a child with Down syndrome meant that your life was filled with unicorn farts and rainbows? Where was the reality?
Then a few weeks ago, on Facebook I saw a person who did not have a child with a disability share a link to a mother who did have a child with a disability. It was a blog post written by a mother whose child is autistic. I won’t link it here, but it was very negative. The writer made a lot of blanket statements about “special needs parents” that described how we are suffering, how awful and hard it is. Now I don’t know the writer’s true circumstances, but I didn’t love that she insisted that all special needs parents were secretly suffering as she did but only some were willing to admit it. As much as I hate the label, I am a special needs parent, and I am decidedly not suffering.
What bothered me most was that the person sharing the link made a very troubling statement about other parents who didn’t admit to this kind of sadness and suffering as being in denial, not willing or able to accept their children’s limitations. Is that what it looks like from the outside? Is all the positive stuff seen as denial, and the utter grief of a few seen as the actual truth that no one will admit?
I’ve also seen this from women giving rationale for terminating for a Down syndrome diagnosis. Some women claim that parents who are (to them) overly positive about their child’s diagnoses are in Unicorn Fart Land, unwilling to admit the harsh reality of their lives.
Look, since when are the parents of a typical child accused of being in denial when they dare to hope and dream big? I’m imagining a parent making some kind of comment about typical little Bobby’s bright future. Does anyone blink an eye? No. Because that is what parents do.
Parents dream, cheer, and hope for their children’s futures. None of it is ever realistic, but it is isn’t supposed to be. Everyone knows that their child is unlikely to become the first woman president, be the next Mother Theresa, or solve world hunger. That doesn’t stop parents from assuming that it is possible. That is just a natural way some parents love on their children. And trust me, I have been told plenty about the limitations my child might face. Doctors, social workers, therapists, and even well-meaning strangers have all made sure to let me know what my child might not do.
So maybe not the president or solving world hunger, but why shouldn’t a parent think their child with Down syndrome might live independently? Why shouldn’t a parent plan and hope for their child to become gainfully employed, live happy, fulfilled lives with friends and community? Why shouldn’t a parent be loud and proud, without being accused of being in denial?
I don’t tell the parents of typical little Bobby that their dreams should be more realistic. I don’t point out that he’s got addiction and mental health issues on one side of his family, cancer on the other. I don’t look at his milestone achievement to evaluate his potential worth in twenty years. I don’t assess all the things he won’t be able to do and insist that his parents talk about that publicly, or else they are in denial.
What I want to tell people who have a prenatal diagnosis is that all this variation you see in the community, well that is the same variation you’ll see in all parents, regardless of disability. Some parents are just very rah-rah when it comes to their kids. There’s no one true picture of disability; how one approaches life can have both positive and negative effects.
So maybe not every unicorn fart resonates with me, but I support unicorn farts, gosh darn it. Just because disability is in the picture shouldn’t take away a parent’s right to be utterly, wildly in love with their child. At that love will carry them through the hard parts of parenting, as it does will all parents and children, disability or not. If some unicorn farts come out in the process, I think that is only natural.
Say it with me now: I support unicorn farts.
Reprinted with permission. Originally published: https://kimchilatkes.com/2014/02/12/i-support-unicorn-farts/. Original artwork courtesy of: @artbylucas