I had not heard of this famous poem “Welcome to Holland” prior to my social worker introducing it to me. She prefaced by saying “this poem may or may not speak to you” but I think you should read it. I read it, and it spoke to me. It is a poem written by a mother of a child with downs syndrome and provides an analogy about what it is like raising a child with special needs.
Welcome to Holland written by Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things… about Holland.
c. 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.
The funny thing about this is that we had booked a family trip to Italy when I was pregnant with Oscar. We had it all planned, we knew what cities we wanted to visit, what sites we were going to see, we had even purchased the plane tickets. We were supposed to go April 2019. We decided to cancel the trip after everything happened with Oscar. My plan had been to go to Italy and see amazing things with my husband and kids, to drink good wine and eat good food and have my only worry be how well my kids would sleep in a strange bed. I didn’t know what worry was before. And sometimes I get sad thinking will I ever get to enjoy a “worry free” vacation. I have been working hard with the help of my social worker to minimize how much space worry takes up in my life. It is helping a lot. But I still can’t help but grieve this magical trip to Italy that I was going to take with my family. After reading this poem, I am wondering if Holland should be the place we go instead someday? For me, “Holland” is turning out to be a very special place.