Our stay in the hospital involved a whole army of support. We had nurses, Drs, nurse techs, student nurses, and respiratory therapists. People were in our room poking, listening and talking. Jude took it all in stride because she's awesome that way. She also won the hearts of pretty much everyone she meet. But the respiratory therapists we had on Saturday won our hearts. She was a short, solid Indian woman, older with gentle hands and manner. She was very good with Jude, and handled her with the confidence that comes from years of dealing with little babies.
As she set up the nebulizer for Jude, we chatted a lot. I learned a great deal about her family. How many children she had. Her grandchildren. Where they all lived. What her husband did for work. I liked her, and looked forward to her coming. She would often stand and stare at Jude, smiling.
But what won my heart were her words about kids with Down syndrome. At first, I thought she was just going to rehash the stereotypes. Once she knew for sure that Jude had Down syndrome, she told me about all the positive news story she had seen. "There was a story on last night about how a couple with Down syndrome were married. It was very lovely because they were so much in love." And then she told me how much she loved her patients with Down syndrome "I know it's not good to say but I like the kids Down syndrome the best. They are usually very sweet." This is the kind of thing I hear all the time. I never quite know how to respond because I know it's meant in the best intention so I almost fear saying "Well you know I"m sure that not all kids Down syndrome area always sweet or stubborn or kind or..." I'm afraid if I say something it will make them resentful or angry. But since I'm trying hard to make people see Jude as a person I started to speak up, and then she surprised me.
"You know it's not just that they're sweet. It's because they're smart. They listen when you tell them what's going on and how it will help them. They're not all over the place. Usually at least" And she laughed. Then every time she came, she told me how smart kids with Down syndrome are. "I know people think they're not smart but they are very intelligent. When they want to learn things, they work hard to learn them."
Of course she was still engaging in stereotypes, and we all know that not every person with DS is any one way but.....But someone told me that my baby with Down syndrome was likely to be intelligent. That doesn't happen often. I usually hear a run down of all the awful things that could happen. Or something about her begin sweet said in a way that makes it clear that this is exchange for being intelligent. I like to think that this woman was not trying to fill in a stereotype. Rather I think she was seeing intelligence in a different kind of way. Regardless of her intention, it was a reminder that intelligence is not something so easily measured.
I was also reminded that there will be people in the world who will look at Jude with eyes not so blinded.