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Discussion Questions for The Year My Son and I Were Born

By Angela Hallstrom

Tomorrow, Friday, August 26th, we will be discussing The Year My Son and I Were Born, written by our very own Kathryn Lynard Soper. This memoir takes us through the first year of Kathy’s life with her son, Thomas, who is born with Down syndrome. Although the book takes as one of its subjects the specific challenges facing parents of children with disabilities, it touches on a wide range of issues and themes, from postpartum depression to the role faith plays as we grapple with personal struggles. There are a lot of meaty ideas packed into Kathy’s memoir — the quotes and questions below are just a sampling — so feel free to focus on one question, or simply write about the thoughts that The Year My Son an I Were Born provoked in you.

From page 34, soon after Thomas’s birth and diagnosis:

“I needed the diagnosis to mean something — that’s the only way I could handle it. When Sam [another son who’d been born prematurely] was born ill, I’d clung to the belief that God gave us that trial for a wise purpose. My friend Kate, who isn’t religious, called it a random occurrence. But I couldn’t bear that thought. I feared a world where anything could happen at any given time for no good reason. Believing in divine will protected me from chaos — I was angry at God for giving Thomas Down syndrome, but at least I knew someone was in charge.”

*How does the idea that God “gave Thomas Down syndrome” both comfort Kathy and complicate her healing during the year after Thomas’s birth? Have you grappled with the question of God’s intentional involvement in your own challenges? What conclusions have you drawn?

From page 124, soon after receiving a visit from an early intervention therapist:

“My [other] babies saw my relief (You’re normal!) and delight (You’re smart!) as they lifted their heads and swatted their rattles. They saw my satisfaction when they walked and talked, counted and spelled. That’s how [they] learned to value success, quickness, competence. From day one I gave them my happiness in return for their achievement. Guilt clenched my stomach. I didn’t want to teach Thomas that his worth increased with his developmental success, and I didn’t want to keep teaching that lie to my other kids. I wanted all of them to know, without question, that they were lovable and valuable no matter what they did or didn’t accomplish. And yet, according to the experts, Thomas needed my help to have a good life. The importance of early intervention cannot be stressed enough. Early intervention. Its purpose was to intervene, to change the course of Thomas’s development, accelerate his progress, and move him toward a more desirable end. But how could I feel and show unreserved love for Thomas if I was constantly trying to change him? On the other hand, how could I withhold my help and encouragement, even my praise, and call that love?”

*Kathy’s questions get at the heart of a challenge all parents must face: how do we simultaneously encourage and even push our children without sending the message to them that it’s their accomplishments that matter most? How do our desires to have “successful” children (sometimes for our own selfish reasons) complicate our relationships with them? How does Kathy’s experience with Thomas allow her to understand what it means to love unconditionally?

From page 314, near the end of the memoir. Kathy has come to a number of realizations during the course of Thomas’s first year:

“When Thomas was conceived, I didn’t know that my body was creating a child of change. . . . I didn’t know that I was on the verge of birth, and of death. The death of old ways. Old values. Old self, packed in a hard shell of protective beliefs. I only produce normal babies. I can conquer any difficulty through sheer willpower. I will always give my children what they need. I am something better than human. Strange — I’d clung so tightly to those falsehoods, as if they could keep me safe. Yet I felt safer with them stripped away, safer with the naked truth in full view. I only wished change didn’t hurt so much. It hurt to have my mind and heart cracked open. It hurt to be left raw in the open air. It hurt to lose the only life I knew, and to realize that no amount of magical thinking could bring it back.”

*Some beliefs, like “I will always give my children what they need,” can seem motivating and empowering on the surface. Why was it so important for Kathy to shed these “falsehoods”? What “protective beliefs” have you shed as you’ve moved through your own personal challenges?

Feel free to discuss these questions in the comments below, or any other thoughts you might have on The Year My Son and I Were Born .

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

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