As the mother of a son with profound disabilities, I was initially thrilled to hear a woman say she, as a fellow mother with a child with disabilities, would be my advocate in Washington. The world needs people like us in power. There would be less war and more compassion. I am a firm believer in all mothers who work. Mothers and fathers of children with disabilities have already made a huge difference in the world. They have not only fought long and hard to make things better for their children and for the rest of the population of people with disabilities, they have worked to make this a more just and humane world for all of us.
But the next day I saw a picture of her with her baby on a magazine cover and started to have doubts. This child is an infant! Governor Palin has more experience in Foreign Policy than she has as the mother of a child with disabilities. Her foreign policy experience is based on trade negotiations with her two closest neighbors, Canada and Russia. And she's been doing that for several months longer than she has been the mother of a child with Down's Syndrome!
I would be a lot happier if this child were older and I knew this family had successfully faced the challenges that are clearly on the horizon for them.
My concern is more than "Walk the Walk before you Talk the Talk." The first three years of being a parent of a child with disabilities are hell. Parents and siblings have to come to terms with the profound way in which the core of their lives will change. There is a deep grieving process that must occur if the family is going to come to a place of acceptance and move forward into a very different future successfully. There are an endless stream of questions that must be answered, doctors and physical therapists and other specialists to be consulted. Children with Down's Syndrome often have medical issues that need to be addressed in the first few years. There is also the problem of dealing with the confusing issues of aid. How much financial assistance will the family require and is it available? What kind of in-home assistance will be needed for the extra care required? There is a seemingly endless stream of helpful people who suddenly think
they have the right to invade your private life whether you have invited them in or not.
It sounds like Gov. Palin has a very supportive husband who will have to become the primary caregiver and advocate for their child. But even though I took on that role for our son, I would have been lost if I hadn't had my husband close by to support me and co-parent. I can't imagine how Mr. Palin will manage if his partner is on the other side of the continent!
There is rage, confusion, sorrow and guilt to be faced and every day seems to bring a new insurmountable problem. Many marriages do not survive this initial period. Many careers are lost simply because the stress from home is too great. Someone who has already dealt successfully with this process might very well be transformed into a person who could change the world.
There are many women I would like to see in Washington. I think, after tackling the difficult journey of becoming the mother of a child with disabilities, Sara Palin might someday become one of them. But right now, I think it is really too bad she didn't blink.