Most birth stories don't culminate with the new mom admitting, "I didn't feel a rush of love; I felt a wave of fear and anxiety." But then again, stand-up comedian Bethany Van Delft is not most moms. The mother's moving account of her daughter's surprise Down syndrome diagnosis is raw and gut-wrenchingly honest, and it should be required viewing for any parent. After Van Delft shared her own journey for storytelling nonprofit The Moth, the emotional story of shame, anger, depression, and eventual healing quickly began going viral on Facebook.
Van Delft's story begins with her "perfect" pregnancy with daughter Lucia "Lulu" Esperanza and the shock she felt when she looked into Lulu's eyes and suspected that her newborn may have Down syndrome. "My worry turned to fear, and my fear turned to panic," shared the visibly emotional mother. "The first few weeks was just a blur of tears and forms and doctors appointments," recalled Van Delft, admitting that this period was filled with "lists I made of things that were never gonna happen now, and all the things that she would never do."
After leaving the hospital with her new baby, the comedian soberly remembered slipping into a depression and not connecting with her daughter on a personal level:
"I was pining all the time for the little family we thought we'd have, that I always dreamed of. For the home that I thought we'd have. I hate the place we lived now, filled with all the baby shower gifts and the strollers and the bassinets and the stuffed animals; the things that used to make me daydream and smile, but now just wrenched my gut. I didn't know what to do, I didn't know how to go on."
But after a while, Van Delft transitioned into action mode, diving into activities and research for Lulu, all the while hiding her own pain. "At night, I'd watch YouTube videos of kids with Down syndrome reciting the alphabet, or playing guitar, or driving a car, until I fell asleep," she remembered, sharing that she felt isolated despite bringing Lulu to music classes and museums alongside other moms.
After one particularly upsetting recollection about a fellow mom who questioned whether Lulu should be "with her own kind," Van Delft said she learned to hide her own emotions: "I never talked about how scared and lonely I was. I never talked about how I ached, I never talked about how much I hated Down syndrome; I never talked about how much shame I felt about that." She admitted that she was angry at parents with "typical" children and withdrew emotionally from her partner as she became swallowed up with self-doubt, shame, and fear.
The turning point for Bethany and Lulu came on a vacation with friends, when the comedian connected with another woman and vocalized her fears and shame. This friend, Van Delft said, reminded her that life would unfold the way it was intended to — "because of us and in spite of us."
After receiving encouragement from this dear friend, Van Delft shared the shift she felt in her relationship to Lulu and to the world:
"On the last day, Lulu played with everyone! She threw her beach ball, and they'd catch it, and everyone would cheer. They said this was the best day of the vacation. And I'd watched them get to know Lulu, and I got to see her through their eyes. She was hilarious! She was fun, she was warm, she's smart, and she definitely did things when she wanted to. She was our Lulu: our light and our hope."
Cue the tears. Van Delft realized that she wasn't alone in her anxieties, doubts, and fears. "Once I stopped fearing being this 'kind' of mom, I realized that all moms cry a lot. All moms doubt their ability to raise this child, all moms worry about the future."
"I used to wish I could go back in time and get that test [to find out if Lulu had Down syndrome in the womb] after all," Van Delft recalled. "But now I wish that I could go back in time and allow myself to feel the joy that a new mother feels, because that's what I was."
After bringing viewers to tears with this tale of coming to terms with this new normal of motherhood, the comedian naturally ended things with a bit of humor. "It's a lot easier to talk about this stuff now," she told the Moth audience. "Now, if somebody asks me if I was shocked when she was born, I say: 'Of course I was shocked. I never expected a daughter of mine to have straight blond hair. I definitely thought she'd be rocking the Afro puffs.'"
Watch the full, poignant video of Van Delft's story above. No matter what "type" of parent you are, you'll find your own heart aching, breaking, and healing alongside hers . . . and you'll definitely walk away feeling inspired.