Nativity: I Wasn’t Prepared for Mary’s Lessons

Hayley Goleniowska by Hayley Goleniowska Additional Needs

Hayley Goleniowska

Hayley Goleniowska

I'm the founder of Downs Side Up. It started as a way of sharing our story and resources with other parents with a child with Down's syndrome. The...

The soppy films we watch whilst writing cards to dear and distant friends, the stress of the ever-swelling lists of festive chores, anxiety over trying to keep our children out of hospital at a time when school becomes a, ‘viral soup’, and calming over-excited little ones whose routines have been replaced with tinsel.

I become introverted and pensive too as I remember Natalia’s birth at the beginning of December.

The excitement of celebrating her birthday is mixed with recollections of the shock we felt hearing the unexpected news that she has Down’s syndrome, I remember the worry as we sat by her side in NICU waiting to hear more about her heart condition, and I re-live the first time we nervously brought her home to join our family on Christmas eve, vulnerable and dominated by frightening tubes and monitors.

I desperately wish I could re-live those early days, knowing what we know now, but instead I remind myself of how far we have come while we make paper chains and gingerbread houses and wrap gifts to festive tunes on a loop.

Set the Nativity Scene

If none of that exhaustion reduces you to tears, then the school/church/nursery Nativity play is sure to set you off.

There really is nothing like little ones performing the best-loved Christmas story, their tiny voices repeating well-rehearsed lines or holding stars aloft, heads clad in granny’s cleanest tea towel while an audience of proud family strain to see/hear and capture the all important phone footage.

Being in a Nativity play is a rite of passage for many isn’t it, a shared experience we can all relate to.

And of course the moments where it doesn’t go to plan; the nose-picking, a child shouting her lines or a sheep poking her tongue out at a shepherd are the comedy moments that will be remembered forever.

Our Little Star

So three years ago when Natty came home from school clutching a slip of paper announcing that she was to be Mary in her class Nativity the tears of pride immediately sprang forth as we scooped her up into a family group hug.

Not a big speaking role with lots of tricky lines to learn, but one which nonetheless allowed our confident little attention-seeker to be centre stage and cradle a favourite doll.

The part seemed perfect.

It was all very exciting, yet I was blissfully ignorant of the emotional tsunami to come, as we rehearsed and created costumes in the weeks leading up to the big event.

Realisations You Weren’t Expecting

The evening dawned.

We arrived early enough to numb our bottoms on wooden pews near the front. I began to feel nervous.

Nervous of whether Natty would enjoy herself, nervous about what other parents would say about her being cast as Mary, nervous about whether she would remember her lines or even agree to take part at all.

My eyes pricked and I reached into my bag to wrap my fingers around the embroidered handkerchief that I had to wait until the play at least started before using.

And the light dimmed.

The biblical characters filed in to, ‘Ooohs!’ and, ‘Aaaaahs’.

My husband nudged me as she walked past, beaming from ear to ear and rubbing her, ‘bad back’, whilst hobbling down the aisle with a pillow strapped around her middle and a fake facial expression of strain unique to heavily pregnant women.

And that was the moment my curbed tears gave way to full silent sobs.

There, in that second came a realisation that I wasn’t expecting. And it hit me hard.

Because seeing Natty up there on stage, playing the most famous and gentle mother of all mothers, the Virgin Mary, lovingly holding the symbolic baby Jesus in her arms was a very powerful and graphic reminder that our youngest daughter is unlikely to ever become a mother herself.

All at once I began questioning that if she was physically able, would it be in her best interests emotionally.

Without setting limits, I guess we hope that becoming independent and being able to look after herself with support is our ultimate aim.

The chest-deep sobs came from some primeval place within my soul, a place that the head cannot rule over however logically you try to reason it out.

I became cross with myself that it mattered so much whether she would bring us grandchildren. I was again giving myself a pep talk about accepting each of our children for exactly who they are.

Acceptance and Appreciation

Now, Natty's self-appointed ‘fairy Godmothers’ don't have any children. Her second Cousin doesn't have any offspring and one of my dearest friends cannot bear the thought of reproducing.

But for all these women it is a lifestyle choice, a decision they have reached.

Having children isn't the be all and end all in life, but if you want them and are denied that privilege it takes a lot of soul-searching to come to terms with that fact.

It's a loss, an empty void that is hard to fill.

And one day we may have to have that heart-breaking conversation with Natty.

We might have to explain to a young woman who loves babies, that she cannot become a mother, as her elder sister is likely to.

I’m certain she will fill her life in other ways, maybe get a job in childcare, be a fantastic aunt, or maybe it will never cross her mind to be a parent and I’m overthinking the whole thing.

It's all a long way off and I don't know any of the answers yet.

I’m sure when the time comes we will follow whichever path stretches out before us.

And for now I’ll take a leaf out of Natty’s book. I will try to just live in the festive moment.

Happy Christmas from us all at family Downs Side Up.

Glen Scrivener’s Nativity film features actors and narrator with Down’s syndrome. Watch He Came Down here.


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