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Going to Holland

“When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip—to Italy…After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, ‘Welcome to Holland’.” –from “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley

Mary and Adam Harris

“Welcome to Holland”, a widely popular poem, uses Holland as a simile to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability. The poem ultimately tells the reader that even though the dream vacation and plan all along was to go to Italy, the plane ends up in Holland. It’s not what was expected, there are differences, but Holland is full of its own special, wonderful things. The poem was one of the first things Mary Harris received after hearing the news that her unborn son had Down’s syndrome. Well, unfortunately, not the first thing she heard. First, she was told to contact a geneticist and left alone with the scary, overwhelming world of everything the Internet has to offer.

Mary, who works as a certified medical assistant at ENT Nebraska, and her husband, Adam Harris, had been trying to get pregnant for two years, so when they heard their son was going to be born with a disability, they were still ecstatic just to be having a baby. The disability was a non-issue, they were ready to be parents and welcome their baby into the world. Unfortunately, not everyone was as excited as they were. The doctors didn’t offer any real information, other than that they were going to need a geneticist. Friends and family offered their condolences. Mary and Adam weren’t sorry, though. Why would anyone be sorry about a baby? There would be challenges with Down’s syndrome, of course, but it was their baby, a gift.

Excited and scared all at the same time, Mary sought answers online. The thousands of pages of information offered no reassurance; the information was overwhelming and scary and began to fill Mary’s head with fear and anxiety. Luckily, she then ran into The Arc . Contacting the Arc was a huge relief. She called them up and for the first time, she heard, “Congratulations!” The Arc put Mary in touch with the Down Syndrome Association for Families of Nebraska (DSAF). The DSAF sent her a binder of information, resources, testimonials, and photos to help prepare Mary and Adam for their journey ahead. After poring over the information, Mary and Adam were able to begin mourning the child they wouldn’t have, and prepare for the one they would have—and realize they were going to Holland instead of Italy.

Unfortunately, that was only the first hurdle for the Harris’. Their baby boy, Seth, stopped growing around the 20th week, and it was very touch and go. Ultimately, he was born at 28 weeks, and Mary and Adam were able to spend three weeks with their baby until he passed on. Seth passed due to complications from being premature, and as Mary found out, the mortality rate for Down’s syndrome babies is 50%. Much of the high rate comes from premature birth and resulting complications. Her story may have sadness, but it ends with hope.

With everything Mary and Adam have gone through, they have decided to adopt a baby with Down’s syndrome, which is a very long process. There is currently at least a three-year wait for a baby with Down’s syndrome; the waiting list has 300 people on it. They started by contacting the Greater Cincinnati Down’s Syndrome Association, and currently are going through the adoption process. The birth mothers get to choose the adoptive parents, so Mary and Adam anxiously hope and wait to be picked.

Mary also plans on participating in the Buddy Walk, which is hosted by the Down Syndrome Association for Families, and held on October 4 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Mary hopes to raise awareness and be involved in the community of families with children who have Down’s syndrome. The walk is also a way to get referrals to doctors experienced with Down’s syndrome children, and a way to find helpful resources.

Seth Harris

Mary believes she and Adam were sent on this path for a reason, and children with Down’s syndrome are children first, the diagnosis is second. They like to play and test their parents and get into trouble just like any other kid. Understandably, there are some additional challenges and difficulties, but that’s part of being a parent. A lot of people plan on going to Italy. Mary and Adam Harris are looking forward to going to Holland.


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