DEAR ABBY: We have read the poignant essay "Welcome to Holland" in your column several times. It's the metaphorical account of the shock a mother received upon discovering her beloved baby had been born with Down syndrome.
She likened the experience -- and the events leading up to it -- to the carefully laid plans for a fabulous vacation in Italy. "You plan for months," she says, "and when the time finally comes and your plane lands, the flight attendant says, 'Welcome to Holland.'" Those of us who have parented children born with birth defects are all too familiar with the shock the writer felt when she learned she was one of us -- her plans for an "Italian vacation" would never be.
Mrs. Kingsley wisely decided that if you have to face a fate that cannot be changed, you'd best make the most of it. "If life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
Well, please welcome us back from Holland! Our first daughter was born with epidermolysis bulosa, an extremely rare and debilitating skin condition that causes the skin to break into blisters. As the blisters slowly heal and break down again, they leave scars similar to those caused by a third-degree burn. Most victims go through life with a sizable part of their body swathed in bandages. Our daughter also lost an arm above the elbow to skin cancer.
Eleven years later, our second daughter was born with the same affliction. She lost a leg above the knee.
Both girls went through public schools and on to college. One became a state champion debater; the other went to state competitions in choir. We tried to be faithful stewards of the precious lives God had entrusted to our care -- binding up their wounds and shielding them from the assaults of the world.
Four years ago, Tana, our older daughter, embarked on her final journey -- she went home at age 50. A few months ago, her younger sister, Darla, went to be with her. She was 42.
We don't regret our decision to stay in Holland. We know we filled the needs of two beautiful children who, but for us, might have fared even worse in this world than they did. We have over a half-century of wonderful memories -- and we have each other.
To prospective parents, we can only say we hope you get to make it to Italy. However, if you don't -- Holland's not the worst place in the world. Much depends on your perspective.
God bless you, Emily Perl Kingsley, for your courage and willingness to share. God bless you, Abby, for providing the forum. -- BILL AND JEANNE MAULTSBY, ORANGE, TEXAS
DEAR BILL AND JEANNE: I cried when I read your poignant letter. It proves the truth of the saying that regardless of what we think, God doesn't make our path steeper than we can climb. I'm glad that you have each other. You deserve each other -- and that's the highest compliment I can pay.