Everyone likes to think that celebrities have perfect lives, that nothing ever deviates from their plans, but that’s not true at all. Celebrities, like us, as thrown curve balls every day that they have to navigate. Now, it might be easier to navigate for them because of their status, but there are some things that no money can help you deal with.
For Caterina Scorsone, who plays Amelia Shepherd on the hit show Grey’s Anatomy, she was thrown a massive curve ball when she found out that her daughter had Down Syndrome. Scorsone’s daughter, Paloma, is now two years old, and the actress spoke with Motherly podcast about how her life changed, when she find out Paloma’s diagnosis. She admitted that at first she went “into a tailspin” realizing that Paloma, who they call Pippa, “was going to have some physical differences and some cognitive differences.”
“What I unconsciously thought about my job as a mother was that I was supposed to equip her to survive in a competitive world,” Scorsone shared. “This simple voice came to me where I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do — oh, I’m supposed to keep her safe and I’m supposed to make her feel loved. And suddenly my understanding of my job as a mother completely distilled and opened.”
Scorsone noted that it wasn’t just her relationship with Pippa that was going to be unique, but also that with her daughter Eliza, who is seven.
“I saw how I was loving my first daughter, Eliza, for her qualities,” Scorsone pointed out. “I loved Eliza so much because she was so clever, and she was so beautiful and she was so funny … but all those things were external qualities.”
In re-examining her relationship with her daughters, Scorsone was able to change how she saw other people as well.
“I had to confront that thought experiment of ‘I don’t know if [Pippa is] going to be clever, I don’t know if she’s going to be funny’ — which, of course, she is, and now that I know more about Down syndrome, I’m like, ‘Oh, what a stupid thought I had,'” the actress explained. “But I didn’t know, and it forced me to realize that I was loving my other daughter and everyone, including myself, for absolutely the wrong reason. I was loving people for their external qualities and not for their essence.”
“Pippa has two teeth on the bottom and four molars. She does not have a full mouth of teeth yet and it’s because literally everything in her development is happening slower because of the enzymatic things that are going on with her extra chromes,” she shared. “She’s developing slower, but she’s still developing. She’s still hitting all of the milestones, it’s just happening at a different rate.”
Some parents might worry about how a sibling would treat a child with Down Syndrome, but Scorsone says her oldest daughter doesn’t even think about it.
“All Eliza really thinks is that Pippa’s lucky because she gets to be a baby for longer,” she said. “They’re starting to have a fun dynamic. Eliza really likes to play Harry Potter with her and Pippa plays the role of Hedwig, and she can definitely say ‘Hoo Hoo’ and Eliza thinks that’s hilarious.”
Scorsone leaned on fellow Private Practice alum Amy Brenneman, whose daughter also has Down Syndrome.
“She and her husband Brad have a beautiful daughter named Charlotte who has a chromosomal variation, so I called her and brought all of my scared feelings to her and wept with her and grieved with her,” Scorsone shared. “I was like, ‘I don’t know how to do this. How do I do this?’ And she was like, ‘This is how you do it — you do it just like you would do with any other child. You learn who they are and you learn what they need.’”
As for words of advice to parents who find out their child has Down Syndrome, Scorsone says it’s important to choose words carefully.
“I definitely don’t say, ‘Oh you’re so lucky,’ because they have to grieve a perception that has been fed to them culturally our whole lives,” she shared. “When I feel like they’re ready for it, you say things like, ‘You hit the jackpot’ and ‘Oh my gosh, you get chosen for this experience, this is unbelievable and your world is going to open up in ways you could not have imagined.’ People said that to me at the beginning … and now I get to pay it forward.”