Sunday, October 4, 2009

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month---Part II

Why We Write

By Madonna Dries Christensen

English author Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Quite likely many writers would disagree with that statement from the 1700s. We commit words to paper for a myriad of reasons, and the fact is, for the majority of writers, there is little monetary gain. Suffice to say, we write because we are compelled; because we must. We might go into remission, but it’s an incurable addiction. For some, the itch to write begins in childhood; others come late to the publishing party.

The subject of this profile, Kathryn Lynard Soper, says, “Although writing has been an interest of mine since I was a child, I did not pursue personal writing until 2003, when I was trying to digest a series of life-changing experiences. The writing process itself was so transformative that I decided part of my life work would be crafting personal writings and helping others do the same.”

This decision led her and two other mothers (Kylie Turley and Justine Dorton) into establishing The Segullah Group, a non-profit organization that publishes Segullah, Writings By Latter-Day Saint Women. Soper is editor-in-chief of the magazine, which features essays, poetry, historical and theological writings, artwork, and photography.

On her web site Soper describes herself as “Wife of one, mother of seven, memoirist, essayist, editor, nonprofit CEO, practicing Mormon, depression survivor, Down syndrome advocate, wanna-be guitarist, Greek-blooded Utah transplant, WordTwist addict and Coldplay groupie. (Not necessarily in that order.)”

I became acquainted with Soper (via e-mail) after an essay of mine was accepted for an anthology she edited.

MDC: First, what was the life-changing experience that led to your writing career?

KLS: In 2002 my fifth child, Matt, badly fractured his femur in a freak accident—he was only eighteen-months-old. A few months later, my sixth child, Sam, was born with premature lungs and had to spend three weeks in the NICU. His condition deteriorated at first, before he rallied and recovered. These were the first times children of mine had been seriously injured or critically ill, and the occasions shook me hard. I realized how little control I have as a mother over what happens to my children, and by association, to myself. I also realized that these painful and frightening experiences changed me for the better. They made me more open and compassionate, more tender-hearted. I explored those two themes—vulnerability and compassion—in my first essay, titled “Shaulee’s Door” (which can be read on my website).

MDC: I read it. The prose is heartbreakingly honest––and detailed. Am I correct to assume that you kept a journal during this time in order to write about it later?

KLS: No, I didn’t keep a journal at the time. I wrote the essay because the memories were so strong and vivid, they wouldn’t let me rest until they were expressed.

MDC: Tell me about The Segullah Group and its mission.

KLS: The purpose of the organization is to produce personal writings which include, inform, and inspire. In short, we want to create literary works which strengthen and support individuals, families, and communities. I founded the organization with two friends in 2005, when we were creating a new literary magazine by and for Mormon women. Since then the group has produced three anthologies, with one more currently being compiled.

MDC: What was the group’s first major project?

KLS: Our first book-length project was the anthology titled Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives. As the title suggests, this is a collection of essays written by mothers of children with Down syndrome. The book explores the gifts of respect, strength, delight, perspective, and love that children with Down syndrome bring to their families.

MDC: And the idea for Gifts emerged after you gave birth to a son with Down syndrome?

KLS: Yes; I had spent time at an online forum for parents of kids with Down syndrome. Reading their experiences made me realize that lots of people had feelings similar to mine––that is, many parents are scared at first, but outgrow their fear as they bond in love with their child. I felt these voices needed to be heard, and my intent was to create the book I wished I’d had during the dark winter following Thomas’s birth.

MDC: Did Segullah publish the book or did you find a traditional publisher?

KLS: We published the book at first, because landing a contract can take a great deal of time, and we felt a sense of urgency in releasing Gifts to the public. But we were fortunate––shortly after our version hit the market we signed a contract with Woodbine House, a respected publisher of materials regarding people with disabilities.

MDC: Now you’re publishing Gifts II. How does it differ from Gifts?

KLS: Gifts was written entirely by mothers, and the majority of the stories focused on experiences with young children. Gifts II includes stories written by a wide variety of people whose lives have been touched by Down syndrome—from siblings and grandparents to teachers and coaches. Also, there are many stories about school-age children, teenagers, and adults with Down syndrome.

MDC: How do you mix raising a large family with a writing and editing career? Do you have a specific time slot for writing?

KLS: It’s a constant challenge to balance my domestic and non-domestic pursuits. I write during my preschooler’s naptime, and when I’m under deadline I usually work for a couple of hours each morning while my children at home play. When I was writing the final draft of my memoir, it was summertime and I had my older children babysit the younger ones.

MDC: Do you ever use your children’s behavior and activities as writing material? Do they mind?

KLS: I’ve written quite a bit about my children on my blog, some of which is available for reading in the notebook section of my website. I’ve never had them object, but I try to be sensitive in what I say in public places, especially about my older children. They’re excited and proud to be prominently featured in my recently completed memoir. In fact, my oldest son keeps telling me he deserves a cut of the royalties because I write about him as part of the story.

MDC: You have a young entrepreneur on your hands. Now, about your memoir, The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press)––what does the title mean?

KLS: The memoir is about my first year as a mother of a child with Down syndrome, my son Thomas. “Born” refers to the transformation I experienced that year. When Thomas arrived I was deeply upset by his diagnosis. I had always been uncomfortable around people with disabilities, and I feared I wouldn’t be a good mother for Thomas. I thought I wouldn’t be able to accept him for who he was, and truly delight in his company. I was ashamed of my fears and doubts, and thought they were a sign of unacceptable weakness. But in time, I came to fully embrace Thomas as my son, and I also came to terms with myself as a mother and a human being.

MDC: So, despite what you thought you’d learned from the experiences with your two younger sons, you were daunted by a child with Down syndrome?

KLS: Yes, I felt overwhelmed by all the implications. The injury and illness my other sons suffered were short-term, but Thomas’s disability would last as long as he lived. People told me that special children come to special parents, but I didn’t feel at all special. There was a wide gap between the mother I was and the mother I thought I needed to be, and at first I had a deep sense of inadequacy and even failure. But Thomas led me out of that dark place within myself and into the light of acceptance.

MDC: He found his purpose in life at an early age. How old is Thomas now?

KLS: He turned three in October. He’s quite the active preschooler these days.

MDC: Lastly, because I started with the premise “Why We Write,” why did you write the memoir?

KLS: I wrote it first of all for myself—writing is the way I make sense of things, the way I process experiences and integrate them into my life. So much happened during my first year with Thomas, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it without writing. Secondly, I wrote for the benefit of others. I know there are mothers having similar experiences, and I want them to feel validated and understood. Just as importantly, I feel that the awakening I describe in the book is relevant to any reader, and I hope that my experiences will be of benefit to a wide spectrum of people.

MDC: I look forward to reading it. Your experience should be helpful to families who need encouragement and guidance in accepting a child with special needs. I hope they come to know that these children really are gifts (as all children are). I wish you continued success with your family and with your writing.

KLS: Thank you for this opportunity, Madonna.

[This interview first appeared in The Perspiring Writer, Spring 2009: Look for The Year My Son And I Were Born, and Gifts 2: How People With Down Syndrome Enrich The World on or any major bookstore.


  1. Randi

    Thanks for letting me share your blog for a couple of days. Back to you now.

  2. Auntie M: I have been honored to have you as a guest poster. Thank YOU.

  3. i started writing when i was 12 after my father introduced me how to write "diary entry", i read famous diaries of Anne- Frank, and the secret diary of Adrian Mole.. and thanks for reminding me.. that writing is a passion that should ignite the soul..

  4. I will write a post on how I started writing !

  5. Naqvee: Your father sounds very wise to have introduced you to writing at such a young age. I have never read the diary of Adrian Mole but I looked it up and it sounds funny and interesting. I am glad that my aunt's interview inspired you to write a post on how you got started writing. I can't wait to read it!

  6. Her writing does spark an "awakening" in many of us who don't live the day to day struggles and joys with a special needs child. Thanks, Randi!

  7. septembermom: You're welcome! It's been fun having a guest poster around the past couple of days.

  8. @Auntie M,
    It's been lovely to read your elegant writing. You and Randi share a true gift.

    These last few posts have humbled me and made me grateful for all that I take for granted. This kind of fortitude, love and honesty inspires us all. I love your blog.


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