Caterina Scorsone‘s outlook about parenting completely changed when she found out her younger child Paloma Michaela, now 2, had been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Speaking on the Motherly podcast‘s Thursday episode, the Grey’s Anatomy actress, 37, explained that when she first became a mother to daughter Eliza, now 6½, she had a completely different “concept of what motherhood was.”
“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, explaining that she was initially sent “into a tailspin” when she realized Paloma (whom she calls Pippa) “was going to have some physical differences and some cognitive differences.”
But one day, things just clicked.
“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,’ ” she said. “And suddenly my understanding of my job as a mother completely distilled and opened.”
The actress went on to share that this epiphany moment also had the added bonus of making her re-examine her relationship with her older child.
“I saw how I was loving my first daughter, Eliza, for her qualities,” Scorsone shared. “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.”
“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,’ ” she said. “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.”
The mother of two went on to explain that making that shift within herself “was the most healing and nourishing gift that I could have possibly been given by the universe.”
One of the reasons why Scorsone initially “felt out of my depth” when her daughter was first diagnosed was “because there’s so much misinformation” on the internet and in books. However, there is one book she would recommend: Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck.
“It shows you that, ‘Okay, this is a totally different journey, but there’s something mystically special about this journey,’ ” she said. “You can embrace it in a way that is like, ‘Wow, one in 700 people get to experience this and I’m one of them.’ “
Another source of support that helped her change the way she looked at her daughter’s diagnosis came from a phone call with Amy Brenneman, her former Private Practice costar.
“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 the bond between her two daughters, Scorsone revealed that they have a “really typical sibling relationship.”
“All Eliza really thinks is that Pippa’s lucky because she gets to be a baby for longer,” she said, adding that her younger child’s more gradual developments aren’t limited to cognitive ones.
“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.”
The actress went on to share that telling her older daughter that her younger sister was “going to be a baby for a little bit longer” was “an easy way to help Eliza understand what was happening.”
And now that they’re older, the girls are finding sweet new ways to interact with one another. “They’re starting to have a fun dynamic,” the actress raved. “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.”
In terms of what advice she would give to parents facing new diagnoses for their children, Scorsone said that first it’s important to “create a safe space for them to feel all of the feelings that they’re having.”
“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,” Scorsone added.
This article originally appeared on People.com.