The "Grey's Anatomy" star, 37, revealed on the latest episode of the "Motherly" podcast that when she and husband Rob Giles welcomed their oldest daughter, Eliza, 6, she had a completely different "concept" of what being a mom was all about.
"When I had Eliza, I think what I unconsciously thought about my job as a mother was that I was supposed to equip her to survive in a competitive world," the actress shared. "My job was to make sure that she was educated and that she was able and that she had all of the skills that she needed."
But when her younger daughter, Paloma — or "Pippa" as the family calls her —was diagnosed with Down syndrome, the actress went into a "tailspin," unsure how to mother her.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do, I don't know what I am as a mother, how do I mother this child?" she recalled thinking. "If my job isn't to equip her to compete or dominate socially, educationally or physically or economically — if I'm not just supposed to be helping her do that, what is a mother, what is my job?"
Finally, one day she had a revelation.
"This simple voice came to me where I was like ... Oh, I’m supposed to keep her safe and I’m supposed to make her feel loved,' " she remembered. "And suddenly my understanding of my job as a mother completely distilled and opened."
That realization also forced her to re-examine how she'd been parenting her older daughter.
“I saw how I was loving my first daughter, Eliza, for her qualities,” she 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."
Back then, she wondered if adorable Pippa would ever be funny or clever — worries she now knows were "stupid."
In the end, Pippa's diagnosis ended up teaching the actress the ultimate lesson about love.
"It forced me to realize that I was loving my (older) daughter and everyone —including myself — for absolutely the wrong reason," said the actress. "I was loving people for their external qualities and not for their essence."
That shift in perspective “was the most healing and nourishing gift that I could have possibly been given by the universe."