The Road less Traveled; Things I Wish I’d Known About Having a Child with Down Syndrome

I remember my first World Down Syndrome Day like it was yesterday. I remember scrolling through my Facebook page wondering how all these families were so happy to have children with Down syndrome. I wasn’t there yet. I put on the silly socks. I faked my smile. I posted on social media. I went home and cried. I cried for the joy that I couldn’t find in this road less traveled. Today, is our third WDSD, and I want to tell the families out there that aren’t celebrating, that it’s okay. These are the things I wish I had known.

I wish I had realized that the doctor who delivered your diagnosis did not understand the beauty of raising a child with Down syndrome. I wish I wouldn’t have let the harshness of his words affect me in such a profound way. I wish I had known that the picture he was painting was with his brush, not ours. Where he saw different, I see wonderment. Where he saw delays, I see triumphs. Where he saw pain, I see love. Where he saw hardship, I see fulfillment. When he saw only your diagnosis and not the person you are, I saw a need for change.

I wish I had realized that sometimes a happy ending isn’t the way you pictured it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find inspiration in what’s different. Sometimes the happy ending is even better than the one you dreamt up in your head. Sometimes the storms in our lives make us better people, and they give us an appreciation for all the things that other people take for granted. That kind of perspective is a rare gift.

Before you arrived, our life was chaotic and fast. You have forced us to slow down, and appreciate the beauty that comes from the road less traveled. I will never forget the pain I felt when you were born, but overcoming that hardship and celebrating the person you are, has added color to our world and fulfillment to our souls. The proverbial fork in the road doesn’t always have two choices. Sometimes, you build your own path.

I wish I had realized the meaning you would add to my life. Advocating for you has been one of our greatest blessings. Teaching others about how wonderful our lives are with you in it, fulfills me in a way I never imagined possible, in a way only other mothers on this journey can understand. I didn’t know that I would feel more at home in this community than I ever have. The friendships, the compassion, and understanding that live in this world are gifts that I treasure.

The girls and me teaching a first grade class about Down syndrome
Our friends at this year’s Buddy Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your presence in your sister’s life is a blessing, not a curse. I wish I had known that having you as her sibling would make her even more kind and empathetic. I wish I had known that she would gravitate towards protecting you, all on her own, without me pushing. I wish I would have realized that sharing the spotlight with you would make her happy, not resentful. I wish I had been given a crystal ball saw that I could picture the smiles, the laughter, and the love that exists between the two of you. I wish I had realized that adults that have siblings with Down syndrome are grateful.

I wish I had realized the battles that still need to be fought for you and your peers. Before you arrived, I thought that every child in this country was provided with the therapies and assistance they needed to thrive. I didn’t realize that families had to fight for services, education, and assistance. I didn’t realize that adults with Down syndrome were lobbying for their rights. You have opened my eyes to the work that needs to be done to help others.

Continue Reading

We Walk the Line

There is a line that exists, and all mothers of children with special needs walk it. It is not my favorite part of this journey. Advocacy versus inclusion. It’s a push and pull, an ever going battle in my mind. It’s the uncertainty that is parenthood. We never know if we are doing the right thing, but we forge ahead.

The push is the piece that wills me to discuss advocacy, to prove to society that Sienna has worth and that Down syndrome has a place in this world. I want people to know that Down syndrome is nothing like I thought. It’s a gift, a blessing, it’s Sienna.

Then, there’s the pull, constantly telling me to treat her the same as her typically developing peers. Place no limitations on her, and treat her as you would treat any other child. If you baby her, she will not succeed. If you draw attention to her diagnosis, you are doing her a disservice.

So, which is it?

When you write a blog and post as often as I do on social media, one thing is certain. Opinions are abundant.

“If you want Sienna to be treated like everyone else, why do you constantly draw attention to Down syndrome?”

“You don’t have to defend her, you know. She’s just a baby.”

“Don’t you think advocacy has taken over your life? Is that really what’s best for Sienna? For Haley? For your marriage?”

These are actual quotes from people in my life whom I love. They all want what’s best for me, for my family, and my children. If they question it, do you know how many times a day I question it? Constantly.

I am in the midst of a WDSD school tour teaching children about Down syndrome, carting Sienna along with me to show children that God creates beauty in all of us, that we all have unique talents and challenges. I am drawing attention to her.

The reality is this. Down syndrome is here to stay. I am not ashamed of it. Yes, it is a big part of our lives. I have a tattoo on my arm that signifies how proud I am of my daughter and our family, so obviously, I am in it for life. Sienna’s diagnosis is written on her face, and it will be for the rest of her life. Sometimes, I am relieved that her face reveals her challenges. I see mothers with children on the spectrum. How do they explain that their child is not misbehaving, without pointing out their diagnosis? It’s a constant battle.

Motherhood is insecurity at all times. You make decisions on behalf of these tiny, incapable, humans. You hope that you are doing the right thing, but you don’t get to see the future. If you screw up, their happiness and place in this world are at risk, and all of that lands on you. It’s pressure. It’s stress. It’s hardship. It’s also beauty, fulfillment, and reward. All of these feelings coexist in my world, at this moment in time.

The truth is, I have no idea if I am doing the right thing. Does anyone? Aren’t we all just faking it? All I know is that it feels right. It feels right to visit schools and share Sienna. It feels right to use my voice to tell society how much color Sienna brings to our world. It feels right to talk about Down syndrome and her challenges, because they are my challenges too. I might change my mind some day. I reserve that right. For now, this is where we are.

If you don’t use your voice to tell your story, will anyone ever hear it? Will anyone ever learn from it? Your story is who you are, and our story is Down syndrome. Our story is girl power. Our story is miscarriages and infertility. Our story is heartbreak, adventure, and redemption. Thank you for reading about this life we got. You make this mom feel like she is doing something worthwhile.

 

Continue Reading

When Haley Met “Julia”

As some of you know, we recently went on vacation in Jamaica and spent time at Beaches Ocho Rios. Beaches is owned and operated by Sandals and they have a partnership with Sesame Street. A beautiful highlight from our vacation was the character breakfast. For all the reasons you’d expect, but also because I experienced one of those rare mom moments that instantly fill your eyes with tears and your soul with warmth.

I have always been a fan of Sesame Street. When I introduced my children to television, this is where it all began. Sienna and Haley both learned their letters and numbers at an early age, and while I did spend a great deal of time working with them on that, Sesame reinforced what I was already teaching. They also demonstrate valuable lessons about kindness, friendship, and acceptance. Plus, unlike some of the other crap cartoons out there, I actually don’t mind watching it. I also feel less guilty hoping my kids are gaining something from screen time.

Haley fell in love with Sesame all over again when her sister started to watch it. She’s in kindergarten now, so some of the life lessons apply more now versus when she was 2, and it went over her head. Sesame recently introduced the character, Julia, and she just happens to have autism. I was thrilled when they announced her as an addition to the show, and I could not wait to see how they portrayed her. Like everything Sesame does, they handled it with grace and beauty. If you know me, you know that I strongly believe that when we normalize differences from an early age, it lays the foundation for a better future for all of us. Kids learn empathy, and they also learn not to pity children of different abilities. That’s an important distinction and one that was not a part of my childhood. Haley had lots of questions during that first episode with Julia. Some were easy to address and others were tough, but Haley immediately drew the connection between Julia and Sienna. At one point she said, “So Julia works a little different, just like my sister, right?” My heart swelled with pride and I said yes, but stressed that Julia is more alike than she is different, just like Sienna. And that was that.

The day of the Thanksgiving Macy’s Day Parade, Haley immediately noticed Julia wearing headphones on the float, and asked if it had to do with her aversion to loud noises. She’s noticing things and reflecting, which will lead to compassion and understanding at a future moment in time. Sesame opened the door to meaningful dialogue. I picture families with typically developing children having these same conversations and my heart bursts, because we are evolving.

The character breakfast worked like they all do…..character plates, party bags, Cookie Monster cupcakes, photo opportunities with all the characters, a dance party, everything you’d expect, except for one part.

The host made an announcement to the children letting them know that Julia was about to join us for breakfast. He explained that Julia has autism and went on further to explain some of what that meant. He asked if all the children would clap quietly when she entered, because she didn’t like loud noises. He also said that Julia gives the best hugs. He asked if any of the kids would volunteer to receive one, but they’d have to ask for her permission first. Haley’s arm shot up in the sky and when I looked around the room I realized she was the only one.

They welcomed her up, and she knew exactly what to do. She asked Julia if it was okay and when she was given the green light, her arms wrapped around her. She came back to our table confirming that Julia did indeed give the best hugs. She asked if she could get one of the Julia dolls because she wanted to snuggle with her every night. Big mom tears filled my eyes, and I, of course, said yes. In every picture from the breakfast, Haley is proudly holding her Julia doll.

Haley and her new Julia doll

I’m not saying it’s as simple as watching an episode of Sesame Street, and boom your kid understands what it means to be autistic. I am saying that it was a starting point for us. It’s an ongoing conversation, and I always tell Haley that I don’t have all the answers, but I encourage her to keep asking them and we can learn together.

I think we, as adults, hesitate to discuss this stuff with our kids, out of fear that we will say the wrong thing. We need to dispel those fears, because our kids pick up on them. In my experience, the difficult conversations have led to some of the most satisfying moments in parenthood. Watching your child evolve into a good human being is rewarding. As a mom of a child with unique abilities, I can promise you that I won’t get offended if your kid and you stumble along the way to understanding. I’ll always do my best to help if I can.

Sometimes we choose the path of least resistance because it’s what’s easiest, but life isn’t easy. It’s complicated and so are all of the people living in it. I challenge you to start a dialogue with your kids about differences. You might be surprised by their sheer brilliance and the profound questions they ask, and you might find yourself watching your kid hugging someone like Julia, and if you’re like me your eyes might fill with huge tears of pride.

Continue Reading
1 2 3 14