Different but Equal Siblings

“Mooooommmmmy!!!! She’s doing it again,” Haley yells while uproariously laughing. I run in the room making sure they are both okay. I turn and see Sienna throwing her toys, while screaming no and ouch. Haley is in a pile of giggles on the floor with her eyes watering. “Haley go to your room. You are not helping,” I yell angrily. She busts out of the room. I turn to Sienna while gently saying no and cleaning up. I try to redirect and not react. She doesn’t stop. I get hit in the head for the fiftieth time that week with a toy. I keep my cool and walk away. I go in Haley’s room. Immediately, I am greeted with frustration, “Mommy, you never yell at her when she does something wrong. Why do you always yell at me when I do something wrong but Sienna never gets in trouble? It’s not fair.”

Do you feel that? It’s a guilt arrow and it got me.

To most people on the outside looking in, this is a normal disagreement among siblings. But most people don’t have one typically developing child and another child with Down syndrome. I need to handle their behaviors and our communication in very different ways, utilizing separate techniques. In the eyes of my five year old, this is not fair. I know she will understand someday, but that day is not today. In her little eyes, I am being unfair. I try to explain, but it’s complicated.

Haley doesn’t know that her brain functions in a way that is different than her sister’s. She doesn’t realize that I cannot lose my temper in front of Sienna. When Sienna sees me being very animated, she gets the reaction she craves. Anger and joy both come in at the same speed and it’s a stimulation that Sienna seeks out. She is craving that reaction, and Haley is the motherland of reactions. She laughs at every bad behavior Sienna initiates. It’s a viscous cycle and one I have to put a stop to now, before it gets worse. How?

One suggestion from a respected psychologist whose book I am currently reading is bribery. He uses some fancy therapy word to describe it and then goes into an explanation about how a paycheck is something you are rewarded with for positive behavior and this is the same thing. Soon enough, I will have an m&m jar on my kitchen counter, and when Haley controls herself and doesn’t laugh after Sienna exhibits a negative behavior, Haley will get an m&m. I know it might seem extreme, but these are the strategies we need to adopt. I am also hoping this helps Haley feel like she is an important part of Sienna’s behavioral discipline. I want to let her play a role in the process. For Haley, being appointed responsibility is a reward.

I believe in arming myself with information in order to help Sienna. The book I mentioned has been very helpful in developing strategies.

Here is an excerpt from that book, Supporting Positive Behavior in Children and Teens with Down Syndrome written by David Stein, Psy.D.

“When a typically developing child learns something new – either by hearing it explained or seeing it in action – her brain processes that information and then “encodes” it by transferring it to longer-term memory. Next, her brain “consolidates” the information, or stores it permanently. The most crucial difference for children with DS is the new information is not transferred into longer-term memory and stored as easily or consistently.”

I find this both fascinating and key to teaching Sienna. I have noticed that it takes Sienna constant repetition in order for her to remember things that Haley instantly remembered. Sienna and I spend time going over first word flashcards daily. We review the big book of first words. We go over new letters on the fridge and in the tub every day. It takes many more repetitive tasks for something to sink in. When I read this excerpt, I was so relieved to understand the differences in the brains of children with DS. I also started to realize that maybe having this one up on information is a blessing. Do you know how many children have behavior issues and parents just spin their wheels trying to determine how to help them? We have an early roadmap on Sienna’s brain.

When we understand the differences in the way our kids with Down syndrome function, we can give them the tools needed to succeed. And when I dig even deeper, isn’t this true with all children? I am sure you have different parenting techniques for each child in your house no matter what their capabilities. 

“We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind.” -Condoleezza Rice

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Full Circle

It may look like an ordinary bench with two cute little girls sitting on it, but to me it’s so much more than that. Today, I found myself coming full circle, to a point in my life that I choose not to think about, often. Hospitals hold so much power over us. Life can begin and end in a hospital. It’s a place that forces us to look at our vulnerability. Sometimes, we have to look back on a time that we were our most vulnerable, in order to see how much we’ve grown. I had that experience today.

 

 

For those of you that don’t live in Pittsburgh, I will try and explain this as simply as possible. Basically, two health insurance providers own this city. They don’t play nice with each other. You either have UPMC insurance and use all of their providers OR you have Highmark insurance and use all of their providers. Well, after a brief respite from UPMC, we now have their insurance again. Today, I had to get an ultrasound to check on some things. I had to revisit a hospital that I have not been back to since having many of my miscarriages. 

I found myself outside with the girls, waiting. As I sat on the bench, I thought about the many times I had sat there, without them. I remember sitting there wondering if there would ever be a “them”? I was here at some of the hardest moments in my life. I also sat here at some of life’s most wonderful moments. All of Haley’s ultrasounds were done here. We had a few scares with her, but she is a fighter and she came out on her due date, with no complications. A little over a year later, I was back here again. I sat here for an hour one afternoon, with my legs carelessly drooped on top of Jason’s lap with the sun shining down on us, in that courtyard. It was a carefree time in our lives. Haley was 1 and a half, and life seemed perfect. The bottom fell out right after that moment in the sunshine. I came here and sat back down, that same afternoon, after being told that the baby had no heartbeat. I sat here trying to decide whether or not to get a D and C.

During some even tougher moments, I found myself back here wondering if Haley would ever be the big sister. I wondered if I was pushing too hard for something that was not meant to be. I remember a cell phone conversation with my best friend, while I sat on this bench. “One day, this will all make sense. You will be holding another baby, and you will know why you had to wait so long. It will all make sense.” I remember it not making sense, even after I had that beautiful baby.

I sat here during my blighted ovum pregnancy, which took weeks to diagnose and several ultrasounds. It was emotional torture. I sat here and prayed before each ultrasound. I prayed that the baby had grown. I sat here after finding out the baby had not grown. I sat here many times, before and after getting blood work. I switched insurance, some time after that and the nightmare memories have since flooded Highmark facilities as well. No place is safe.

Today, I sit here with such perspective. I have my babies. They are life’s greatest gifts, and they were worth the wait. Both of them, and every perfect cell of their bodies are gifts from heaven. They were made from us and given to us, to treasure. I am grateful for their existence, in this beautiful world. I will be brutally honest, and tell you that when Sienna was born, I thought that this perspective would never come. I will even go so far as to tell you that I thought God was cruel. I, now, realize that he was sending me on a journey. I think he could have cut a little bit of time off that journey, but we did arrive at the destination, finally. The destination is not where I had planned on taking us, but I am loving it just the same. #disabilitymomlife #holland

Women are so tough. We fight through emotional and physical pain on a daily basis, without anyone knowing. I think of some of the situations that I worked and mommed through and I know that I am a serious badass. I used to be a pretty big wimp, so I am glad the journey brought me here. That being said, I am tough enough, so I’d be happy if I never see this damn bench again in my whole life.

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The Gift of You

To my dearest Sienna on your second birthday,

I wish I could say that the day you were born was one of the happiest days of my life, but sadly, it was quite the opposite. That has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with me. You see, your mommy was clueless.

When they told us you had Down syndrome, it was a big shock. As they placed you back in my arms, I knew I felt the love that every mother feels for her baby. You were beautiful. The fierceness of the love I felt for you was overwhelming. Our bond was instantaneous, but I was also terrified. What I didn’t know about you or your diagnosis was that we had been given a gift. You were going to teach us about unconditional love, joy in unexpected places, and the tenacity to move forward.

I am so embarrassed about what I thought it meant for us on the day you were born. I pictured a life spent taking care of an invalid. I pictured our vacations and dinners out, ripped away from us. I pictured a life of difficulty. I pictured your sister, who at that point was the center of my world, forever changed and taken away from the spotlight she lived in and adored. Everything I pictured was wrong. I am putting all of this out there in case there is some other mom, laying in a hospital bed right now, wondering if her life is ending. It’s not.

Our life has been changed by you and your diagnosis, but they are welcome changes. We do everything we did, before you came into our lives. We even do some new things, thanks to you. You make vacations better with your smiles, and sass. Oh the sass! Dinners spent out are loud and full of humor, as your dad and I watch your sister and you misbehave. You yell, you laugh, and you throw things (sometimes at her). Your sister and you have a love story that melts my heart each day. You also fight with each other, like all sisters do. Haley has made the spotlight bigger, and you both revel in it. Haley protects you, and it’s a role that she has chosen on her own. Truthfully, I think you might be protecting her soon. You are a feisty little girl.

Today is your birthday, and two years later, I am grateful. I would not change one thing about you. You are tenacious. Every day, I watch you struggle to stand, to walk, and move around. Your muscle tone holds you back from physically moving, but it doesn’t slow down your spirit. I know you will be walking soon enough, but for now, you get where you want to go, through will power. You are a sassy little girl. I thought I knew what sass was with Haley, but Sienna my love, you take it to a whole new level. It’s hard not to laugh when you throw things, when you scream no, and when you slap your sister or me. You also have an incredible heart already. Whenever your sister is upset, you start to cry right alongside her. You are a daredevil. When Dada throws you in the air, your laughter is infectious. You love to go on rides, and it would appear that we have another thrill seeker on our hands. You do not openly give affection away. You make people earn it, and sometimes you make them work really hard (sorry Aunt Kristy). You are a lover of music. You dance and sing all day long. Our house is full of laughter each and every day.

My Sienna Mae, I could and do write a blog on everything I didn’t know, before you were born. I didn’t know that your adult counterparts with Down syndrome were doing such amazing things, like lobbying for their rights, teaching Zumba classes, starring in reality shows, writing books, owning businesses, living independently, and getting married. They are enriching the lives of their friends, family, and the community. Before you came along, I didn’t know what the word advocate meant. I didn’t know about the friendships I would make in this wonderful community. We are grateful that you have introduced us to such amazing people.

We celebrate more, since having you in our lives. We appreciate the little things. When you pulled yourself up to stand, we jumped for joy. When you used your walker for the first time, I cried. I don’t know what the future holds for all of us, but I know that having you in our lives has made us better people. We have more empathy for others. We choose kindness. We have become more political and we have learned how much we will rely on Medicaid during your life. We will always advocate and fight for your rights and others like you. This has made us better citizens. We love bigger. We have learned that love comes in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. We have learned that emotional intelligence is just as important as being smart. We ask for help more, which has introduced us to some wonderful people. We have better friendships, because of you.

On this day, I want to say thank you. Thank you my beautiful, smart, sassy, baby girl, for the gift of you. I am sorry that I didn’t know what a gift you were when you were born, but I will spend the rest of my life telling everyone else what I didn’t know. I love you and everything that makes you, you.

 

 

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