You’re going to love this one, friends.

In this quick news clip, Bryann Burgess is featured as the local Columbia, SC, “teacher of the week.” She is an inspiration who happens to have a lot of spunk, talent — oh, and Down syndrome.

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The grandfatherly man smiled at Kate from the cart in front of us at the grocery store.

“Well, you’re just beautiful,” he gushed.

Kate did what she usually does (if she’s had a nap) and flirted back. Her toothy smile took over her cheeks and her almond eyes turned into half-moon slivers bright enough to light up the night sky.

The man chuckled.

She giggled back.

Kate’s 17-month-old little sister snuggled into her arm in the bed of the cart and Kate wrapped her chubby little hands around her shoulders.

It was a picture-worthy moment — an image as adorable as the cuddly kittens in baskets and chunky babies in cornucopias that we see on calendars in shopping malls.

Was that what I was afraid of the day she was born?

On the car ride home, her favorite song came on the toddler station of Pandora radio. She squealed with glee and threw her hands up in the air like a college kid at an outdoor concert. She danced and did the hand motions all the way home — and at the end of the song, she gave a generous applause with enthusiastic hand-clapping. She’s famous for her generous applause. She’s famous for her enthusiasm in general.

Was that what I was afraid of the day she was born?

Well, of course not.

What I was afraid of was the what-if’s and could-be’s. The statistics and stereotypes. The dismal tone in the doctor’s voice when he delivered the news: “There’s no good way to say this, so I’ll just say it: your daughter has Down syndrome.”

The fear and tears in the eyes of those around me.

I was afraid of the “increased risks” of XYZ — the unsure future — the tests that needed to be run.

I was afraid of her absence when they whisked her away from me to poke and prod and scan and observe — I was afraid of what her future looked like, what our future looked like. And those things are worthy of fear! Any time a world so unknown presents itself at your doorstep, uninvited, fear — devastation, even — is a natural reaction.

But I can’t help but think there’s something more to it.

Because here’s the thing: the number one reason I was so afraid of Down syndrome when Kate was born is because I had never been exposed to it.

I had never seen a family who thrived with a child with Down syndrome. I had never heard the stories of the blessings and the gratitude — the grocery store flirting and the backseat car dancing. And perhaps if I had — then the other stuff? Sure, it would still be scary. But devastating? I’m not so sure.

I’m in my 4th pregnancy now and this one has been especially interesting. I am in a new city — with a new doctor. A wonderful doctor, by all accounts. She knows little about our family — but she does know my pregnancy history, including the fact that my second-born has Down syndrome. But often, I leave my appointments and say to myself, “No wonder people are so afraid of Down syndrome.”

Prenatal tests are pushed with urgency as preventative measures like Tdap vaccines and flu shots. I was asked four visits in a row if I was “sure” I didn’t want prenatal testing: after all, I could be having a baby who has Down syndrome. 

Now I’m not villainizing the tests themselves — many parents do want to avoid a delivery-day surprise of a Down syndrome diagnosis — but it’s bigger than a blood test. It’s the tone. The urgency. The context of conversation. It’s the whisper in language with what could — God forbid — be a positive test result. It’s what lies in the literature that’s handed out on the first day and in the nurses’ voices when they found out I have a “history” of having a child with Down syndrome.

It’s fear.

And it’s contagious.

And it’s the difference between doctors delivering the news as a multifaceted diagnosis rather than a death sentence.

Now I’m not naive, I don’t expect doctors and new parents to feel like they’ve won the lottery (as I often do now). Anytime there are risk factors for your child’s health, there is cause for concern.

But I do feel like the technology for detecting Down syndrome is far more advanced than our understanding of what it means to have Down syndrome — or raise a child with Down syndrome. And for the sake of objective reporting and compassionate care, we should all strive to understand the bigger picture.

There is a reason that the abortion rate for Down syndrome is soaring — while the vast number of parents who have a child with Down syndrome feel incredible gratitude. There is a bridge that’s broken between understanding human genetics and understanding the human spirit. There is a missing piece that so often causes misplaced fear.

Why are we so afraid of Down syndrome?

Because we’re often only told a small part of what is truly a big, beautiful love story.

AngelKate7

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I received a lovely email from across the world last week. It was from my cousin (who grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Australia). I love the simple story she shares — and most importantly, the reminder to always see people first.

Hi beautiful family,

I meant to email you last week, but as usual, I let time get away on me.

Anyway, I was in the supermarket — and as I was at the checkout, the man behind me muttered something under his breath.

I turned around and said, “Sorry!”

He said, “Oh, I was just saying that this is gonna’ cost me heaps.”

I said, “Oh, that’s no good.”

He smiled and said, “I’m cooking two special meals for one special lady.”

I smiled and said, “Ohhh, then it will be worth it then!”

He laughed and said, “Yes, it is. I’m making tacos.”

I said that sounded delicious and wished him the best, as his girlfriend walked back over to him with a smile on her face, giving him a kiss.

He said, “Have a great day!” And I headed home with a smile.

I was feeling really good because 1. It was really cute to see a boyfriend adore his lady and 2. They both had Down syndrome, which at the end of the day is irrelevant. But it made me so happy to see two people in love — and that anyone can have love no matter their shape, size, color, extra chromosome, age, etc.

To be honest, if Kate wasn’t in my life — and I hadn’t learned so much about Down syndrome — I would have maybe not spoken to this man so casually. I probably would have been a bit nervous and thought, ‘What if he doesn’t understand me’?

I think fear of the unknown limits us, but I feel like you guys have really helped me to realize: we are all one in the same. And that little things like extra chromosomes are nothing to fear, but to be celebrated.

I loved Shea’s email — especially her last line: “Little things like extra chromosomes are nothing to fear, but to be celebrated.”

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Top 10 Posts of 2013

December 22, 2013

I officially started this blog 3 years ago this month — as a place to think out loud when my daughter, Kate, was born with Down syndrome.

Since then, it’s become a place to write about anything, really — motherhood, baking, marriage, friendship, coffee — whatever sort of pops into my head and feels the need to come out through my fingertips into a keyboard.

It’s been a fun hobby for me — even more so, because you all stop by from time to time and read along with me. Thanks for being a special part of this blog.

And if you’re looking for a reason to procrastinate on this Sunday night [like I'm doing] when you should be wrapping those last few Christmas gifts, here are the “most popular” posts based on traffic alone during 2013. From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Top 10 Posts of 2013:

#1: Dear Mom with a Prenatal Down Syndrome Diagnosis

#2: Katherine Grace: A Birth Story

#3: For Those With Down Syndrome, It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Worst of Times

#4: Looking for the One? Don’t Stop Believing

#5: 50 Laws of Mommyhood

#6: Down Syndrome Awareness Month: Why It Should Matter to Everyone

#7: Why I’m Excited to Have Daughters

#8: Will She Always Live With You?

#9: Motherhood Is…

#10: Prenatal Down Syndrome Diagnosis

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Today is the 8-year anniversary of my first date with my husband — a cute guy that I met in a bar on a cool December night.

I love that we celebrate the anniversary of our first date (along with our wedding anniversary, of course). I love thinking of the butterflies in my stomach when he first pulled up to my apartment in his old red mustang. I love remembering our first-date conversation — how much we had to learn about each other — the feeling of figuring out if this is something that might “work.”

I love thinking about where we first began because it makes me so grateful for how far we’ve come. For the journey of life and love and growth. For God’s hands holding ours all along the way.

It’s what life is made of, I think. It starts with dreams and doodles and first kisses — and soon, those same strong arms that had me smitten are holding babies and moving boxes and a pregnant wife.

Those same blue eyes that lit up the table of our first date are the ones that confidently said, “I do” at our wedding. That filled with tears at our children’s births. That tiredly gaze at me from across the bed on late nights with babies who won’t sleep.

We are so much the same couple as we were on that first date — and yet also so different — having grown side by side, hand in hand, heart in heart, becoming more the “one flesh” that my mother-in-law read about when she read the scripture verse at our wedding:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

I’m learning that becoming “one” is truly a sequence of many — the little and big events that knead our hearts like bread dough into something new, something better. From the dramatic dip at the end of our first wedding dance to the renovations of our first home, the anticipation of the birth of our first child to the announcement of a Down syndrome diagnosis. Every belly laugh, every rolling tear, every dream, every accomplishment — we grow closer together.

That old red mustang that we drove on our first date doesn’t run anymore — and the restaurant where we had our first date sadly no longer exists. But those are but details in a bigger plan that I am convinced were in place long before I met him that December.

A plan where two, lovestruck kids happened to bump into each other at a bar, exchange smiles and a phone number — and then agree to celebrate the thrill and joy of that first date over and over again, “as long as we both shall live.”

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