I received an email from a reader yesterday that said:

“Hi there. I am a mother of a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a one-year-old who has Down syndrome. I am curious: how did you decide to have more children after your daughter, Kate? We want another baby, but because of the statistics [of having another child with Down syndrome], we have fear.”

As a mother who has always wanted a big family, this question was heavy on my heart, too, when I first had Kate. And so, I thought I would answer her question here:

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A week or two after Kate was born I remember sitting on our brown leather couch in the livingroom of our old house in North Texas. Kate was still in the NICU — and in a break from visiting her, I sat with my laptop upon my legs, googling: More children after child with Down syndrome.

It seemed silly at the time. I had JUST had a baby — why was I so focused on future children? But I had so many emotions within me. Would I have the big family I had always wanted? What if we had more children who had Down syndrome? I didn’t even know what it would mean to have one child with Down syndrome — let alone more than one? How would it affect her siblings? Would it be good for us? Good for her siblings? Good for Kate?

My life as I had imagined it already felt pulled from under me — now would I give up the dream of having a big family, too?

But slowly, over time, I had all the answers to those questions. And to be clear, my answers won’t necessarily be your answers — every family has many unique, personal reasons for their family size.

But for us, this is how we decided to have more children:

The first reason was Kate herself. We learned quickly that her Down syndrome was not a catastrophic event in our life.

The “extras” that came with her diagnosis: extra doctors appointments or extra therapies were not overwhelming issues in our life. She was — and continues to be — just another one of the bunch. Sure, she may live with us a little longer in the future (or maybe not!) and she may continue to require some of those “extras,” but in our personal situation, her “special needs” feel the same as any of our other kids’. We feel that we can be just as good of parents to additional siblings — perhaps even better ones — because of her life.

As far as the statistics for having another child with Down syndrome — yes, there’s a slightly increased “risk.” And, of course, it’s always concerning anytime your child has a condition that comes with the increased chance for other medical conditions. I’ve had a moment in the delivery room with both babies since Kate that I looked over cautiously at their wiggly body in the warmer and wondered: does she have Down syndrome, too?

But if there’s anything we’ve learned from having Kate, it’s this: there’s a bigger plan for our lives — and so often, what we are first afraid of can become an incredible blessing.

The second reason was Kate’s siblings. According to a recent study by Dr. Brian Skotko, “Among siblings ages 12 and older, 97 percent expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome.”

Studies are one thing, but I have no doubt that Kate makes her siblings better — and that her siblings make her better. She will never have a lack of love, friends, support and a cheerleading squad. Her little sister, 20 months younger than her, who everyone thinks is her “twin” is her best friend in the whole wide world. They spend hours each day holding hands, dancing, chatting, laughing, hiding in closets and under covers, singing, giving kisses and hugs.

Kate’s little sister and precocious 5-year-old brother are the best speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, play therapists and friends she could ever have.

They challenge her all day long with communication and interaction — they treat her like one of the bunch, never making her feel like she’s an outsider. She has incredible confidence that she can do and be anything any other 3-year-old can be — and mostly because of the little gang of loving humans she’s constantly right in the middle of.

As they grow older, I have many dreams for my children — I imagine how their relationships will only flourish — how Kate will add such beautiful color, beauty and perspective to our unique family tapestry. In a world where we long for our children to have the qualities of compassion, selflessness, joy and purpose — Kate is such an incredible facilitator of those things.

If anything, Kate’s life only makes me want more children — not less.

The third reason is faith. I say this to anyone who approaches life from the perspective that children are a gift — and that there’s a bigger plan for our lives that isn’t always based on what we think we want at any given moment.

This is obviously a personal thing for our family — and may not affect how your family decides whether or not you should have more — but for us, it’s a profound factor.

I am aware that every pregnancy is a gift, not a guarantee. I am aware with every healthy moment that at any moment, any of us may not be healthy. I am aware that every day I live — and every child I have — and every moment I breathe is a blessing.  And for that, I live with incredible gratitude.

I am also aware that when Kate was first born with Down syndrome, I was scared and sad and confused — and that now I realize she was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

And so, I close with this — the decision for us to have more children after having a child with Down syndrome is a combination of the joy in our present and the faith in our future. In our family, Kate helps us be better and we help Kate be better and isn’t that the goal of every family?

Thanks so much for writing,

Lauren

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When I was a little girl, I remember having the feeling that one day I would do something big.

Do all little kids feel that way?

I never really knew what the “big” thing was, but for years that tiny voice was still inside me. I was destined for greatness.

Eventually, with maturity and time, and realizing that I didn’t have some sort of one-of-a-kind Spidey-sense, the feeling faded to more of a general desire of “do-goodedness.” I — like anyone — had the power to do something big in the general sense of the word as we’re all called to do great things with our unique talents. But in college and my early adulthood, I mostly channeled that idea to career success. Not completely selfishly, of course — but still, the idea of doing something “big” correlated more with the universal standard of what makes someone successful.

But then, the other night, after rocking my 22-month-old in the white glider in her dark room while singing Ba Ba Blacksheep.

And after kissing my 5-year-old boy on the forehead and telling him that I’m the luckiest mom in the whole wide world.

And after tucking the pink and green and yellow quilt her auntie made her up to the soft neck of my 3-year-old.

And after crawling into my king-sized sheets with my pint-sized newborn for nursing and snuggles, I realized:

I’ve done it.

This is my something big.

Though not always glamorous or highly-acclaimed or well-paid, being a mother to these children feels like the role I’ve been chosen for my entire life.

And no matter what else I do — or don’t do — that’s big or small or maybe just medium — nothing will outshine the greatest calling I have ever known:

To be the heart of my home.

“The woman is at the heart of the home. Let us pray that we women realize the reason for our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world.” – Mother Teresa 
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“Do you know what your next project should be?” my husband’s grandfather asked me in his soft New Zealand accent from the Adirondack chair at my side.

We had just given him and the rest of the extended family a tour of our new home — and, as new homeowners do, had shared the to-dos and the not-quite-finished yets. We shared future landscaping ideas and furniture needs, decorating visions and home project plans.

“What’s that?” I replied on the sunny patio, looking into his 87-year-old blue eyes.

“Your next project should be… enjoy it. Your home is perfect just the way it is. You have everything you need. Sure, you can do projects here and there as you desire — but most importantly, you should enjoy.”

I smiled. “You’re right.” And we both leaned back in our chairs and gazed toward the towering oaks that line the backyard.

It was a simple conversation, but one I’ll always remember — not just as a homeowner, but as a wife and mother.

We all too often focus on the not-quite-perfect around us — the projects yet to be done — the accomplishments yet to be made. All the while, missing out on moments to enjoy the blessings before us.

I reflected on this sentiment today and thought it especially applied to being Kate’s mom. Granddad’s advice on our home could have been just as easily applied to me as a young mother to a child with Down syndrome — appreciative of the gift of her life, yet eager to get on with the “projects” — to get her into the best therapies, note her milestones, focus on what is yet to be accomplished.

But really, there is something more important to do than all of the other “to dos.”

To the new mom holding her sweet child with Down syndrome in her arms, frightfully asking, “What should I do next?” — my answer would be:

Enjoy.

Enjoy the weight of your newborn’s body in your arms, the warmth of her skin, the softness of her touch.

Enjoy her coos and cuddles, her newborn scent, the gift of her life.

There are plenty of things to do — as there always are — for every child. But in this moment, and in a million moments to come, always remember to enjoy.

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I remember the feeling that came over me in the delivery room when the doctor told us Kate had Down syndrome.

I felt an incredible grief.

And, in a way, I was grieving something — the death of an imaginary dream, a 9-month long fantasy, an idea of a child who I had created in my daydreams who did not have a “disability.”

But the more I grew to know Kate — and the facts about life with a child with Down syndrome — the more my grieving gave way to new life. It awakened in me a spirit of hope and love I had not experienced before, and now my dreams for Kate are bigger than ever.

I know she can do anything that she wants to do — and I know I can help her become exactly who she is meant to be.

To parents who have received a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis — or the ones who hold your new, sweet baby with Down syndrome in your arms with fear and uncertainty, don’t feel as though your dreams have died.

Do you dream that your child might fulfill a lifelong dream of singing the National Anthem for the Red Sox?

Michael did.

Do you dream that your child might finish the NYC marathon?

Jimmy did.

Do you dream that your child might own his own restaurant?

Tim does.

Do you dream for your child to graduate college and get a job where she changes lives and inspires children on a daily basis?

Bryann did — and does.

Do you dream for your child to find his or her soulmate, fall in love and get married?

Austin and Jessica did.

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Or maybe you simply dream that he or she will be able to do the simple things — life’s biggest joys.

Your child will be able to do a great many things.

I personally know a little girl who changes the world for good on a daily basis — whether it’s chasing her big brother, adoring her little sisters or filling her mama’s heart with incredible joy.

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I didn’t know it the day she was born, but now I know: she is a dream come true.

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Life soars on

April 4, 2014

Kate was my second-born — and this week, we welcomed our fourth miracle, her second little sister into the world.

After Kate’s Down syndrome diagnosis at birth, I wondered what the future would hold for our family. Would we have more children? I remember googling that very topic and scrolling through forums the first weeks after she was born. Would life go on?

Little did I know that life wouldn’t just go on — it would soar.

Kate would become, in many ways, just one of the bunch. Another colorful fabric in the tapestry of unique individuals in our family — while at the same time, also giving her siblings an incredibly special gift in being their sister.

She loved holding her baby sister for the first time the other night and when I saw this pic I thought to myself: if I could have only imagined this image the day she was born.

The one I held with tears and fears the day she was born now gently cares for her younger siblings. Adores her older brother. Rocks her baby dolls and her skinny jeans.

Number four is cradled in my crossed legs cooing. And I am filled with the same awe that I’ve had since my first was born.

Life is so precious.

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