I recently shared the following thought on my Sipping Lemonade Facebook page (Are you on Facebook? Come visit! I post lots of other neat things I find there.) Anyway, I think it’s an important sentiment, so I wanted to share here as well.

I recently had a reader comment that she is “uncomfortable with the way all people who have [Down syndrome] are portrayed as sweet, affectionate, and capable” when she knows people who have Down syndrome who are not that way. The reader went on to comment that she’s tired of articles that “paint [individuals with Down syndrome] like pets that every family should get.” This is a common criticism that I see against articles or blogs that speak positively (or as some would say “over-positively”) about Down syndrome.

But to that criticism I say this:

What child, of any ability, is not challenging at times? What child brings with them the promise of an easy, stress-free life? Writing about the “blessing” of having a child with Down syndrome is by no means sugar-coating a situation where life is, at times, hard. Life *is* sometimes hard — with any child — but it is also incredibly rewarding and incredibly valuable. It is always worth it.

The world doesn’t need me to go on about the challenges of having a child with Down syndrome: there are enough people doing that. In fact, we talk about that so much that the majority of mothers who receive a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis terminate their pregnancies.

Of course, people with Down syndrome — like anyone — can be affectionate and can be stand-offish and can be sweet and can be gruff and can have all sorts of abilities. (We all can!) But who needs that disclaimer when writing about the blessing of your own child?

In a world where many doctors deliver the news of Down syndrome as if it were the worst thing in the world, I can say that having Kate has been one of the best things to ever happen to me.

That is not a generalization or condescension or sugar-coating. That is, simply, the truth.

And it is a truth we need to hear more often.

DSC_0929Kate, 2011

You are a masterpiece

June 30, 2014

I woke up in Paris on my 13th birthday to a continental breakfast of chocolate croissants, soft cheeses and hot chocolate. My dad was stationed in Europe at the time and we traveled to France for a weekend trip.

Sunlight flooded in through sheer curtains, while the soundtrack from a bustling, Parisian alleyway played outside our hotel room window.

The trip was full of sidewalk cafes and metro rides, bookstore kitties and cathedral visits, but one place in particular stands out in my memory: The Louvre.

One of the world’s largest museums, The Louvre would take days to truly digest, and I’m sure I walked through most of it bored, distracted and wondering when lunchtime was. But I do remember when we happened upon one of the museums most famous attractions, The Mona Lisa.

I remember it because, as a 13-year-old, I was particularly underwhelmed.

It was smaller than I realized it would be. Tucked inside a glass case behind a velvet rope that sat in front of a group of about 100 tourists. That’s the most famous piece of art in the world? I wondered honestly.

I’m sure much of my impression was based on ignorance and teenage boredom — but nonetheless, it is an example of how a work of art can seem invaluable to many and completely blah to others. Whether we could argue that this perspective is shaped by education, life experience, or maybe even “good taste,” much of what we value in the realm of artistic expression is subjective. And my 13-year-old self, whether I am to be pitied or not, was more in awe of Paris’ pastries than Leonardo da Vinci.

I remembered that trip today when reading a medical journal about prenatal testing and Down syndrome. As I read the doctor’s words, I realized: this is talking about human beings as though our value were as subjective as pieces of art in a Parisian museum.

The article implied that some of us have value and are worth admiring and protecting — and that others, who may not be considered masterpieces because of disability or a propensity for medical issues — are not valuable.

How untrue it is.

The great thing about being human is that no matter what the world says is most valuable at any given moment, we still each remain an imperfectly perfect masterpiece. Not because we meet some societal standard of beauty or brilliance, but because we are human: and that is enough. That is enough to give us, as Pope Francis says, “inestimable value.”

Prenatal testing is a wonderful means of learning a small portion of what may affect someone in life — but it is just that. It is by no means a measuring stick for determining the value of someone’s life.

Because the truth is: we are all masterpieces.

“All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.” — Pope Francis

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The volcano was erupting — and the fate of an entire village lay in the courageous rescue attempts of my 5-year-old’s Transformers: Heatwave and Optimus Prime.

Buzz Lightyear swooped in and rescued a few townspeople from the top of Heatwave’s ladder — and “little Heatwave” (a smaller version of the same toy) came in to help, too.

Meanwhile, Bumblebee was at the store picking up ingredients for S’mores. (I may have interjected that plot line.)

But wait! The fire pit where we had planned to make s’mores was actually a shark-infested ocean. Ah! Must bop the Sharks on their heads! Be gone, Sharks!

Phew. The sharks are gone. But now—we need to chop up some wood with Heatwave’s big axe to make that fire…

Our adventure in Transformer land was interrupted by a potty break. My buzz-cut boy ran as fast as he could across the wood floors almost slipping over his pajama pants, determined not to miss a moment of fun. He shouted over his shoulder back to me, “Don’t let the girls touch my Transformers!”

But it was too late.

My 3 and almost 2-year-old daughters immediately swooped in from the onlooking couches for playtime. They had been patiently watching as my boy and I saved lives from a bubbling volcano and rid the world of man-eating sharks — now it was their turn.

They each grabbed a Transformer with their chubby little fingers and immediately got lost in play. It was still a heroic storyline, but a softer one.

My soon to be 2-year-old scooped “Little Heatwave” into her arms into a cradle hold and started gently rocking him. “Aww,” she said, smiling at me lovingly. “Baby,” she said affectionately, stroking his head armour.

Kate picked up Optimus Prime and hopped him around sweetly. When I held Buzz Lightyear up to chat, Optimus Prime gave him a gentle kiss. My 2-year-old giggled and decided Little Heatwave wanted a soft kiss, too.

Soon, all the tough Transformers were being rocked, coddled, kissed — and in their wildest moments, dancing.

The 5-year-old returned in a huff: his sisters were playing with his toys! “It’s okay,” I assured him. And then, back to world domination.

I smiled. I believe my girls can take on a volcano — and that my boy can be loving and gentle, of course — but there is a unique heroism found in their differences. Both are needed. Both save lives.

And it’s good to remember: sometimes the most heroic rescue mission in this world is a gentle kiss and unconditional love.

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

Love your post-baby body

June 16, 2014

The Texas summer heat holds nothing back — so I opted for the treadmill in our bedroom today with a panoramic view of the backyard. I’m just easing back into things since baby #4 was born two and a half months ago. My pace was slow, but steady.

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth, Pharrell sang through my headphones—and I clapped. I felt sweaty. Tired. And mostly, happy.

I’ve had this treadmill since college, it’s like an old friend. And in every intermittent spurt of regular exercise that I find myself in while growing 4 babies in 5 years, I am reminded, once again, that this place—where running shoes hug my feet and earphones hug my head—is a beautiful one. It takes a few weeks to settle in and then, my muscles regain their memory and once again: I am a runner.

A slow runner, but a runner nonetheless. Does that make me a jogger then? That doesn’t sound nearly as fierce. “And once again: I am a slow jogger.”

I started running as a chubby teenager. I don’t even remember the moment of motivation really. It was one of those Forest Gump moments where “I just felt like running” and then, a year later, I had dropped 4 sizes or so and was in great shape.

I kept the habit regularly for over a decade, but baby growing and rearing has derailed it, and so I’m trying to pick it up again. In the glorious breaks from motherhood given to me by a nap time or my husband, I lace up my shoes and am reminded, once again, of the power of our bodies.

I always pause for a moment when reading baby forums or magazines when seeing someone say, “I hate my body after having a baby.” Of course, I get it. And I’ve probably said something along those lines before in tears while trying on every pair of pants in my closet unsuccessfully in those first few months. But mostly, the predominant and overwhelming emotion I have with my post-baby body is awe.

I am proud and grateful for it — amazed by its potential in participating in the greatest miracle known to man. And so, I try to be gentle with myself. Strong and disciplined and all those virtuous things, of course, but gentle, patient. After all, nature knows that a little extra softness around the mid-section makes for comfortable babies.

As a mother to three daughters, I am very thoughtful of the way we think and talk about our bodies — whether it’s post-puberty, post-baby, whatever.

We are capable of a many great things — and if my daughter laces up her sneakers and hits the ground running one day, I don’t ever want it to be because she hates her body — but because she loves it.

Why you should love your post-baby body

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:

***

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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