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,