I am the mom of three beautiful daughters who are full of energy and life. My oldest is almost 5, my middle 3, and my youngest just turned a year. Our house is full of love and laughter and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Halfway through the pregnancy with my youngest, Bernadette, her routine 20 week ultrasound showed she had a large heart defect. After seeing more specialists it was determined that she would need heart surgery within the first couple of months of her life. Upon the discovery of her heart defect, I was informed that these kinds of heart defects are more common in kids with Down syndrome, something that hadn’t been on my radar. I was offered a blood test to confirm. Within a few weeks of finding out my baby had a heart defect, the blood test combined with all the findings of the ultrasound put her at a 100% chance for having Down syndrome.
I experienced a wide range of emotions during the last half of the pregnancy as I tried to picture what our lives would look like once she arrived. I questioned how our family would change once she was here and what the relationship between my three daughters would look like. I wondered if the girls would see her for her differences instead of her similarities. I thought about how I was going raise a child with Down syndrome and I wondered how different it would be than raising my two other typical daughters.
One evening, I was talking with a friend. Her husband works in the classroom with kids with special needs. I told her all my fears about the unknown and expressed to her that I couldn’t quite imagine what our lives were going to look like the day Bernadette joined our family. I am sad to say that I hadn’t had many people in my life with DS. She patiently listened to my words. She then reminded me that would be bringing home a baby. A baby that would have all the same needs as my other two babies did.
The day came and she was born into this world. She came quickly, ready to fight. From the moment our eyes met all my fears of the unknown melted away. I saw my third daughter, so tiny and perfect. She was finally here.
My older girls came to the hospital to meet their newest sister. They bounced in one at a time eager to meet the newest member of our tribe. As they kissed her forward, I saw a deep unconditional love in their eyes. I watched them meet their little sister with no preconceived ideas or judgment and without a trace of uncertainty in their eyes. I saw love and confidence. It melted me to the core and calmed my heart.
Watching their relationships has been the sweetest thing to witness. They see her for exactly who she is, their youngest sister. They smother her in hugs and kisses constantly and argue over who gets to sit by her as they play with her toys on the floor. Their love for her and their immediate bond with her runs deep within them and is so natural.
Her first couple of months were different than anything I could have ever anticipated. They involved extended hospital stays and feeding challenges, our lives revolving around heart surgeries and illnesses and appointments. They were painfully hard experiences to watch Bernadette go through. But she fought her way through it in true warrior fashion. After two heart surgeries to repair her heart defects, she began to thrive. Her body began to heal from all that it had been through in her first couple of months and we were able to bring her home.
Upon bringing her home and settling in, I was reminded of the conversation with my friend a few months prior. Bernadette did indeed have all the same basic needs as my other daughters. She needed to be loved deeply, she needed to eat and sleep, she needer her diaper changed, and she needed connection. Her personality has been showing through more and more as she grows. She has her likes and dislikes. She loves being the center of attention, just like my oldest. She loves to make people laugh, just like my middle. And all three of the girls love to read together.
Those first few months changed my perspective greatly. I was facing those questions of how different it would be to have a baby with Down syndrome and I was quickly seeing that even though her life started out much differently than my other girls, she wasn’t that much different than them. She brings a new dynamic to our family in a positive way.
There is an innate desire for love within each of us. We all have basic needs that help us to thrive when they are met. The therapies help her significantly along the way, but she is still a unique individual just like my other girls. There is no box to put her into or limitations to restrict her to because of her diagnosis. She is just as much of an individual as my other girls.
Bernadette lights up the room with her smile. She brings an inexplicable joy to my heart every time our eyes meet. She has a fiery personality with a bit of sass thrown in. She has caused me to look at life through a different lens, one that sees the beauty in our everyday living.
Our day to day schedule may look a lot different than it did a year ago. We may have to work harder at things with Bernadette and encourage her more when learning new skills. And our family looks different than it did a year ago because we have three girls now instead of two bringing our family to 5 instead of 4. But, at the end of the day, I am a mom of three beautiful daughters.