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Mother's Day Thoughts

Picture of girl with her father

by Shamra Baez

Happy Mother’s Day, moms! I hope you are all appropriately honored this month. It’s been nearly 22 years since I became a mother and my list of identities: daughter, sister, wife, grew to include “mom.” My first two daughters, born 17 months apart, changed the way I view myself. My third daughter changed my world.

When Olivia was one day old I was visited by a geneticist. She confirmed what hospital staff suspected. My third daughter was born with Down syndrome. This is the most common chromosomal abnormality in the world - Down syndrome occurs when a person has 3 copies, rather than 2, of the 21st chromosome.

Looking back on those first days, I admit that I was devastated at the time. Why? Mostly because of fear of the unknown. Doctors who delivered the news to me were focused on medical issues and potential problems. The only thing I “knew” about Down syndrome was from my Intro to Psychology class in college and that was just a few (mostly negative) paragraphs. My childhood and adulthood were characterized by a lack of interaction with people with disabilities. Where were they? I never shared a classroom at school or became friends with anyone with a developmental disability. I’ve worked in many different jobs in several different states and I’ve never had a coworker with a disability. When my daughter was born, I was ignorant and uninformed...and overwhelmed.

I can’t help but think that I would have benefited greatly if I had made connections with people with varied disabilities before my daughter was born. Maybe then my reaction to the news of her diagnosis would have been grounded. I might have thought to myself, “I remember so-and-so, and this person, and that person who I grew up with and went to school with and worked beside. Olivia will have similarities to them.” I believe it would have given me comfort to have personal knowledge of what Down syndrome is. Without those experiences parents feel alone, uncertain, worried, and sometimes scared.

Life has been mostly good during these past 17 years. We’ve made adjustments throughout the years. When Olivia was often sick and missed more school than she attended, we took a deep breath and started homeschooling. We’ve learned together what works for her and what doesn’t. When we moved to Walla Walla she started attending middle school part time and made the transition to high school full time last year. 

This year of the pandemic has had its bright spots. Olivia and I have jumped wholeheartedly into the Walla Walla Online program. She is learning skills and gaining knowledge that she just wasn’t ready for a decade ago. Now I marvel at what she is learning while simultaneously mourning what continues to elude her. Money is hard. Time is hard. It is difficult to watch her struggle with math concepts. My challenge is to find different ways to help her connect to knowledge. She tells me that I’m not her teacher. I ask her who taught her how to walk, talk, and feed herself? Moms ARE teachers, don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. I aim to sneak learning into fun like many moms sneak veggies into desserts (anyone hungry for zucchini brownies or avocado fudge?).

Olivia loves music and sings often. She has been dancing for several years now at In Step Dance Studio, learning ballet and now jazz. She loves learning choreography and dances almost every day with her Just Dance games on the Wii. She has an amazing memory and quotes her favorite movies often. I cannot keep up with her, and she has finally given up on me remembering “my” lines. I am convinced that the more people who know Olivia, the better off they are.