According to the National Down Syndrome Society, one in every 691 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome. I learned this statistic firsthand when my daughter Molly was born on June 23, 2010.
I was a healthy 31-year old with no previous medical history, excited to welcome my second daughter into the world. But what was supposed to be a celebration of our new baby turned into a time of fear and anxiety as I received a crash course in all things Down syndrome in the days after Molly's birth, making appointments with genetics clinics, pediatric cardiologists and more. I'll never forget hearing the doctor tell me that Molly might not ever talk, walk or even feed herself.
As the shock began to fade, I decided I could either live the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself—and for Molly—or I could be proud of the new path my family had been given and make the best of it. And that's what I did: I chose joy and happiness. From that moment, I began discovering the positives that surrounded my new role as a parent to a child with special needs.
Today, Molly is a 5-year-old thriving in a public school setting. She has a bright imagination and she's quickly developed her own personality. What started as fear has turned into great joy as we continue our special needs journey. Here's what I've learned along teh way:
Molly has taught me to celebrate even the smallest of victories in life. From holding a spoon correctly to writing her name, every accomplishment is considered a victory in our home. I love seeing her eyes light up when she knows she's done a good job. It is those moments that we celebrate together.
Molly has taught me patience and the value of allowing her to do things on her own. Most individuals with Down syndrome have cognitive delays; a task that takes a typical child only a few minutes requires more time for a person with a disability. While it would be so much easier, and faster, for me to take care of things like buckling her seat belt or opening doors for her, I've learned to slow down, and be patient and supportive of Molly as she tackles these tasks. Patience is a beautiful thing—especially when it involves seeing your child be independent.
Molly has taught me about possibility. I've learned that just because an individual has special needs doesn't mean they aren't capable of enjoying a successful, thriving life. Molly has friends, she has good days and she has bad ones, but having Down syndrome doesn't hold her back. She's a typical kid—she just happens to have an extra chromosome.
Molly has taught me about hope. In the first few days of Molly's life, I felt like I was beginning a journey all alone, despite the fact that there are approximately 400,000 individuals with Down syndrome living in the United States. Now I know now there are so many other families that have shared these same feelings, and that knowledge has given me hope for Molly's future. It's pretty incredible to think that one extra chromosome could teach me so much about life, but Molly's diagnosis has done just that for my outlook on life. I couldn't be more proud to be her mom and I'm thankful each day that she continues to brighten my life and those around us too.
A former PR professional, Carrie McLaren is now mom to two beautiful girls – Maggie and Molly. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Carrie enjoys traveling with her family and sharing their adventures at CarrieOnTravel.com and on Twitter at @CarrieMcLaren.