Strangers still ask, “Did you know?”

Megan with Claire soon after her birth
Megan with Claire soon after her birth Photo: Tina Lambert

Mum of three, Megan, shares her journey of having a child with Down syndrome.

My two-year-old Claire is cheeky and loves to do anything her big brother does. She climbs onto tables, wrestles, steals food and makes messes. She also has Down syndrome.

When Claire was born, she was rushed to Special Care with breathing difficulties. While she was being worked on the medical staff told my partner, Adam, they believed she had Down syndrome. He was then brought back to my room while they told me the news. I will never forget his face.

Claire
Claire Photo: Supplied

Down syndrome is a genetic condition and caused when there is an extra chromosome. People with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes in their cells instead of 46. They have an extra chromosome 21, which is why it is also sometimes known as trisomy 21.

The first few months after Claire's birth were a blur of appointments, from hearing and heart checks to physiotherapy assessments. I was pretty scared in the early days. I was handed a baby and told she was different but no one could pinpoint what she could or couldn't do. I was handed a list of alarming medical issues then not given a lot of information about how to stay ahead of them. I quickly learned you couldn't plan for the road ahead. If your child has speech problems you employ a speech therapist, if they are having trouble walking you see a physio. Now, I assume Claire can do anything, and if she can't we change plans and address the challenge, just like any other kid.

The judgment of Down syndrome is quite inherent in society without anyone realising it. To this day I am asked by strangers, and even health professionals, "Did you know?" But the question is why are you asking? Are you asking to see if I chose to keep my baby or if I was 'stuck' with her? The assumption is that if you chose to keep your child, you are a saint, or if you had a birth diagnosis you had no choice. Either way, you are a super parent for being a mum to someone who you love, just like your other kids.

There are also a lot of stereotypes associated with Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome are not stubborn and definitely not always happy. They don't always like hugs or naturally like music. Children with Down syndrome are just children. They are individuals with ranges of abilities, interests and personalities.

T21 Mum Australia Network has helped me immensely. It's a social media network that specifically supports prenatal mothers and mothers of young children who have Down syndrome. The network actively reaches out to new and expectant mothers to offer support, advice and resources. We run events, celebrate milestones and support each other through the toughest of times. It is a Facebook group not like any other I have ever experienced. We like to think of ourselves as an extended family.

Claire's journey has been so far a smooth ride. If anyone has come a long way, it's me. Claire is who she always was. I went from being scared and upset, to accepting to celebrating. Claire opened my eyes to things I didn't understand, like the fact that there are no guarantees for any child. I light up when I watch her achieve something she has been working on. She sometimes has to try a bit more but when she gets there she gives you the biggest grin and I know that she is proud of herself.