Figuring It All Out

I can remember being younger and thinking that 38 was old. I also thought that by the time someone was that “old”, she would have her life figured out. She would know who she was, who she loves, what she loves to do, what works for her and what doesn’t, and so on.

Yet here I am, 38-years-old and still feeling young and dumb. I mean, I have a few things figured out – who I love, what I love to do, what doesn’t work for me – but I’m still trying to figure out so much and how it all fits together: How to be a good wife. How to be a good mother. How to be a good daughter. How to be a good sister. How to be a good friend. How to be a good counselor. How to be a good person. How to take care of everyone and everything in my life and take care of myself, too. I’m doing my best to do all of those things the best that I can, but I still find myself feeling like I’m floundering through it all. Probably because when I’m giving more attention to one role for whatever reason, I feel like I’m letting the other roles down. Specifically, I feel like I’m letting the people involved in those other roles down. Especially when I’m doing something to take care of myself.

I am very aware that I put a lot of pressure on myself. I always have. When I do give myself a break and give myself permission to give less than what I feel is my best, I typically end up feeling disappointed in myself rather than feeling relief from having done less.

I am also very aware that the people in my life who love me would do anything to help me where I need it. I do like to think that I do ask for help more now than I did before, especially when it comes to my kids. However, I know I don’t ask for as much help as I should because asking for help usually comes with feelings of guilt. I feel like I’m putting the others out or keeping them from doing other things that they would like to do or have on their own list. Plus, I feel like I should be the one taking care of others, and it’s uncomfortable for me to have others take care of me.

Then I internalize it all. All the stress, all the uncertainty, all the pressure. Sure, I’ll vent to people here and there, but then I end the vent session with something like, “I’m okay” and then try to shift the conversation to them. And then I usually end up feeling bad for dumping my problems on them. I’ve even apologized to my counselor for pouring out all of my troubles onto her. I also internalize the stress, uncertainty, and pressure I experience from listening to other people’s stressful situations. (I guess that could be called secondary stress?) I don’t want to tell them that their stress stresses me out because I don’t want them to feel like they can’t talk to me and I also don’t want to add to their stress. But it affects me even though I try not to let it.

Then I find myself running on empty – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Like I literally don’t have anything else to give to anyone in any capacity. That is not a good state for anyone to be in, but that exactly where I found myself Friday morning. As I listened to the sound of my husband playing with the kids, I was lying in bed crying and telling God that I needed a break and that I needed someone to take care of me for a minute. I’ve learned that God’s timeline for answering prayers is not always the same as what I think it should be, but He always answers them at the right time. Friday was one of the quickest turnarounds ever. Not even an hour later, Tyson was hugging me and telling me that I was going to take a break and that I had to let him take care of me for the next few days.

Last year was the first time I realized that taking time to myself is one of the best ways I can take care of myself. Of course, I’ve spent the last 9 months wondering why it took me so long to figure that out. (It finally dawned on me that up until Josie came along, I had a lot of time to myself that I didn’t have to ask for.) Thankfully, I have a husband who loves and understands me and knows what I need before I can figure it out myself. He knows that I get to a point where I need some time off. Some time away to rest and read and sort through my thoughts. That’s why he booked a hotel room for me last night. That’s why he got frustrated when yesterday morning took an unexpected turn and I didn’t get to start my mini-vacation until 11:00 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m.

When I woke up this morning, I felt rested and refreshed and ready to sort through the sea of thoughts that had finally calmed down in my head. I’ve come to realize that I’m 38 and don’t have it all figured out, and that’s okay. For me, it’s probably very likely that I won’t have my life figured out for a very long time, maybe ever, because my life is not static. It is constantly changing. Sometimes change comes fast and unexpectedly, sometimes I can see it coming and have time to prepare. Sometimes change brings happiness, sometimes it brings hardships, sometimes it’s barely a blip on the radar. Some change brings stress, some change brings relief. Regardless of what’s coming with the changes that will happen in my life, it’s up to me to keep myself physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy so I can be ready for whatever.

That means I have to keep working on giving myself permission to not have it all figured out and that all I can do is my best. I also have to remember that my best might look different from day-to-day. I have to make regular appointments to see my counselor even when I’m feeling mentally well so I can maintain that. I especially have to remember to ask for help and leave the feelings of guilt at the door when that help arrives and just be thankful for it and accept it. Basically, I have to do the one things I’m constantly encouraging other people to do, and that’s to take care of myself so that I can take care of others. One day, I really might get it all figured out.

Sugar:Spice

“Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.” 

What this particular nursery rhyme fails to mention is that the ratio of sugar to spice is not necessarily even. In Josie’s case, the amount of spice seems to be greater than the sugar, and not in a pleasing to the palate kind of way.

A few weeks ago, after multiple meltdowns and power struggles with my darling 4-year-old dictator wannabe daughter, I called my best friend. I told her about the series of trials Josie and I had been through because of her strong dislike of not getting her way and her current style of expressing it through crying and screaming and stomping. 

I told her that I thought I was mentally and emotionally prepared to hear “I don’t love you”, “You’re not a good mom”, and/or “I hate you” come out of her mouth, because she’s been informing me that I’m not nice for some time now. (My personal favorite is when she tells me, “I’m so mad to you right now.”) When she says those things, I take it as a compliment that I’m doing a good job in being a mom. But when she actually said/screamed “I don’t love you” in a fit of rage (I wouldn’t let her eat an entire ginormous cupcake because it was getting too close to bedtime…I know, I’m horrible), it cut right through the ol’ mom heart.

After listening to me unload about my daughter’s behavior, my best friend told me that while it’s hard right now, this strong-willed, stubborn, argumentative behavior is going to lead her to be a confident and assertive woman in the end. Hearing this wasn’t new to me because we’ve talked about countless times before with her own oldest daughter as well as with Josie. 

But this time it really didn’t help me to feel better. This is what I text my best friend the next morning:

“…I want her to be kind. I want kindness and compassion and respect to be the traits that are ingrained in her. It’s not to say I want her to be timid and a doormat and submissive…I want her to be confident and assertive but know how to be those things with kindness, compassion, and respect. And I’m seeing that the struggle to guide her to that path is going to be harder than I thought.”

In her wisdom, she reminded me that this whole parenting thing is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’ll get glimmers that I’m succeeding every now and then along the way.

The thing is, Josie really is kind and sweet and compassionate. She truly is. It’s just that she typically shows that side of her to others – Moses, friends, cousins, strangers. I usually get the other side, and that’s hard on me. In fact, it gets downright exhausting. 

Yesterday I was having a hard time after a long week (okay, weeks) and started crying. As I sat on the bed crying, she came over and rubbed my arm and said, “It’s okay, Mom.” When I started crying even harder because I felt so bad that my 4-year-old was having to console me, she left the room and came back carrying one of her favorite blankets. She gently put it around my shoulders and said, “There. That’ll help you feel better.” Then she found a book and some pictures of her to help me feel better, too.

That’s my daughter. She tests my patience, doesn’t listen, and defies me on a regular basis. And when I need it the most, she gives me the gift of a glimmer of her kindness and compassion directed at me. Maybe her ratio of sugar to spice is pretty even after all.

Oh, and remember that cupcake? When she tried it the next day, she didn’t even like it. 

Share the Load

Several days ago, I asked Tyson to read something. Before I showed him what it was, I told him that I wanted to know what his thoughts were on it and that I wasn’t trying to “tell him something” by having him read it. Because I was driving and he was the passenger with no means of escape, and because he loves me, he agreed to read “it”.

“It” was the comic You Should’ve Asked by a French cartoonist named Emma.  The comic centers around the idea that women typically take on the mental load of a household, meaning they manage the household as far as making sure appointments get scheduled, the house is clean, laundry gets done, food is in the fridge, etc.

After he read it, his first response was that it was hard for him to believe that I wasn’t trying to tell him something. I expected that and told him that I honestly just wanted to know his reaction and his thoughts to the comic. I explained to him that I had read the comic months ago and knew what my thoughts were, but I really wanted to know what he thought about it. I wanted to hear the other side of the story.

What followed was a great conversation. Did we agree on everything? No. Did we each get a chance to share our thoughts? Yes. Did we listen to one another? Yes. Was I lying when I told him that I wasn’t trying to tell him something by having him read the comic? A little. Our little family takes a lot to manage and I was hoping the comic might give him a glimpse of what it’s like inside my brain when it comes to our household.

Did the conversation end with us making a list of everything that needs to be done on a day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month basis for our family and then splitting it in half? No. It did end, however, with us each having a better understanding of what we both bring to the table to ensure our family is taken care of.

It also ended me telling him how grateful I am that I have a husband that I can have this kind of conversation with. That I have a husband that loves and respects me enough to listen when I bring up things that could easily lead to an argument if he wasn’t willing to listen and respect my point of view (whether he agreed with it or not). And I am also extremely grateful that I have a husband who does do a lot to help out around the house. Did I mention that he does his own laundry??

One of the things that I didn’t like about the comic is how it portrays the man as an oblivious schmuck that expects the woman to do the woman’s work while he has a drink. While I do know that there are men out there that are exactly like that, Tyson is not. I know that there are a lot of men out there that are very involved and play an active role in their family. Does Tyson always do exactly what I would like for him to do and exactly how I would like for him to do it? No. But I choose to focus on the fact that he does a lot for me and our kids instead of how he didn’t load the dishwasher right. I think that there’s a lot of danger that lies in not recognizing and appreciating what your partner does do and instead focusing on what he or she is not doing.

Then yesterday something magical happened. As I was getting Moses ready for bed, Tyson came to the doorway and said something. I thought he said, “I’ll take him” and I responded with, “I’m fine. I’m almost finished.” He responded with, “I said I’m going to take something off your mental load. From now on, I’m going to take care of Moses’ laundry. I’ll do mine and his, so you just have to worry about yours and Josie’s.”

And that, people, is real-life love and respect in a real-life partnership. It’s amazing what can happen when two people share their thoughts and really listen to one another. In this case, the mental load, and the laundry loads, got shared.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Down Syndrome

Somehow it’s already been two years since Moses Alexander Moyers made his entrance into this world. Two years since I first got to meet the little person that would complete my little family in ways I never knew a tiny baby could. Before he came along, I knew about as much about Down syndrome as the next person, and what I knew were mostly the typical stereotypes and generalizations that are casually assigned to people with Down syndrome. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot in these past two years about Down syndrome, about my family and friends, and about myself. In honor of Moses’ 2nd birthday and Down Syndrome Awareness Month, here are some of the do’s and don’ts of Down syndrome that I have learned:

  • DO congratulate an expecting or new mother of a baby with Down syndrome. How? It’s easy. Simply say, “Congratulations!” Whether the baby has 46 chromosomes or 47, it’s still a baby.
  • DON’T say “I’m sorry” when you’re told a baby will be or is born with Down syndrome. Would you say that to a woman who just says, “I’m pregnant”? Even if she has tears in her eyes because she’s scared of becoming a mother or terrified of how she’s going to handle adding another child to her crew? I would hope not. Seriously, don’t say it.
  • DO get to know Moses. He will literally light up your world with his smile and his comical personality.
  • DON’T forget about his big sister, Josie. She is his favorite person on this planet for a reason. She will also absolutely brighten your day with her beautiful smile and animated stories. So much of what Moses learns is because of this amazing little girl.
  • DO acknowledge that he has Down syndrome.  Could you imagine Shaquille O’Neal as a short, skinny, white guy? Right. In the same way, I can’t imagine Moses without Down syndrome. It’s part of who he is and makes him Moses so why try to pretend it’s not there?
  • DON’T call him a Downs kid. It may not seem negative or offensive to you, but it is. This is not a debatable point. Just as it would be offensive to call him retarded, it’s also offensive to call him a Downs kid. He’s Moses, a kid…who has an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. But you can just call him Moses.
  • DO ask questions. Questions lead to knowledge. Knowledge leads to understanding. Understanding leads to acceptance. Acceptance leads to a better world for all people.
  • DON’T expect me to have all the answers. One thing I’ve learned is that all people with Down syndrome are unique. So while I’ve learned a lot about Down syndrome in the past 2 years, there is still a lot that I don’t know about it yet.
  • DO understand that it’s harder and takes longer for Moses to learn how to do things. That might seem daunting to some people, but I’ve learned that it makes his accomplishments that much sweeter.
  • DON’T underestimate anything about him, including his intelligence. He seriously started to catch on to how to give a wet-willy after Josie did it to him just twice. I’m actually praying it takes him a while to understand that he has to stick his finger into his mouth before sticking it into my ear.
  • DO celebrate him and all those with Down syndrome. Is Moses perfect? No. Neither am I. Neither are you. No one is. Thankfully, none of us have to be perfect to be important and celebrated.
  • DO believe me when I say that Moses has brought way more ups to my life than downs. Believe any parent, family member, or friend of a person with Down syndrome that says the same thing. Believe us because what we say is true.

Happy birthday, Moses! You have taught me a lifetime of lessons in these two short years. I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for you!IMG_7106

 

Way Better Than Okay

Imagine walking into a room full of mothers of young children with Down syndrome. Imagine what it’s like to listen to these women share stories of their babies and toddlers with Down syndrome. Do you imagine a room that is quiet and somber? Do you picture them sadly commiserating with one another about the burden of raising a child with Down syndrome? Trying to one-up each other about the daily trials and tribulations they face? Or perhaps they’re consoling one another and wiping away their tears together?

Go ahead and imagine that scene.

Now imagine the complete opposite. Imagine a room full of mothers that are smiling and laughing and sharing in one another’s joys of having a child with Down syndrome. Imagine a mother of a 2-year-old offering congratulations and support to a mother of a 2-month-old. Imagine a room full of mothers exuding happiness and pride and confidence.

That’s the room I got to spend a couple of precious hours in on Saturday. I got to meet new mothers and see a couple of the friendly faces I’ve met over the past 2 years since I joined the Moms Of Children with Down Syndrome Club. I got to watch videos that highlight the beauty that comes from a person living with an extra chromosome. I got to listen to to the testimonies of other parents who have been in this club much longer than I have and feel excited and hopeful about the future that awaits Moses and our family.

At the beginning of the luncheon, a video was shown that centered around two families – one with an older son with Down syndrome, the other with a 3-year-old boy with Down syndrome. It was a wonderful, inspiring video to watch, but the end is what hit me the hardest. The father of the older boy was saying that “if he were to tell a new father who has a child with Down syndrome one thing…” At that point, he got choked up and couldn’t continue talking. His wife said, “You would tell them that it’s going to be okay.” The man shook his head and finally said, “No, I would tell them that it’s going to be way better than okay. It’s going to be amazing.” Cue the tears!!!! I don’t even have 2 years under my belt, but this resonated so much with me because it’s just so true. This journey with Moses has brought way more smiles, laughs, and joy than I could have ever imagined.

Next, we got to hear from two mothers who have older children. One has a son who is 17, and the other has a daughter that is 21 or 22. Both had very similar messages of how important it is for us to remember that our children are going to live up to our expectations. If we set low expectations and limitations on what they should and can do, then that’s what they’re most likely going to accomplish. I think it’s easy for any parent to think that their children isn’t ready for this thing or the other, or that there are certain dreams and aspirations that are just out of reach. It’s scary to even think about watching our children fail or get hurt, and it’s even worse to actually watch it happen. But failing and even falling down every once in a while is what lead to the growth that we ultimately want for our children. That includes children with Down syndrome. It might take longer and success may look different for Moses and other children with an extra chromosome, but it’s not up to me to define what success is for him. That’s up to him, and it’s my job to be there to help and encourage him along the way.

As I was about to leave, I saw the two mothers that spoke talking to another woman. I walked over and thanked them for sharing their stories and insights. One of them wrapped me in a big hug and said, “Welcome to the club!” I laughed and told her that I was almost a 2-year member but thanked her all the same. That led to a conversation with the woman they had been talking to who really is a brand-new member to our club. She has a 2-month-old and said she almost didn’t come. I don’t know if my reaction surprised her, but I said to her, “Oooh!!! You really are a brand new member to our club! Welcome and congratulations!!! You are in for more blessings than you could’ve imagined.” We then had a great conversation (in my opinion) about her family which includes two other daughters that she wants to do right by. I shared what had worked for me with Josie, congratulated her again, and wished her the very best.

I walked out of there really, truly believing in some of the phrases I’ve heard over the past 2 years. I absolutely am one of the lucky few parents chosen to have a child with Down syndrome. I absolutely did hit the lottery when God gave me a child that got an extra chromosome. My life is absolutely going to be better with Moses in it than it could have ever been without him.

For the rest of the day and on the drive back home, I replayed in my mind the videos I had seen, the stories I had heard, and the conversations I had had. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, I also kept going back to what two other mothers in attendance had shared. One talked about how after the birth of her baby, her OB/GYN stayed with her for 10-15 minutes and had told her that she had never gotten to be part of such a special birth. The other told of a day she went shopping with a friend who carried around the mom’s daughter  through one of the stores. Her friend commented that the people at that store were just so friendly. Then it dawned on her that it wasn’t so much her that they were being friendly to, it was the special child she was carrying. The mom said that her friend told her that it was as if people were just drawn to the little girl.

When I put all of these things together, I have to ask myself, “When is finding out that a baby has Down syndrome going to be something to celebrate? When will doctors finally give the results of genetic testing to an expecting mother and say, ‘Congratulations! Your baby has an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. There are some things that we need to keep a close eye on during your pregnancy and possibly be ready to address when he or she is born, but for right now, just enjoy the news that you hit the genetic lottery!’ When will parents be able to share the news that their child has Down syndrome with a smile on their face and pride in their voice?” Because seriously, having a child with Down syndrome is life-changing in all the best ways. You get to experience a life that is full of love and joy and celebration. Like the dad in the video said, it’s way better than okay…it’s AMAZING!!!

 

My Own Story

Currently, I have 10 blog drafts saved. Ten times I’ve started writing, and ten times I haven’t finished a post. When it comes to writing about my family, especially my children, it’s really not hard. The words to describe them and my experiences with them come to mind easily and it doesn’t take much for me to type them out. When it comes to writing about myself, on the other hand, it’s hard. It’s hard to get my thoughts straight in my head, and it’s even harder to type them. Sometimes I find myself thinking that if it’s so hard, maybe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t write a post about myself. But then I think of why I started this blog in the first place – to not only help myself, but to hopefully somehow help others through my experiences.

Then there’s the issue of where to start. I know I could stick to writing about my experiences as a mother, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Being a parent is hard and I know I can use all the support I can get when it comes to raising my children. The thing is, I’m not just a mom. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a school counselor. Sure, I could write about my experiences as being any one of those things. But there is one thing that has been weighing on me to write about for several months.

Mental health.

I know mental health has been getting more attention lately because of shootings and suicides, and I am thankful for it. It’s a topic that I’ve become increasingly interested in and passionate about. However, mental health still has such a negative cloud surrounding it that most people are very hesitant to talk about it on a personal level – including myself. When it comes down to it, mental health is a topic that people seem to be willing to talk about when it is applicable to other people, but it is because of that that I think that there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. For me, mental health is deeply personal because of my work as a school counselor but more because of my experiences. So before I write any other of my thoughts about mental health outside of myself, I feel that it is important to share my own story, as hard as it may be.

So here goes nothing:

This past spring I started going to a counselor. I had thought about going to a counselor a couple of different times over the past decade or so but never did, and after a while, the things that were bothering me and the hard feelings I was having seemed to get resolved.

This time it was different. I knew that I needed professional help. It’s like the difference between a summer cold and a sinus infection – when the over-the-counter medication isn’t enough and you know it’s time to go see a doctor to really take care of the problem.

Before I continue, let me be clear on one thing: My life is wonderful. I have been blessed with amazing people whom I love and I know love me. I have a strong Christian faith, go to church as regularly as I can, and pray daily for myself and others. I have a loving, supportive husband and two healthy children. I have a strong circle of family and friends that love and support me. I have the best dog in the world. I have a career that is fulfilling in so many different ways and also provides financial support for my family’s needs and wants. I have the security of a safe home and reliable vehicles. I have an almost-full wine rack. I have a lot of great things in my life. Aren’t all of these things enough? Shouldn’t all of this be enough for me to be happy? Why did I need to go see a counselor?

Because life is hard. It’s busy and stressful and overwhelming. Over time, I found myself feeling like I was drowning in the sea of being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and counselor. I love all of the roles I play in this life, but to fulfill them well takes time and energy – mostly mental and emotional energy.

And because I have depression. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. It’s no one’s fault, just like it’s not my fault that Moses has an extra chromosome. Just like someone who exercises regularly and eats healthy foods might still have a body that doesn’t produce the correct level of insulin her body needs. I’m not a bad person because of it no more than a diabetic is a bad person. Even with all of the blessings in my life, my brain doesn’t just “do” happy easily. It doesn’t mean that I need to be committed to a mental hospital because of it just like Moses doesn’t need to be institutionalized because he has Down syndrome. It just means that I have to do things differently so that I can feel and be happy and fully enjoy my life.

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was around 21. I can remember going to the student health center at college and telling the nurse practitioner that I wasn’t feeling okay. After telling her about how I had been feeling and filling out a questionnaire, I was told that I had depression. I was scared, sad, and relieved. Scared because I didn’t quite know what that meant for me. Sad because there was something “wrong” with me. Relieved because I was finally going to get help to feel better.

I was prescribed an antidepressant and left with an appointment to see a counselor. The medication worked like it was supposed to. The appointment with the counselor did not. Part of my depression was low self-esteem and body image issues that I had been battling for many years. The first counselor I went to was beautiful and thin and proceeded to tell me about how either she or her daughter had been models. The next counselor I went to gave me some worksheets. I’m not sure I even talked much to him that day, and I never went back. I was done with talking to counselors. Besides, the medication seemed to do the trick to help me feel mentally healthy. I didn’t know it then, but I still had a long way to go.

Fast-forward almost ten years to when I started the counseling program. In the decade before starting the program, I had been through A LOT of ups and downs (I’m talking mountains and valleys). During my time in the program, I was not only learning how to help others, I was also able to learn more about myself and work through many of the issues that I struggled with. I learned so much about mental health and even more about how counseling works, especially that there are different approaches to counseling. That’s when I realized that the counselors I had seen previously used approaches that just weren’t a good fit for me. I learned how to talk about and work through some of the issues that had been haunting me. It was also during this time that I met a person that provided me with the sense of love and security I had been searching for since leaving my parents’ care.

For a while, my depression seemed to be in remission. I was able to stop taking medication and was able to maintain a healthy mental state. After Josie was born, it was as though she was my antidepressant. Watching her grow and find excitement and happiness in the little things of everyday life was every bit as good as Zoloft.

When I went back for my 6-week check-up after having Moses, I already knew I had postpartum depression. No, it was not because he had Down syndrome. If anything, my new little baby boy was just another light in my days. It wasn’t even because of the fiery pain of having mastitis multiple times within a 3-week period. I had postpartum depression because that’s how my brain reacted after having a baby.

It wasn’t until this past spring that I knew I needed more than medication this time. Yes, medication helped me be able to function like a more or less normal human being. What medication doesn’t do is get rid of the daily stressors of my hectic life. It doesn’t solve problems for me. It doesn’t listen to me and then help me figure out changes I can make to actually get rid of sources of stress or solve problems.

Unfortunately, saying, “I’m going to a counselor” is almost like saying, “I’m crazy”, and not in the fun, adventurous way. I know that mental health is a very real thing, just like physical health. However, it’s also often dismissed or minimalized or stigmatized in such a negative light that many people do not fully address it, perhaps out of fear of being labeled for going to see a counselor or psychiatrist, or maybe because they don’t know how to go about improving their mental health. If I tell someone I went to see the doctor, there’s little to no reaction outside of asking if I’m feeling okay. When I say I went to see my counselor, there’s a very different reaction – it’s almost like people panic because they don’t know what to say although they could respond with the same question of if I’m doing okay. That in and of itself actually put more stress on me, but in the end, I knew I had to go talk to a mental health professional.

As much as I love my husband, my parents, my siblings, and my friends, they couldn’t help me with those things, either. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they aren’t counselors. They aren’t trained to listen to me ramble on with unconditional positive regard. They listen with unconditional love, but that’s not the same thing. Listening with unconditional positive regard means that no judgment is cast about what I’m saying or feeling. It means that I don’t have to censor my words out of fear of hurting the person listening. It means that I don’t have to cut out certain parts of the story out of fear of disappointing the person listening.

Talking to a counselor is also different because she doesn’t say anything to intentionally or unintentionally minimize my experiences or feelings. She doesn’t tell me that I should just accept things as that’s how they are or tell me what works for her which should also work for me. She doesn’t get uncomfortable when I talk about very personal issues and try to change the subject.

She listens. She points out things I say repeatedly or inconsistency in my thoughts. She reframes what I say in a way that helps me to understand how I really feel but couldn’t (or didn’t want to) pinpoint it on my own. She helps me as I start to figure out what I could do to get myself back on track. She doesn’t solve my problems for me, but she helps me figure out how to find the solutions that will work for me.

I think what helped me as much as talking to my counselor was knowing that I was taking an active responsibility and role in helping myself get better. No one else can do it for me.  No one else can “make” me happy. That’s all on me, and I’m working on it every day. I think that’s where mental health takes such a personal turn – it really is up to the individual to make improvements whether by taking medication as directed by a doctor, talking to a counselor/therapist, exercising regularly, meditating, praying, getting enough sleep, or a combination of multiple things.

I hope that mental health will become more understood and positively accepted as part of a person’s whole health in the coming years. I’m not saying that everyone who has a mental health issue broadcast it for the world to know. I do hope that anyone who is having a hard time mentally or emotionally look to get professional help and know that it’s no different than going to a medical professional for a physical health issue. If someone you know is taking steps to improve his or her mental health, give that person all the love, support and encouragement you can.

Finally, I didn’t write this so that anyone will feel sorry for me any more than I wrote it so that anyone would label me as crazy. My genuine hope is that it might help to normalize and prioritize the subject for mental health for more people. If you want to feel sorry for me or call me crazy, I obviously can’t stop you, but I will ask that you pray for me while you’re at it. 😘

The “Risk” of Having a Child With Down Syndrome

This is the response my best friend wrote yesterday:

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She wrote it in response to seeing this on her Facebook news feed:

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She didn’t tell me about it. I just happened to see it as I was scrolling through Facebook after Josie and Moses went down for their naps. I felt as though my heart stopped for a second, and then I started to cry. Those first tears were from being so thankful that she would speak up for Moses and every other baby/child/person with Down syndrome. Then I started reading through the comments others were posting about their own children with Down syndrome. That’s when the tears of sadness and anger started. There were multiple comments describing how upon learning that the results of genetic screening tests indicated the baby had Down syndrome, mothers were encouraged to abort the baby or start the process to give it up for adoption.

WHY?????????? Why should a baby with Down syndrome, or any other birth defect or disability, not be given a chance at life? The chance to be loved and to give love in return? The chance to prove that every life is precious and that every baby that is born is going to challenge his or her parents in some way? The chance to be allowed to grow up and perhaps change the minds of those who believe that they should have never been born? The chance to change the world?

Are these kids so “risky” that they should be kept separate from the general population so as to not subject others to their almond-shaped eyes, flat profile, and slightly smaller ears? Do the “normal” people need to be shielded from seeing a person with Down syndrome’s tongue sticking out or the horizontal line that runs across the palm of their hand? Are doctors afraid that it might be too much for parents and the rest of society to deal with the low muscle tone or speech impairments that people with Down syndrome tend to have? Are they leary of joy that could follow after being around a person that is quick to smile and still get excited by the little things in life? Should these “risky” children should be eliminated before they become such burdens to society?

These are just some of the questions that I would love to ask those doctors that encourage termination of a baby with Down syndrome. I want to know the goal, the purpose, they have in mind when they suggest a parent give up their unborn baby, many times before having 100% confirmation that the baby does in fact have Down syndrome.  Are they trying to create the perfect society? Are they trying to spare the parents from heartache and pain? If that’s the case, then can they also figure out how to screen to know if a person will grow up to become a bigot? A racist? A drug-dealer? A human-trafficker? A murderer? A sociopath? A doctor that will support the killing of babies that are not “perfect”? Because if you ask me, those are the burdens to society. How many people with Down syndrome are in jail? Have restraining orders taken out against them? Intentionally cause harm to others? Encourage another person to end another human’s life? Hmmmm….

I do not like controversy and I do not like confrontation. HOWEVER, when it comes to this issue, I will not stay quiet and I will not back down. I will fight for the rest of my life to end the negativity that still surrounds Down syndrome despite all the positivity that surrounds people with Down syndrome and those that know them. Perhaps in the future, someone writing an article on the “risks” of having a baby with Down syndrome should contact the real experts – the parents of children with Down syndrome.

As for those doctors and anyone else that supports the termination of a baby because it has Down syndrome or any other disability or birth defect, I will pray for them. I will pray that they have a change of heart and choose to support the life of someone like Moses. For those doctors that do not change their views, I will pray that they lose their medical license so that they are no longer a burden to the Down syndrome society. I’ll let God decide which prayer to answer.

[Note: I will say that I did read the article and it doesn’t necessarily support the abortion of a baby with Down syndrome. It does give information about genetic testing and even goes on to say towards the end that the information that the baby has Down syndrome can help doctors monitor the pregnancy more closely to ensure the health of the baby. However, by using the term “risk”, the author did reinforce the thought that having a baby with Down syndrome is a negative thing. I am not okay with that.]