Unexpected Blessings: Can you tell?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Can you tell?

People love babies. Okay, maybe not “all” people, but certainly a lot of them. I’m a baby lover myself. Even before I had two of my own, I couldn’t resist two chubby cheeks and a big slobbery grin. Sitting at a restaurant, I’d smile and wink at a baby at the next table. I’d pass a mom with a car seat on a grocery cart, and turn to sneak a look at the baby inside. Babies are cute. It’s that simple. But it wasn’t until I had babies of my own that I realized just how much attention they can draw.

Take our son Maverick for example. When he was an infant, I’d take him out with me, and people couldn’t get enough of him. I often heard the same comments. “He’s such a little man.” “Look at that hair!” “Oh my gosh, he’s the spitting image of your husband.” As a new mama for the first time, I basked in the attention. He was cute, still is, but of course I’m bias because I’m his mom. So when someone complimented me on how handsome a baby he was, I’d smile, say thank you, and move on. Simple as that. Then I had Augusta.

Augusta gets attention – a lot of it! If she could talk, I’m sure she’d tell you she knows just how Jennifer Aniston feels on the red carpet. I’m not kidding. A couple of weeks ago we were shopping at Macy’s and eight women – after four I started counting – yes, eight women approached me with “oohs” and “awes” over how cute she was. Don’t get me wrong, she is certainly adorable. She has those squeezable chubby cheeks, a smile that spreads a mile long, and a “look” that makes you feel like you’re the greatest thing that ever lived. With traits like that, it’s easy to fall in love with her. But eight women vying for her attention? That’s when I started to wonder why she was drawing so many admirers. And then it hit me...

When my husband walked through the door that evening my first words were,
“Ryan, can you tell Augusta has Down syndrome?”

I must have caught him off guard because his first response was, “What do you mean, can I tell she has Down syndrome?”

That’s when I added in the most serious tone I’d ever used, “If you were a perfect stranger, and you saw her in a store, would you know by looking at her that she has Down syndrome?”

“I don’t know, maybe,” he said.

I prodded, “Really, really, think about it. Can you tell?”

“I don’t know...I guess...well, maybe not,” he stammered.

The next few minutes may not seem like the most rational chain of events, but we found ourselves scouring through baby pictures of Maverick and comparing them to Augusta’s. I know, this probably sounds crazy, but when Augusta was first born, we didn’t “see” Down syndrome. It was the doctors and nurses that pointed out the “markers” as they called them – the space between her first two toes, the flattened face, the extra skin on her neck, and the crease on her palm. These were physical characteristics I never would have thought to look for. So if we didn’t see it, would someone not in the medical field see it?

Okay, at this point, you’re probably thinking, “Why the heck does it matter?” And you’re right. In the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t, but I couldn’t let it drop. For the next couple of weeks, whether I was at Target or having dinner at Chili’s, I kept wondering if people could tell she has Down syndrome. Let me make something clear, it’s not something I’m embarrassed about, I was just curious. And it’s not like I can go up to a perfect stranger and ask them if they notice anything about my daughter. I can imagine the awkward responses I would get.

It wasn’t until this past week that I got my answer. We were shopping at The Galleria in Nashville, Tennessee. (A break from the long car-ride on our vacation to Gulf Shores.) My husband had gone to get the car for us and my mom and I were standing outside with Maverick and Augusta. As we waited, we noticed a woman and what appeared to be her grandchild walking towards the mall. You’d notice this little girl from a mile away – hot pink Hello Kitty t-shirt, a black tutu, and polka-dot tights. I’m sure she’d be a perfect shopping partner for Augusta someday; she was the textbook definition of diva. Just as I was reminiscing on my Hello Kitty days, the little girl stopped to look at Augusta. Of course her grandma stopped as well, and they started commenting about how cute she was.

And then the grandma said the question that I had both feared and waited for these past couple of weeks. “Does she have Down syndrome?” At first, I couldn’t get a word out. I must have looked like a deer in headlights. Then I said, “Yes, she does.” The lady went on to share a story of a family friend who had Down syndrome and how he was just a joy to have in their lives. She must have said more, but I didn’t hear it. I was too stunned about what she just asked. After a few minutes, she walked away, her granddaughter skipping alongside her. And I just stood there, speechless. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. All this time I wondered if people could tell and here was this lady that just came right out and asked it. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t offended. In fact, I was proud.

Proud. I can’t think of a better word to describe it. I’m proud to be Augusta’s mom. Proud to be a mom to a special needs child. Do I want people to know she has Down syndrome? Absolutely. Shortly after Augusta was born I read some statistics about the number of people who give their special needs baby up for adoption. Or the number of people who don’t even follow through with a pregnancy because they learn their baby has Down syndrome. And how if they are born, some parents are so ashamed that they never take their baby out in public. I don’t know how true those stories are, but just the thought of that brings tears to my eyes.

Which is exactly why I want people to know Augusta has Down syndrome. I want people to know she is perfect just the way God made her. Yes, the “special needs package” is sometimes hard, challenging, and emotionally exhausting. But it is nothing - absolutely nothing - compared to the joy I feel when she giggles, smiles, reaches out to hold her brother’s hand, spreads her arms out when she’s excited, or nuzzles into your neck for a snuggle. Just the other day she learned how to clap and I honestly felt like I was in the presence of a miracle.

So if you see her and I at Target, or music class, or at the pool, or a restaurant, come on over. Give her all the attention you want. Just be prepared for a big, slobbery, wet smooch. It’s her specialty right now. And you know what? That’s about as cute as babies come.

1 Comments:

Blogger Maputo Used Book Shop said...

Kristan, our daughter Carolina was born 8 January, 2011. We also did not know she had DS. I would love to communicate with you!
Please send me an email cherrygumapas(at)yahoo.com

November 18, 2011 at 8:52 AM  

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