“I was raised in a very strict home. We had tight boundaries and were expected to be our best versions of ourselves, everywhere we went. I think the most valuable lesson we learned was from watching our mom. She didn’t take bull from anyone, but she was the kindest woman I’ve ever known. She still is. She had compassion and love for everyone. We were the house where the local gang could get a cold glass of Kool-Aid on a hot day, where the child whose parents were not around had a warm place to sleep and a family that loved them, where the drug addict who hit rock bottom had a hot meal and a friend, and where the person with a mental handicap or disability could come and watch movies and eat popcorn with us. Every single person she encountered was treated like an old friend. She taught us the value of being kind, decent humans.
I carried that with me into my adult life. I saw the person before I saw the difference, addiction, race, religion, ability, or ethnicity. One of my best friends had an adult brother with Down syndrome who was my buddy. We used to joke around together. He always made me smile. He was ornery, but goodness, was he a lot of fun! He would always bring me a hymnal and would pick out song after song for us to sing together. When I got married, he insisted on getting a picture with me. He brought joy with him everywhere he went.
A few months after I married my husband, we found out I was pregnant. I wasn’t particularly excited about it. I was scared and not really ready to be a mother yet. My pregnancy went well. We had our anatomy scan and found out we were having a boy. That got me pretty excited and I started really looking forward to being a mom! At my next appointment, my doctor mentioned they had found a bright spot on his heart. She said it was probably just an anomaly, but sometimes it could point to Down syndrome. She had already had a specialist look at the ultrasound and was pretty confident it was nothing to worry about. I was 28 at the time, so considering my age and no other anomalies on the scan, they were confident it was just a fluke. I remember telling her no matter what, this baby would be loved and treasured. I was confident God would give us the strength we needed to raise whatever child He gave us. I put that conversation in the back of my mind and never gave it a second thought.
Michael James Snyder was born on March 28, 2015, after a very hard 18 hours of labor. He was so swollen from being stuck in my birth canal for so long, I didn’t see any differences. I was exhausted and we were just so thankful and happy to have our little boy with us. The next day was a whirlwind of visitors. (So. Many. Visitors.) It did my heart good to see how many people loved and supported us.
When the pediatrician came in to do her rounds, she took a really long time. She was quiet and thoughtful. She kept looking at his eyes, hands, feet, and ears. Finally, she packed up all of her things and turned to us. She asked us, ‘Did you know he has Down syndrome?’ I was a little shocked. We told her, ‘No, we haven’t noticed.’ She simply said, ‘Well, he does,’ and walked straight out of the room. Her tone and her demeanor were so condescending and I instantly felt fear, anger and guilt wash over me.
That was it. Three short words delivered in an ‘I can’t believe you actually had this child’ tone. There were no offers for resources, no books or pamphlets, no direction on what to do next. I broke down and just sobbed and sobbed. What were we supposed to do next? This must be my fault. I turned to Google for answers and just became more terrified. I was confused and angry. I didn’t know what to do next. Why, all a sudden, were there people there with machines to do x-rays, heart and liver ultrasounds, and several other tests? That put me into full-blown terror mode. Something was really wrong and no one would tell me what was going on.
The days and weeks following were a blur for me. I cried every day. I put on a brave face for everyone else, but I was absolutely lost and shattered. Post-pregnancy hormones are tricky and the trauma of the labor and an unexpected diagnosis threw me into a pretty bad tailspin. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. It took me a few months to bounce back.
I wasn’t sad about having a child with a lifelong disability. I was just intimidated by what that meant for his and our future. I knew we loved him fiercely, but just had a lot of fears of the unknown. Like I said before, I had friends with disabilities growing up and a friend with Down syndrome as an adult. The fact he had a disability was never the problem. It was the thought I would not be able to raise him the way he needed to be raised that terrified me. I felt insignificant.
I ended up starting an Instagram account to share pictures of him with family and friends, that way I didn’t have to send out multiple texts a day. I started searching words like ‘Down syndrome’ and ‘trisomy 21’ and quickly started finding families just like ours! Their children were happy and thriving and the families as a whole seemed so happy. This helped my heart to start to heal.
After a while, I made our account public. I have been able to be a support and a mentor to so many new parents through social media and I absolutely love it. What a powerful tool! I love the interactions I have and the friendships I have formed have been such a blessing to me. There are some absolutely beautiful souls in this world and I have gotten to meet so many of them!
Life looks a lot different now than it did 5 years ago. We now have three beautiful children and two babies in heaven. Eden is 3 and she is our little firecracker. She’s fierce, sweet, and sassy all rolled up into one absolutely beautiful little girl. She loves her ‘bubba’ and is always trying to help him. Abigail is our rainbow baby. She is 2 months old and is just a little sweetheart. She lights up every time Mikey is around. They have a pretty special bond already.
The most important thing I try to convey is to advocate with kindness. Use your words wisely when speaking with someone about whatever it is you are passionate about. You can disagree with someone, but also be open to hearing what they have to say. When you advocate without an open mind and teachable spirit, you make yourself unapproachable. That is the absolute opposite of being an advocate.
Everyone deserves respect. Everyone deserves to be seen as equal. When we categorize others in our minds, we shorten our reach. I’m thankful for a mom who raised me to see the beauty in everyone and an amazing little boy who expanded my heart more than I ever thought possible. We have a pretty amazing life!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Laura S. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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