Joelle’s natural warmth and positivity shines brightly and I’m pretty sure it would be physically impossible not to fall in love with her and her beautiful family as soon as you meet them. From the moment Joelle welcomed her baby girl into their family, she became an incredible advocate for Down syndrome in many ways but, most powerfully through showing the world how much joy and love her daughter, Josee, brings to their normal, everyday life. While I don’t get to see them nearly often enough, I am proud to call Joelle a fellow Queenslander and friend. Thank you for sharing your story here, Joelle. ~ Annie x
‘No prenatal diagnosis can predict this kind of happiness’
These were the words starting back at me on a meme sent from a friend in the form of a text message. I was 18 weeks pregnant and still trying to sort out what a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome would mean for my family.
I glanced at the little boy in the photo, he was cute – gorgeous, in fact – his little round face and almond eyes showing some of the features of Down syndrome that I was familiar with.
I read and re-read that meme ….what exactly did his parents mean? Were they really so blissfully happy that they meant those words? Were they trying to make me, a new parent, feel better about a diagnosis that was going to change my life? I just wasn’t sure.
I had read ‘Welcome to Holland’ a number of times since receiving our diagnosis. It had the same tone. A new destination, a different one, one that would give more and be more, one that we never knew we wanted to visit. Another kind of promise that everything was going to be okay. I just wasn’t sure I could buy into it. For the most part, I was filled with fear and anxiety when I thought about her diagnosis.
I mean I loved my little unborn girl, I really did. She was dearly wanted and I was desperate for her to be okay. I just wasn’t sure how this diagnosis would fit my family, how it would fit her. It felt surreal to think that a little child with extra little needs would now be part of our lives. I was scared of the unknown.
And I was ignorant.
Fast forward two years and four months later.
I have just put my cuddly, active and healthy little girl to bed; you know – the one that came with the diagnosis that once gripped my heart when I heard the words ‘Down syndrome.’
Today she laughed, she ate, she pooped, she cried, she talked and sang, she slept and cuddled, she showed me her belly button, played peekaboo with her dress and rode her little bike around. She went shopping with me; waved and chatted to strangers in the shops, took my card out of the EFTPOS machine and held out her hand out for the receipt, smiling and saying ‘Ta’ to the attendant. It was a really ordinary day, but it was also magnificent.
You see when I was pregnant I couldn’t see too far past those words ‘diagnosis’ and ‘Down syndrome’. I bought into the negative stereotypes, the poor statistics, the misguided information and the outdated beliefs. I believed the doctors when they said our life would be hard and full of appointments. I worried how my other two children would cope with a child who would require more care and attention. But what I failed to see was the light, the hope, the shift in perception, the change in attitude, the push out of my comfort zone into a whole New World. A New World of patience, love, acceptance, understanding, compassion, friendship, cuddles and laughter. I won’t deny that there have been challenges and hard times, but we have these with our other children too. They are not unique to ‘Down syndrome’. In fact, nothing is unique to Down syndrome. Any health issue can be part of any child’s life, whether they have 46 or 47 chromosomes.
Today I now share photos of my daughter with the same caption ‘No prenatal diagnosis can predict this kind of happiness’. I now try and reach new parents grappling with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome to let them know it will be okay. And I mean it. Our life is way more than okay, it really is. True happiness. The perception of what I thought our life was going to be like compared to what our reality is could not be further from one another.
And it couldn’t be predicted through some kind of diagnostic, cold clinical test in my pregnancy. But I only wish it could.