When Bailey was born I felt so lonely. Nobody understood what we were going through. Everyone said, it's okay, and she'll be loved no matter what. But, Bailey wasn't the child she was supposed to be. How would our family and friends understand the grief I felt? I tried to have a happy face when people were around. I tried to act like Bailey was a typical child, but she wasn't. At that time I thought the only typical thing was that she pooped. Everything else was different. She didn't eat like other babies, and she slept much more than a typical baby.
Then I found Down syndrome message boards on the internet. The first person to reach out to me was a lady named Dawn. Dawn is amazing. She shared her fears and concerns with me. She shared the challenges she had faced with her son, and made me feel comfortable to talk about how I felt. I didn't feel ashamed talking to her, and never felt like I was being judged. Dawn visited us many times during our stays at St. Joe's. She would call almost daily to check on Bailey, and also took time to listen to me as I whined about EVERYTHING. Dawn also invited us to join her at a meeting one night, and it was such a relief to meet other parents like us and see other children like Bailey. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.
Then, I met Beverly. Beverly's office was at a place where Aubrey participated in play groups and dance class. I remember my mom mentioning Beverly to me, and saying she had information for me. I had time one morning to go to Aubrey's play group. I was sitting there watching Aubrey play when this lady approached me. It was Beverly. Beverly had a huge bag full of information on Down syndrome. It had books, pamphlets, and information on services available to Bailey. Beverly has an adult son with Down syndrome who is an inspiration. That first time I met Beverly she described her son. As she described his accomplishments you could see the pride she had for him, and after meeting him I totally understand what she was talking about. He is truly amazing, and meeting him gave me so much hope for Bailey's future.
In August of 2007, just 3 months after Bailey's birth, we went to the Florida Down Syndrome Conference. Keith and I absorbed the information given to us, and sat quietly to ourselves at lunch. I saw groups of people sitting around, and I wanted so bad to talk to them. But, I couldn't think of what to say. Then Keith started describing Bailey to someone, and a lady in the group next to us spoke up and asked if I had been on a website called Downsyn.com, because she recognized our story. I confirmed that I had been on there and she introduced me to the people sitting with her. There was one family who matched ours perfectly. They had a typical little girl Aubrey's age, they had a daughter with Down syndrome who was Bailey's age, and her daughter had the same heart defect as Bailey. Janice was the mom's name and she and I began talking. We realized our daughters would be having heart surgery at the same hospital and we exchanged contact information. Janice and I continued to communicate through e-mail and on message boards. We were already at St. Joe's due to complications with Bailey, when Janice's daughter was admitted to St. Joe's for her surgery. We learned a lot from Janice and her family because their surgery was just a few weeks before Bailey's. We prayed for each others families, and became good friends. Janice has helped me so much. Our little girls are so close in age, that it has been very helpful to compare "notes" with Janice. It also helps to have a friend to brag about accomplishments to, and to get advice on challenges. It's unfortunate we live across the state from each other, but we'll hopefully start meeting up more often.
Locally I heard about a lady beginning to form a Polk County Down syndrome group. I sent my information to her, and she quickly replied with meeting dates. We went to our first meeting. I felt a little intimidated when first walking in. We entered the room, and had Bailey with us. She had her feeding tube, oxygen, and pulse ox. When I looked at the other children everyone seemed so healthy. There was hope. Karyn, welcomed us to the group and I quickly felt comfortable and was no longer intimidated. Everyone was so interested in learning about Bailey, and they had similar stories to share with us. It was nice to hear that other people had very similar experiences to us. Karyn and I have formed a lifelong friendship. She, her husband, and children are amazing, and I consider myself lucky to have met them.
At the Polk County meeting was another outstanding mom. We met Rhonda and her family when we arrived. Rhonda's daughter is a few years older than Bailey. She is the person who really made me feel comfortable about the decision to enroll Bailey in Achievement Academy. Rhonda's daughter is beautiful. Aubrey's favorite part about our meetings is seeing Rhonda's little girl and playing with her. She often says that Rhonda's daughter is her best friend. Rhonda fights for everything her daughter deserves and she never gives up. I can only hope that I can someday be the mom Rhonda is to her daughter.
Amy is another amazing person, who I've had little contact with, but the assistance she has given my family is more that I can fully describe. She is the executive director of the DSACF. I don't know if she fully understands how much the tools she gives families affects their lives. We look forward each year to the Buddy Walk, and the Florida Down Syndrome Conference (next year it will be the National conference!). I've finally decided to start participating in as many monthly meetings as possible (Janice I'm hoping you're at some). The program they have established for health care professionals is amazing. This program is so important to me because it addresses the diagnosis issue many of us have. I can't explain how difficult receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome can be, especially when health care personnel are insensitive. That day we received Bailey's diagnosis is one I will never forget.
I remember being at the first Down Syndrome Conference we attended. Keith and I were eating breakfast at the hotel, and I saw a table which had several people sitting there, two of which were young adults with Down syndrome. I couldn't help but stare. I thought these young adults were a couple, which was great, but I was led to believe Bailey wouldn't have that type of relationship. After that day, I continued on with my life and didn't think I would see those people again. Then one day I was sitting in church. We were standing and singing, Amazing Grace, of course. That song already makes me teary-eyed, but the events that happen during that song made me weep like a child. I was holding Bailey, I had her backpack with her feeding bag in it on my back, and I was struggling to sign the attendance book. I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and a nice lady offering to hold the book as I tried to write. I looked up and it was the mom of the young man I saw at breakfast. I signed the book, thanked her, and then cried like a little baby. When the service was over, the lady introduced me to her son and his girlfriend. When I get home from church I realize this young man is the Eagle Scout I read about when Bailey was first born. The Eagle Scout who got all his badges without taking any shortcuts. During this year's conference this young man's girlfriend received an award. She sang a beautiful song and he stood by her side. There were few people in the room who didn't have tears in their eyes.
This is just a small sample of the people who have helped us through this journey. I appreciate ALL the people we have met. I can't imagine going through this alone. I appreciate all the advice we've been given, and I appreciate the comfort I've felt and the ability to share my concerns without being judged.