Parent Matches: Building Friendships and Creating Community

By Melinda Davis

TWapasha n Melinda I went from feelings of complete happiness at the thought of meeting our daughter to feelings of surprise, sadness, and then followed by feelings of guilt and fear. I was scared of the unknown. In that moment, I went from seeing my baby as a baby . . . to seeing my baby with “Down syndrome.” I loved her with all my heart and didn’t feel good about myself for thinking that when I looked at her. I didn’t want these thoughts robbing this special time with my baby. I felt so guilty about the uncertainty I was feeling. The hospital offered to have a person from Children’s Village come to see us. Even though I was surrounded by people who loved us, I already felt as if nobody close to me could possibly understand what I was feeling. I had all these thoughts stuck in my head. Then Tracie, a representative from the Children’s Village Parent to Parent office, came to visit me. She also had a son with special needs and could relate to what I was feeling at that moment. Most importantly, she told me our daughter was beautiful and that everything was going to be okay. Everything I was feeling was NORMAL! I was not the first new mom in this place and we were certainly not alone. She offered me a “Parent Match” which put me in touch with a mommy who also had a child with Down syndrome.

I remember the day Nadia came to see me. Nadia is a volunteer “Helping Parent” from Children’s Village. I was nervous. I had so many questions. This was my fifth child and I thought it would be a familiar walk in the park when it came time to deliver her. But instead, I found myself in a situation I’ve never experienced before. Would she have the answers I wanted? Who is this mother and is she anything like me? What if we don’t have anything in common . . . I wondered how her child was functioning, how had their lives been affected if at all since the diagnosis? What was her child like? Nadia came in all smiles and very excited to meet us. I’ll admit I sized her up a bit, but got right to the point of asking her what was her child like, after all that’s why she was here. As if waiting for a cue, she immediately brought out some photos of her little girl. Like any proud mother, she went on to tell me how awesome her daughter was while sharing a few photos with me. I think she was five at the time. There she was in these photos . . . vibrant, smiling, laughing, playing with other children, with her brother, engaged with family, and celebrating birthdays. As far as I could tell it seemed life was fairly typical to what you would expect. I asked her about crawling, walking, potty training, school, talking and anything else I could think of to ask. Her child reached these milestones when she was ready and she seemed confident ours would too. I asked her about how she felt initially? It turned out that most the feelings I was experiencing, she also experienced in some way. Her faith was strong and I needed to be reminded of mine. She did not seem to carry the weight of the fears I was holding at that time. She told me it would get easier and that life will just fall back into place. We adjust and go on. I believed her. I was still scared of the unknown, but meeting someone who was living it and seeing the photos of a happy little girl just being a five year old helped me so much. I knew things would be okay. I felt hopeful.

Fast forward three years later, and Nadia and Tracie were right. Wapasha is an absolute blessing and doing just fine. She continues to reach her milestones on her own time. I’ve gotten past “seeing” Down syndrome. I just see our beautiful girl, her beautiful face and that silly personality! Do I still worry? Of course! But, I’ve found that although we’ve had to experience hospital stays, still work with an Occupational Therapist, have IEPs and other situations we never had with her siblings, that our life has resumed mostly unaltered. I am content.

I knew three years ago that when I was ready, I would want to help a new mother introduced to Down Syndrome when she least expected it. I knew I would want to bring that love and hope that Tracie and Nadia brought to me. I would tell her that it’s natural to be scared and what she’s feeling is normal. I would tell her these feelings get lighter with time. I would tell her that it’s going to be okay and that she’s not alone. I would tell her that her child is perfect and destined for greatness. I would definitely show some photos! This year I got the honor to be a “Helping Parent” in a parent match and I got to speak to a mommy who wanted to meet someone sharing this experience, and was a bit down the road in the journey. Our experience wasn’t exactly the same, but we still had much in common. I shared all those things I said I would. We laughed and shared stories. My desire was to pass some of the strength and hope given to me from the mommies before me and pass it on to this deserving mommy. Together it is better, and I hope I did just that! As she begins down this well beaten path creating her own trail, I want to thank you “Parent to Parent” for clearing the way!

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