Sunday, October 18, 2015

DSAM: Laura's Story

Mark Asher

As we welcome the 18th day of Down Syndrome Awareness Month I am pleased to introduce my friend and Birthday Girl Laura. We connected through the ' little something extra' shared by our beautiful boys. I'm so thrilled to be able to share her story as she was to write it. She communicated to me that really writing down her thoughts and feelings here was a very cathartic experiences. Through both tears and smiles she has graciously shared her real experience of being a mother to three lovely boys, one of which happens to have Down Syndrome.
Laura and I at Blake's Paw Patrol Themed 4th Birthday!

Hello, my name is Laura Hansen, and my husband Darin and I have three sons: Nate (13), Luke (11), and our sweet little angel boy, Mark Asher, who is almost 3 and one half years old.  Our story begins back on May 31, 2012. Mark Asher came into this world earlier than anticipated, as a "late term" preemie, meaning he was born on the last day of the 36th week of my pregnancy.  This alone was a shock, as I had always carried my previous pregnancies full term. My pregnancy was uneventful, and all appeared "normal" along the way. We had no idea that we were going to be having a baby born with Trisomy 21, or more commonly known as "Down Syndrome (DS)". 

Mark Asher was born late in the afternoon, with all my family there to greet and hold him, and was as beautiful as ever. He had ten fingers and ten toes, nursed like a champ (even though the nurses said that was unusual with DS), and he had the sweetest disposition. It's as if the sweetness in that room of a Mother's and Father's unconditional love for their precious child whom they so desired to have, prayed for, and received, bridged any fear that traversed the universe in that moment!  I leaned in and kissed his forehead and held him even tighter. I'll never forget later my Mother had some tears and I said, "Oh Mom, it's going to be ok," and she said, "Honey, I'm not crying because he has DS; I'm crying because you have no idea what a gift from heaven you have just been given."  So from the beginning, we were all caught off-guard, and yet, he was perfect from Day One as far as we were concerned. He was named after my Father (Mark), so that was also very special.  All would be ok, in time, as we learned to truly embrace our son, and trust God every step of the way with our little miracle baby. 

We now had a third son, a boy who was given to us as a blessing, yet we had no idea how that would turn our lives inside out, upside down , all the while learning to navigate, discover, advocate, and support a new understanding of what it means to have an "extra" chromosome. 

FOR NOW, we just needed to be parents, and adjust to having a little baby again, and all that comes along with that. Our boys adjusted very well, however, they had many questions and concerns obviously. Would he walk, would he talk, would he be able to go to school, play sports, make friends, even get married and drive a car!! The concerns were all "normal" and to be honest, those probably ran through my mind at one time or another. The interesting thing about our situation is that Mark Asher "looked" so normal, and acted so normal, so it all felt surreal. With the help of amazing doctors and our beloved pediatrician and OB, both being Christians and supporting LIFE, they made our fears, concerns, and questions seem legitimate and warranted. We knew that this was a walk that only a few are chosen to go on, yet the journey would prove to be the real test of time.  God must have known we were the perfect family to raise this little angel, and trust me when I say, he has brought immense JOY and LOVE, LAUGHTER and MEMORIES into our home, and that will last a lifetime.  We can't imagine our lives without him in it. 

Exactly four years ago today, on my birthday, we found out I'd be having a baby, something we'd longed for and yet it just had not happened thus far. Hence, that is the gap in our children. I think of it as if GOD was waiting for us to prepare for Mark Asher's arrival. Today, as this article is being presented in this blog, I am honored to share in such a special time of year, THE MONTH OF OCTOBER, which we celebrate as Down Syndrome Awareness Month. SO, it truly has a double blessing for me!  

Mark Asher is a normal little boy, and he is very well adjusted (figuratively, and also literally, since I'm a chiropractor!) He's so bright, very high functioning, funny as all get out, has an incredible attention span, and is extremely patient when learning new things.  He truly is a special little boy who brightens the world around him and he makes others feel loved and important too. Fortunately for Mark Asher, his love for anything musical is incredible, as his Daddy is an awesome pianist.  So, to sit and watch them play together is magical.  Mark enjoys many things as most toddlers do, but as of late, he has been attending preschool, and for that, we are very grateful. He is in a typical school where he is modeling behavior and learning one-on-one skills, learning to navigate the playground, riding all types of toys, climbing stairs, ladders, and sliding (his favorite), alongside of his wonderful Paraprofessional Educator. He is typical in so many ways, and uniquely different in others. 

While most  people are taken in by his "cuteness factor" and the "smile that is larger than life", they innately are curious about him, about raising a child who has special needs, and how I manage my life as a busy mother, wife, chiropractor, and now full time advocate for him. My answer is very simple: I take it one day at a time. I have learned to let things go that aren't important any longer, and trust the Lord with every step of my path. This experience has strengthened our marriage, taught me more patience as a parent, given all of us a greater understanding of people who have special needs, taught my children tolerance and patience, and we have all grown in our love for children with DS as we have met some of the nicest families and the support of our local DS community that is rich with love and information, as well as activities and a wealth of advocacy to glean from. Together we have formed close bonds with other DS parents, and in the month of October we gather to celebrate our special blessings in our lives with these kids. We are one big happy family. 

A dear friend recently shared with me that "we can all walk the road, not the journey!  The reason is that that journey means we understand your journey too."  The road we were chosen for, incidentally, is (for most) the road-less-traveled. The average age for a mother carrying a DS child is 26 years old, clearly not my age.  Secondly, Down Syndrome is not a genetic situation, it is a chromosomal situation. There is an "extra special" factor and occurs spontaneously approximately every 700 conceptions according to the latest in scientific research. When we heard these numbers shortly after his birth, from the head of DS in the world at Stanford, it's as if "we'd won the lottery!" And you'd only have to know and love a person with DS to know that is absolutely the truth. 

With all the interest in educational inclusion, and the majority of our population starting to become more educated about Down Syndrome because of our national and international communities worldwide, as well as our local chapters, the start of something big is just over the horizon. I for one am incredibly interested in continuing to share, advocate, learn, develop ideas, even continue to incorporate what I do as a chiropractor to help DS children (for example, helping my son to walk straight for the first time as his low muscle tone in his legs left him with a wide gait and weak stance), and come alongside of our other paraprofessionals to get the message out that there is a NEED, and a HUGE desire to incorporate all that we can to help prosper and move ahead with keeping Down Syndrome at the forefront of our communities, our school districts and educators, our county agencies, respite and care providers, our doctors and therapists, and most importantly, our beloved families of loved members with DS. It truly does "take a village" to come alongside of our children, but even today I was so excited to post a video of a gal that has DS, and has made amazing accomplishments in both personal goals as well as college goals. The sky truly is the LIMIT.  She herself was mainstreamed, never attended a special-day class, had some individual therapies along the way, benefited from a supportive family and network of providers...and she is beautiful.  I felt so encouraged because I want our son, Mark Asher, and every other child to have that same opportunity. 

MY goal in writing this article is to say this: WE all have something to offer in this life. With the proper early intervention, mainstream education or even home schooling with peers that model behaviors and speech with one-on-one learning, and an awareness that lets the world at large know that our kids matter, they have a voice, they are capable of so many things just like their typical friends if given the time and opportunities to develop.  We CAN truly change the course of history and incorporate these amazing happy and loving people that deserve the best life has to offer. We all can learn a lot from them. They love without judgement, they trust without fear, they need acceptance just like we do, and they just want to be part of this world. 

I am forever grateful that my son, Mark Asher is in our family, and his timing was perfect. He is an absolutely beautiful human being that makes every day GREAT to be alive. I hope you can see that the love and joy he brings to our lives is unmatchable. And trust me, his giggles are the best sound in the world.  Please try and find a schoolmate, a friend, a neighbor, even a person out and about that has DS, and give them a hug, a high five, or a simple smile today.  It will be a heart-to-heart exchange, and you will be forever changed...PROMISE! 

Cheers to you Laura on this your birthday and to the journey we will take together, as mothers and friends. Our destinations may be different but we will get to ride together on the same airline. I am so excited to see Mark Asher grow into the beautiful, smart, and capable boy that I all ready know he is.

Laura is a Dr of Chiropractic Medicine in Arroyo Grande, CA for the past 20+ years
A.D.I.O. Chiropractic
1054 E Grand Ave, Ste C
Arroyo Grande, California

(805) 489-1326

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