In life, there are so many people to admire. There are those who have become successful and fulfilled their dreams. Those who are talented and achieve success from these talents. Those who have overcome hurdles, beat the odds and triumphed. Those who make a difference and do wonderful things for others. And there are those who show you the way and make you change your way of thinking – for the better. I want to dedicate this post to an amazing mother who helped inspire me to change my perspective and to “enjoy all the small things” that in the end add up to one big, huge thing.
When I found out at 36 weeks into my pregnancy that Chloe had Down syndrome, I felt like my world had fallen apart. The grief was indescribable. I didn’t know a lot about Down syndrome back then and so I searched the Internet every night and read everything I could find. This was the worst thing I could have done because it made me feel even more afraid of what was to come.
One night, I somehow came across Kelle Hampton’s blog Enjoying the Small Things and her daughter Nella’s birth story. Nella was born with Down syndrome and this was not discovered until her birth. The pain and shock that Kelle described when she realised Nella’s condition were exactly the same feelings that I was experiencing as I buried myself under my doonah each night, awaiting the day of Chloe’s arrival.
I had been encouraged by my Obstetrician and other medical staff to get in touch with the Down Syndrome Association but at that time, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I realised that it was important for me to get a real inside perspective on what it was like having a child with Down syndrome but it felt like I was being forced to join a club that I didn’t want to join. It was way too confronting and I really wanted to keep my distance. Finding this blog was a Godsend because I could find out more from a mum without having to speak to anyone and Kelle shared it in a way that I really needed to hear it.
When I finished reading Nella’s amazing birth story, I continued to read many of Kelle’s other posts. Enjoying the Small Things has been going for many years now, so I was spoilt for choice. As I read, I came to understand Kelle’s amazing outlook on life both before and after Nella’s birth and I thought to myself, WOW!! I want what she’s having! This attitude to make the most of those precious moments and to embrace life and all that it brings with such gratitude is what has been missing in my life.
I spent the last couple of days before Chloe’s birth doing some serious soul searching. There were times when I put Down syndrome aside and thought about my life and how I had lived it so far. I have always been in such a hurry and on a quest for more fulfillment but I didn’t really know what being fulfilled meant or how I would know if I had found it. After thinking about this a lot, I have recently come to realise that maybe fulfillment isn’t anything tangible or an ending that you reach but instead how you choose to live your life every day.
As I read Enjoying the Small Things, I wouldn’t say that my grief disappeared completely but it gave me so much to think about and a longing to live a wonderful and happy life. It made me feel that maybe my baby’s condition wasn’t the end of the world. Maybe this has happened for a reason and maybe I am capable of making something really amazing out of this. Looking at Kelle’s beautiful family and wonderful life, I felt hope. Hope that everything was going to work out and that I would be happy again. I was still afraid of meeting Chloe but I needn’t have been. Somehow through all the shock and sadness, I forgot that I was having a baby. A tiny, sweet, innocent little baby. When I saw Chloe for the first time, the fear of the unknown disappeared and I became a mummy again. She was truly beautiful and as I held her, I smiled and kissed her. And I loved her.
I have learnt from Kelle that we are all capable of achieving amazing things and living an extraordinary life. An extraordinary life doesn’t necessarily need to include climbing Mount Everest or riding a motorbike through the back streets of Asia. Life is what you make it, how you live it, how you appreciate it and most importantly, what you do for others. Reading through Kelle’s blog, she is merely a mum with a passion for life, her family and photography. Last month, Nella turned 2 and in honour of this milestone, Kelle put a campaign together and raised over $200,000 for the Down Syndrome Society of America. Now that is seriously extraordinary. Just thinking about it sets my heart strings on fire and makes me want to do something and make a difference too.
Even with all these amazing things that Kelle is doing, like anyone who shares their life with the world, she has been criticised by a few. Criticised for being too joyful, for painting too positive a picture of Down syndrome, for making her life look like a magazine and for living in denial of the future that she will undoubtedly endure. Pffffft! Seriously!?!
We all have troubles in our life and yes, having a child with Down syndrome is hard but who wants to hear about all the bad stuff? What is so inspiring about hearing someone go on about how crap their life is? We all know that the hard stuff is real, that it hurts and that the need to grieve is very necessary. But doesn’t it give life more meaning when you see someone who has managed to turn a hard situation around into an amazing one where the best moments are the ones that count?
In my future, I know there will be more tears but I would like to think that I can overcome these hurdles and still live an extraordinary life. I feel so inspired to do more, to love more and to be more, as a mum and as a person. You certainly won’t find me celebrating life like Kelle Hampton does by doing cartwheels on her driveway in her nightie. But you may find me on my front lawn doing handstands in my knickers.
Since coming to terms with Chloe’s condition, I try to spend more quality time with my girls. I am still busy like I’ve always been but I consciously make more time for them each day. When it is their time, I make more out of the little things and give them all of me instead of being half present with my mind somewhere else like I so often used to do. This has made such a huge difference, especially to Emma.
I remember times when we would go out for lunch and as I waited for her to finish eating (she is an amazingly slow eater), I would use that time to check Facebook, to reply to text messages or read the news or just to think and plan. Multi-tasking is what I thought I was doing and that I was using my time constructively. Now, I would never dream of doing anything like that. When I am with Emma one on one, that is her time and I give her my full attention and am totally present. Eating or not, I use that time to get to know her and to take her in, to encourage her to talk and then listen to what she has to say. I wish I had have figured this out 4 years ago so I could have really made the most of those early years. Don’t get me wrong, I have so many wonderful, precious memories with Emma and the relationship we have now is testament to that. I just wish I had known it and felt it and appreciated each moment more instead of always wanting to move on to the next thing.
Life is so full of the unexpected and I have learnt that even though things may happen that you never wanted, the best thing you can do is embrace it and turn it into something awesome. Next week, I am really excited to be meeting a mum who has a gorgeous 3 year old boy who also has Down syndrome. This opportunity to make new friends and learn new things is something I am really looking forward to. I feel all these new doors are opening and who knows where they will lead!
With this new outlook on life, I have reassessed my priorities and put things into perspective. We are now living with crumbs on our floor, a constantly overflowing ironing basket (not much has changed there really) and the herbs and spices in my pantry are no longer in alphabetical order. And I’m cool with that. Twice now, however, I have somehow added cinnamon to my cooking instead of turmeric. I would never have known what it would be like to have cinnamon in my lamb marinade if I hadn’t have changed the way I live. It wasn’t awful, just different and just like my life, I really noticed the sweetness.
Next Wednesday is the 29th of February and I have chosen to look at this day as an extra 24 hours that we wouldn’t normally have. I have made a list of everything I would like to do more often and I am going to use this day for just that. Can’t wait!