By Jessica Melville, Sandwich, MA
"What kind of sneakers is she going to have to wear?" This was one of many questions that went through my head. It is September 2003 and I just found out my daughter is going to be born with Down syndrome. I am only sixteen years old, just days away from my seventeenth birthday. I am a good student, sister, and shoe lover. (Hence the reason why sneaker choice would be one of my great fears about this baby's diagnosis.) I do not want to deal with Velcro versus ties or orthopedic shoes; I want to pick out the latest trends and styles for her. With this diagnosis, I am now faced with the challenge of redefining every goal and dream for my daughter. I am scared, naturally. My friends are all out celebrating senior year and here I am asking myself stupid questions.
After a few agonizing days I realize, she is my child, I love her, and does it really matter what kind of shoes she has on? It doesn't. This child isn't even born yet and she has already taught me a lesson. I no longer care about shoes and shopping; I just want my baby to live. I want her to be born healthy and be happy. So I make up my mind that just because she had Down syndrome, I don't have to give up all of my dreams for her. I can still buy her cool sneakers and shoes; we just might need to look harder for ones that offer support as well.
A couple weeks go by and I am at the mall. I go into Finish Line and find a great pair of pink Nike crib shoes, so I buy them. A month goes by and Jaylin is born, a healthy four pound, twelve ounce baby girl with a head full of black hair. She was born with a heart defect, but it gets corrected six months after birth. A little while after that, she begins wearing her pink Nikes. Most babies grow out of those kinds of shoes soon after birth, but not my little Jaybird. She rocked those shoes for a good couple of months.
These days Jaylin is doing well. She goes shoe shopping with me and her current pick is a multicolored pair of Nike high tops. I don't think she truly cares about shoes, but just enjoys spending the time with me picking them out. She teaches me and her teachers more than we teach her. I am so happy that I was blessed with her and that she changed my views on life. Had she not been born with Down syndrome I don't think I would be as good of a person as I am now. I currently organize a Buddy Walk® with some other moms and we use funds from the Walk to donate care packages to families facing hospital stays due to complications of Down syndrome. Jaylin is almost six, and this year was our fifth Buddy Walk®. I started the Walks in honor of her, and it is because of her that I can reach out to other families now. Having a baby with Down syndrome made that seventeen-year-old me grow up fast, but strong in moral and good faith. Jaylin is such a special child. She takes her time when most of us want her to rush and she is always the one smiling when everyone else is melting down. She will not let the world define her. She will keep doing what she loves... in great shoes... just to make me happy.
2014 Update from Jessica
As inspiring as this story sounds, I wrote it at a time when Jaylin was not doing so well. She was a joy, of course, but was struggling with her diagnosis. At that time, Down Syndrome was defining her, she was withdrawn and preoccupied in her own world. Regardless, I submitted the article because it has always been important to me to help guide people past the typical stereotypes associated with Down Syndrom, ones I felt so early on in motherhood. Physical aspects, and the tangible things we all so quickly judge, are the least important characteristics of a person with Down Syndrome. Jaylin was having a rough patch, but I was optimistic that things would smooth out, and they have. She still loves to spend alone time with me, but she also enjoys her siblings more and interacting with her peers. It has been five years, and she is still the teacher and we are still her students.