A scene from the A&E docu-series “Born This Way.” Photo by Adam Taylor, courtesy of A&E.

'Born This Way' Set to Air Season 2

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The critically acclaimed docu-series “Born This Way“, which follows the lives of seven South Californians with Down syndrome, is set to air its second season Tuesday, July 26, on A&E, after a debut Emmy-nominated season.

Laura Korkoian, co-executive producer at Bunim-Murray Productions, gave The Mighty an exclusive look into what viewers can expect to see in season two:

This season the cast continues to pursue their goals and dreams, while striving for greater independence. Megan is offered an opportunity in Los Angeles that reactivates her desire and dream to live in California, with or without her mom.

Steven is putting himself out there in the dating world, Sean goes on a few blind dates and may or may not meet someone special, Elena pursues her passion for poetry, Rachel continues to blossom and put herself out there in the world by taking risks and creating the life she wants to live. Cristina begins spending time following a new passion and learns how hard it is to balance relationship and commitments. John is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that tests him as an artist.

Two cast members move in together to test what it will be like to live independently.

The series, which is the first of its kind, enjoyed a successful six-episode run last winter that saw viewership rise 83 percent over its duration.

In June, the Television Academy Honors hosted “Born This Way” as one of six shows “tackling complex issues and promoting social change.” Earlier this month, it was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. Two of its episodes also garnered nods for Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program.

In a press release announcing the series had been renewed for a second season, executive producer Jonathan Murray cited the fledgling series as one of the greatest successes of his nearly 30-year TV career.

“Over the course of my career, when I’ve been asked what show I was proudest of it was always ‘The Real World.’ Now there’s a contender to that title – it’s ‘Born This Way,’” Murray said in the release. “I am thrilled the series will return for a second season, and I want to acknowledge the invaluable support we have received from advocacy groups for the disabled, especially RespectAbility and Best Buddies International who have been tirelessly spreading the word.”

In the same release, A&E Executive Vice President & Head of Programming, Elaine Frontain Bryant expressed gratitude for viewer support.

“We have been overwhelmed and moved by the feedback we’ve received for ‘Born This Way’ from viewers, as well as people with disabilities and their family members,” Bryant said. “It’s rare to be able to present a show that changes the way we see the world; we believe ‘Born This Way’ is one of those shows.”

The second season of “Born This Way” premieres on A&E on Tuesday, July 26 at 10 p.m. EST.

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Learning When to Let My Daughter With Down Syndrome Fly

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My daughter is ambitious and driven, and I will happily take some credit for that along with her dad. Even though this is sometimes worrisome, I marvel at her will to try new things. After all, this is what we have been pushing her to do since her first therapy sessions as an infant after we learned of her Down syndrome diagnosis — to face obstacles with courage while slightly nudging her outside of her comfort zone. We hope to encourage and inspire her to rise above life’s challenges; to show her what she is truly capable of accomplishing.

Our challenge now is knowing when to hold her hand and knowing when to let her fly. I find myself conflicted between the two more often than not – like a constant battle of whether or not I am making the right choice with either option.

The tide is shifting now. Where I was once reassuring her to make her leap, she is now looking for me to let her go.  She is getting a little older, a little more brave and definitely more vocal about her wants and needs. With that comes the tightening of my grip, when all along I have been promising to loosen it up as she got older.

This little girl, my firstborn, is so curious about the world she lives in. Yet I sometimes catch myself holding her back from experiences because I am afraid for her. In stark contrast to everything we have been preparing her for, allowing her to further explore her independence feels more difficult than ever. It comes with the territory.

For me, being a mother to a child with a disability has caused the emotional tides to change in different phases of parenting her. While these phases are unpredictable, they usually offer a unique vantage point, a place where I can look out and evaluate where we are together. Perspective might hit me at a doctor’s appointment or when she is standing on the edge of a diving board; places that prove how far she has come or how much ground we have yet to cover.

It doesn’t escape me… the blessing of her being able to have these opportunities, the option to choose things for herself and the chance to see who she is becoming as she turns another year older. I am undeniably grateful for that. She is getting ready for kindergarten this fall and going to her first friend birthday party next week. These are wonderful and amazing things. Things I once worried about, but now I am watching her thrive.

For me that is the most beautiful part of this journey — knowing we can still do this all right alongside her, while keeping enough distance for her to seek experiences for herself. Knowing even more that if we allow her to keep trying new things, she will only continue to learn and grow tenfold. And, finally, having the revelation that parenting a child who happens to have Down syndrome isn’t so different from parenting a child without it.

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When I First Heard the Words 'Down Syndrome,' I Thought My Life Was Over

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To be perfectly honest, when I first heard the words “Down syndrome,” I thought my life was over. My son Kaleb was 2 days old when I was told his diagnosis. Sure, part of the issue could have been contributed to postpartum hormones coupled with the fact that we were talking about a very tiny 2-pound, 2-ounce baby born 12 weeks too soon. Those two words suddenly shifted the vision and plans I had for my life.

We were going to be that family, I thought to myself. I was going to have to be that mom — the mom whose whole life revolved around her kid, with no life of her own as she went from appointment, to therapy, and back again. So while I grieved over the loss of the baby and child I thought I was going to have, I grieved for a much different reason too. I grieved over the loss of my life. Or what I thought was the loss of my life.

Those who know me know I always have a plan, and I dream big. I always have half a dozen things on my plate. Some might say I have a hard time telling people no, but I would also tell you I have a passion for life. I had someone once tell me my theme song should be Terri Clark’s country song, “I Wanna Do It All.” I love life. I love people. I love to learn. I want to experience all life has to offer. I want to experience this world I believe the good Lord has given us.

So yes, one of my initial thoughts with his diagnosis was my life is over. Gone were all of those dreams. Was I even going to be able to have my career? Would I have time for my oldest son? Would I finish my doctorate? Would I still find enjoyment from my old hobbies? Would I still hang out with my current friends? These were all thoughts I had when I first received the diagnosis.

I am not a fan of the acronym YOLO (“you only live once”). I used to tease my husband, claiming he failed in his attempt to be trendy and hip when he would use #yolo in his tweets. While I’m not a fan of the now-overused term, I do like the sentiment.

I smile when I think back all of those months ago when I had these thoughts. I thought my life was over. Little did I know, my life and love was about to be doubled.

Kaleb smile

I love to experience life. Well, this little boy has shown me many life experiences I thought I’d never have — even ones I didn’t really want like extended NICU stay and two surgeries, including an open heart surgery.

I love to learn. He has taught me about feeding tubes, therapies, home oxygen, and other home medical equipment. However, he has shown me I’m stronger than I know. He has taught me differences are OK and our individual quirks are only part of the story. He has shown me it’s OK, and life goes on, and it’s a life worth having.

I said I love people. Well I have met so many people and heard their stories along the way. So many medical professionals as well as fellow travelers on this parenting path. People and stories that have made a lasting impression on my heart. They all have taught me something.

He has shown us how special the friends and family in our life are as most constantly want to share in our journey and learn right along with us.

Sure, I have my career and I am still pursing my doctorate, but I come from it equipped with a new perspective — one that has not diminished it but rather enhanced it. I may feel different, but I am still me.

Yes, I do find myself going to more appointments and therapy sessions, but we’ve adapted and it is time spent with Kaleb. It is time I use to celebrate every milestone no matter how small.  Setbacks, we have them, but that is life, and it is a fuller life with him a part of it.

I still enjoy all my old hobbies, plus a new one: Kaleb. 

kaleb in an orange shirt

I am in constant awe of him and all he has and continues to overcome. Even with all he’s dealt with, all you have to do is look at him to see the pure joy and spark of life in his eyes. I love to watch him get so excited his whole body shakes, throwing him off balance. He continues to teach me more about life than I ever could have imagined.

Nine months ago I thought my life was over. But it was just beginning. YOLO. You do only live once, and it is a life I am proud to call mine.

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My Child's Down Syndrome Is Not a 'Problem'

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751 days ago, my daughter Isabella came into my life. For 751 days, I have advocated for her. I know her medical record by heart. I swore the day she was born, I’d always fight for her. I have made it my daily mission to share her beautiful journey with the world in hopes of helping others with theirs. And today, today I believe I failed her… 751 days of advocating, and I froze in a split second.

The author's daughter

The phone rang; it was the hospital calling to review her medical history for her upcoming surgery. Simple enough, right? We were finishing up, and then the woman I was speaking to had one last question: “Any more problems, well, other than the Down syndrome?” All I could say was no. But why?

I wanted so badly to speak up, and I didn’t say anything. Now, I’m sure many will say, “What’s the big deal?” Well, because I don’t see Down syndrome as a problem. Does she have some medical issues that are common in individuals with Down syndrome? Yes. But they are not “problems.”

Webster’s dictionary defines problem as: “something that is difficult to deal with; something that is a source of trouble, worry, etc.; difficulty in understanding something; a feeling of not liking or wanting to do something.” If you think that sounds like my life, you’d be wrong. Her medical condition is just life. The problems come from worrying about how others will treat my child or the lack of acceptance for individuals with different abilities. I’d prefer that when someone thinks of Down syndrome, they don’t instantly think “problem,” but rather a life full of love — unconditional, pure love.

I wish I could do that phone call over again, but I can’t. However, I can continue to do my best, and tomorrow is a new day.

Follow this journey on the Isabella “Amazing” Grace Facebook page.


Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

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A Letter to My Son With Down Syndrome on His Ninth Birthday

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Dear Alex,

As we lay on a hammock a few days before your ninth birthday, you tell me a story of where you’d fly if you were a bird. I listen intently at each word you’ve learned to articulate because we both know that speech is a challenge for you, but you’ve grown with both your words and imagination. And I revel in both. 

I need to apologize to you because I will admit that upon discovering your diagnosis of Down syndrome nine years ago, I cried. I shed tears until my eyes became swollen with disappointment and despair. Why me? I am young and healthy with no genetic predispositions to chromosomal anomalies. 

Yet, you chose me to be your mother, and the moment I held you, I knew why. You were such a beautiful baby. The doctor explained to me that I will most likely not be able to nurse you because of your low muscle tone. But I nursed you with no difficulties. It was this moment that began our journey to share and celebrate each of your accomplishments.

You are not your disability. You never were. You are a young boy navigating the waters of this life the best you know how, and I am your mother who will always stand by you to encourage you, cheer you on and love every inch of you. 

I do recognize that I needed to feel those strong emotions upon discovering your diagnosis. It was all a part of the process. But in many ways, I didn’t realize many of my fears where instilled and manipulated by societal pressures of defining what is “normal,” which I’ll reserve for a different letter. 

I love you my son. And I thank you for everything you’ve taught me. If we were both birds, I have no doubt that we’d soar together among many sunrises and sunsets. Let’s fly.

Love,

Your Mom 

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The R-Word Is Offensive, Even When There Is No Ill Intent

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We were connected through a mutual friend. Our conversation via Facebook messenger started off friendly enough. He shared a blog post he had written. I shared one about my son, Augie. “Augie has Down syndrome,” I explained. I wrote more, but that statement must have stood out. He responded with a short note that included an invite to read another one of his blog posts.

“This one is about my retarded brother,” he wrote.

Bam. That word. It struck me in my gut. Hard. Tears formed in my eyes. I opened the blog post and tried to read it. But the whole time, those words replayed in my head. “My retarded brother,” he had said… in response to me sharing I had a child with Down syndrome.

He didn’t use the word “retarded” in a vulgar, mean way. He wasn’t making fun of his brother. He was describing his brother using the textbook definition of retarded – “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.” I assumed this is normal for him to talk about his brother in this way. But, this was not normal for me. I have never and will never think of my son in this way. It hurt me to read those words.

Yes, Augie has Down syndrome. But he is so much more than a diagnosis. He is a happy 4-month-old little boy with the best gummy smiles. He loves to stare at me with his expressive eyes. I sing to him. I talk to him. He listens intently. He loves to snuggle. He reaches for his toys and loves playing on his play mat. He can bring a smile to anyone’s face.

The R-word is offensive to him, even when there is no ill intent behind it.  

baby with down syndrome in a walker

Yet, there it was, this word that made me cringe, cry, and snarl all at once. Augie is only 4 months old, and already this word was indirectly thrown in his direction. I now had a choice for how to respond. I could ignore it. I didn’t know this person. We had only exchanged a couple of messages back and forth. I could just choose not to respond and go on with my life. But that word. The kick in the gut I felt when I read it. I couldn’t just ignore it.

I could be passive aggressive and just blog about it. Not actually say anything back to him but get out my feelings through writing. Avoid conflict. But, again, that word. The tears that dropped from my eyes when I read it. I couldn’t be passive about the use of that word.

So I went with option 3. I chose to respond and address it. I carefully considered the words I would use in my response. Because words matter. Words can lift a person up or tear them down. They are powerful. This was not about being aggressive or rude, stepping up on a pedestal and looking down on this stranger, or shaming him. This was about sharing a different perspective with him, and ensuring he understood how that word made me feel. I let my emotions simmer down, and then I wrote.

Here was my response:

Thank you again for sharing. Your faith is strong and your writing compelling. […] To be honest though, I was thrown off before I even opened your blog post by how you described your brother as your “retarded brother”. I know that you were not using the r-word as an offensive term, and in it’s truest form, it is simply a description of someone less mentally, physically or socially developed for their age. And it is probably very normal for you how talk about your brother. But let me offer a different perspective.

You never know how a word like ‘retarded’ is going to hit somebody. Or, who may have a child or sibling that has had that word thrown at them in a hurtful, disrespectful, ugly way. Even in the medical world, mental retardation is no longer used. In the same way that mental retardation replaced words like idiocy several decades ago, now intellectual disability is a more appropriate description.

 I also think that people-first language is important no matter who we talk about. Down syndrome does not define my son… Augie is not a Down’s baby, he is not Down Syndrome. Augie has Down Syndrome. I always put him first when I talk about him. […]”

He never responded, so I don’t know that I made a difference. Maybe I did, and maybe the next time this individual describes his brother, he’ll choose different words that highlight the unique and wonderful person his brother most definitely is. But, maybe he won’t.

And that is OK. Because I went with option 3. I spoke up. I was respectful but honest. I didn’t allow an offensive word to slide by without explaining my point of view.

mom holding baby with down syndrome

I stood up for the stranger’s brother.

I stood up for Augie.

And I will continue to do so. Always. Because that’s what mommas do.

Spread the Word to End the Word! You can head here to pledge to stop using the R-word. It’s a step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.


Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

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