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How My Daughter With Down Syndrome Helped Me Overcome Social Anxiety

Growing up, I wouldn’t talk to the clerk at our local grocery store. Instead, I looked down at my feet and counted the seconds until my mom said it was time to go. As a teenager, I was the kid in the back of the class, scribbling in my notebook, hoping the teacher would not call on me. I walked through the hallways avoiding eye contact — I was content with being invisible. At that time I was labeled the “shy” girl, but now I know I had social anxiety. I attempted to always take the road of least resistance and avoid conflict at all cost.

This method worked well, but it also left a void. If I disagreed with an opinion, I stayed silent. I never thought my voice would make a difference. While my friends talked about the careers they strived for, I was afraid to think of the future. I never felt passionate about any particular career or subject matter. I was so envious of the people around me finding their niche, while I just floated down the river of life as I always had.

Then she came. The day I gave birth to my daughter, Coraline (Cori), was the day I found my life calling. I was made to be her mother, which I know can sound cliche. Of course most mothers are passionate about their role as caregivers. But my situation was different, my daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect at birth. She came into this world in need of a warrior to stand by her side and help her face some massive obstacles.

I will always remember the moment it hit me. I was holding this new little life in my arms, my mind swirling with all of the medical terminology and events that had been thrown at me right after her birth. Tears fell down my cheeks as I wondered how I would ever be able to handle having a child with Down syndrome… and then she squeezed my finger.

She had such a strong grip — she was a little fighter from the beginning. I looked down into her beautiful, almond shaped hazel eyes and it hit me. She needed me to step out of my comfort zone; she needed me to stop floating down the river of life. It was time to go off course, time to face some rapid water and steer around sharp rocks that could throw us off. She needed me to be her warrior and her advocate.

I’ve become a person I never knew I was capable of being. I have handed my daughter off to a team of medical professionals so they could mend her broken heart. I’ve sat through evaluation after evaluation to prove my daughter was indeed in need of services, but at the same time I had to speak up to prove how much she truly is capable of. I’ve walked into IEP meetings with an overstuffed binder under my arm, prepared to fight for my daughter’s rights to an education. I’ve stood up in front of a room of teenagers to explain what Down syndrome is and to educate on acceptance. I’ve seen the darkest side of humanity, individuals who would try to say my daughter has no right to even be alive. That was never a battle I thought I would be capable of handling, but here I am today; fighting for her right as well as all individuals with Down syndrome to be treated with respect and dignity. As all humans would wish to be treated.

I was the girl who wouldn’t talk a store clerk — now I am the woman standing up against any and all who will try to hold my daughter back from meeting her full potential.

I used to go with the flow, but the day Cori was born, I was thrown into the river and emerged a new person. The Down syndrome community has an army of advocates ready to fight for the rights that every human being deserves.