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What 665 Babies With Down Syndrome Have Taught Me

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Four years ago, my friend Brittany Schiavone had an idea. Brittany, a 20-something woman who has Down syndrome, returned home from work one day and told her parents, “I want to help moms of babies with Down syndrome.”

With the love, support and tireless commitment of her parents along with her self-direction team of support professionals, “Brittany’s Baskets of Hope,” her very own 501(c)3 nonprofit with her at the helm, was born.

Brittany’s mission is simple: spread resources, guidance, hope and love to families with new babies with Down syndrome across the country, delivered in the form of what she calls, “baskets of hope.” In the two years since Brittany delivered her first basket of hope, she has now sent over 665 baskets of hope to families in 47 states across the country. (We’re still holding out for Alaska, Wyoming, and North Dakota!)

It was a few months before our first delivery of a basket of hope that I joined the board of Brittany’s organization. I was one of Brittany’s direct support professionals-turned friends, and was grateful to get to serve alongside her — a woman so clearly living her purpose.

One of the biggest blessings of joining this team is my friendship with Brittany. She inspires me, she makes me laugh, she sings Meghan Trainor and Spice Girls songs with me in the car. She looks out for me, gives the best hugs, is willing to try all my green smoothies, and is my  number one wing woman, always announcing to men who meet her standards for me, “You know, Ashley’s single…”

But the other biggest blessings are the basket recipients themselves and their families, or as one recent basket recipient mama from Hawaii signed her email to us, “Love, Carson and his Ohana (it means family).”

Each day, photos and notes from moms and dads, aunts and siblings and friends of new arrivals with Down syndrome across the country appear in our email inbox, greeting us with precious smiles and hopeful words. I get to meet babies with names as creative and diverse as the families they come from: Stetson, Leilani, Valentino, Amalia, Tyshana, Aspen, and Brooks, just to name a few.

And it is the stories they tell that are the most powerful.

Holdyn’s mom, Christine, wrote to us, “I’m a single mom. I’m so in love with him! He makes my heart smile. He is the biggest blessing I didn’t know I needed.”

Or one of my favorites, a note from Alli’s mom, Nicole, which arrived last week: “We are a super active family. We enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and fishing. We love riding dirt bikes. We took Alli on her first camping trip when she was 7 weeks old! She did fantastic but we were not surprised because she’s a fantastic baby. We can’t wait to teach her how to fish, ride a dirt bike and grow a garden. I’m also looking forward to all the things she’s going to teach us.”

Nothing’s stopping Alli.

While our mission is to spread hope and love to the families we serve, I have learned that the blessings go both ways: I have received more love and joy than I had imagined. These 665 new arrivals in the world have also grown me, showing me the strength of month-long stays in the NICU, multiple heart surgeries and doctors who didn’t believe in their power to thrive.

By hearing stories of families seemingly unlike mine, I have discovered how connected we are, how much more alike than different. I have felt more whole. I have learned the joys of compassion given and received.

And, mostly, I have learned the power of community. The impossible becomes possible when we join together.

Originally published: November 18, 2018
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