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My Brother With Down Syndrome Changed Me Forever

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Four months into her pregnancy, my mother discovered my brother would be born with Down syndrome. The remaining five months were spent solely (and now looking back, foolishly) worrying.

Of course, never having dealt with or met anyone with Down syndrome, the entire family began to worry. Would he be accepted by others? Would he have friends? Would he learn to walk and talk like the other kids, and play with them “normally?” All these thoughts now seem so far fetched, but at the time, we worried about every detail. Because after all, we loved (and still do!) him exactly the way he is, and all we wanted was to protect him from those who don’t.

Fast forward to March 15th, 2015. Luis Felipe was born healthy, with no cardiac or health issues in general associated with Down syndrome. He scored a 9, or “excellent condition,” on his Apgar test, which summarizes a newborn’s health. I only got a chance to see him a few hours later, but when I did, all I had worried about before immediately disappeared. Thankfully, he did not have to stay a second after what was predicted, despite having been born one month premature.

As soon as possible, Lipe (Luis Felipe’s nickname) began physiotherapy and speech therapy. Soon enough, we realized there never had been anything to worry about. Even if it does take him some extra time to develop or learn new things, in the end, all that matters is that he learns it, which he has been doing exceptionally well.

From the very first weeks, Lipe has always been the most cheerful person I have ever met. Anything is a reason for him to flash a smile that can light up the room, and it never fails to do so. He overcame obstacles in ways we never knew he could. However, we had to overcome obstacles within ourselves as well. Although we were relieved and extremely happy to have him by our side, we still worried about what others would say about him, and I kept his condition a secret. After two months of simply loving him for who he is, I realized if I truly loved him, I shouldn’t be ashamed of it, and shouldn’t be ashamed of him, either. The first time I told a friend, I tried to do so naturally, but my heart was barely pounding out of my chest. My friend accepted it well, and it encouraged me to only be prouder of Lipe. These all seem such foolish fears, but when you live in a world in which society ruthlessly criticizes every inch of you (with or without Down syndrome), all you want to do is protect those you love.

Siblings luing in red checkered picnic blanket looking at camera, faces side to side

Now I understand that because of my brother, I have become way more accepting and less judging of others. Before him, if I saw someone who acts or looks different from what I am used to, I simply thought it to be weird, and shamelessly pointed or laughed. I must mention, though, I am now extremely ashamed of such actions, and glad that I have changed in these ways. I now consider their own point of view, what they could possibly be going through, and the many reasons why they could be behaving differently.

Because of my brother, I now believe there are no wrong or right choices, opinions, ways of dressing, behaving, living, or being  – there are simply different ones. From different points of view, the behavior you think is wrong could be right, and vice versa. And the diversity in those ways of being are what makes life fun. Otherwise, we would all be the same, telling each other exactly the same things, and doing exactly the same things.

Because of my brother, whenever everything seems to be dragging me down, I remember to smile and cheer myself up. I remember there is always someone who will someday look up to me, and I have to be as great of a role model as I can. I want him to know he can be anything he wants to be, and he can change the world if he wants to.

Most importantly, because of my brother, I realized we often hold onto such insignificant details, we forget to live and love like we truly should. This can be synthesized by a quote by an unknown author, which states that you should “stop waiting for Friday, for summer, for someone to fall in love with you, for life. Happiness is achieved when you stop waiting for it and make the most of the moment you’re in now.” I worried for so long that Lipe would never be “normal.” And now, I don’t want him to be. I want him to be the way he is, and I want him to love himself the way he is, too. Because true friends and family don’t count chromosomes!

Therefore, next time you meet someone with Down syndrome or another condition and find their behavior strange, remember we are all different, and all we need to do is accept people the way they are.

A version of this story first appeared on Medium.

Originally published: May 3, 2018
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