[OPINION] A tribute to my son, for Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Candice Grace Cabras Maque

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[OPINION] A tribute to my son, for Down Syndrome Awareness Month
'My fears turned into fortitude. My cries became courage. My lost self was found.'

Since February is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, let me share a piece of our story when JJ was born. 

JJ was an answered prayer. We fervently asked for a boy and He gave it to us. It was an easy pregnancy. I was 25. 

I remember that I had this fear that God would give me a sick child, but I had said to myself, of course He wouldn’t allow any misfortune on someone close to him. I knew that good things came to good people. 

JJ’s birth was well-planned. Everything was set for his arrival. We were very excited to welcome him.

But when I first saw him, it felt unusual. He didn’t move that much compared to other babies in the nursery. He did not cry. Motherly instinct told me that something was wrong.

He was very sick. I went home without him since he needed to stay in the hospital. His conditioned then worsened and he needed to be transferred to the NICU. 

Looking at his helpless, tiny body with tubes around him made me numb inside. I knew that I had just given birth, but it seemed that I had died. 

As a mother, my hopes and dreams were shattered. I was given a son I did not pray for. My fears had come true. 

I searched all available resources online hoping to get answers about his condition, until a developmental pediatrician finally confirmed that he probably had Down Syndrome.

My world crashed. 

I cursed the heavens. I hated every mother I saw in the hospital bringing healthy babies with them. I felt embarrassed that, from all the mothers who had given birth that day, I had been chosen to be his mother.

What did I do wrong to deserve a sick baby? What did I do wrong to be given a different child?

More and more questions. 

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The hospital stay became longer than we expected. Along with that, I had lost my job and I was not accepted into the new job I had prayed for.

It seemed that His answers to my questions were different, and every time I looked at other normally developing children, I felt betrayed. 

I almost lost my senses. I would hear murmurs around me. And I sometimes talked to myself. That was probably already depression but I kept denying it. Postpartum horrors hit me hard. 

Our more than two months’ stay in the hospital left us with so many financial challenges. I cannot imagine how we had survived. I had tried all possible help that I could find – PCSO, NGOs, government aid, etc. The lines were so long. 

But rain or shine, I could not complain, because I saw in my very eyes that if I was at my lowest, there were still others who suffered more than I did. I was not alone.

I believe that JJ’s long hospital confinement was our exodus. It may have seemed very impossible to overcome, but I knew that at the end of this difficult journey, God was leading us to our light.

JJ’s birth, no matter how difficult for others to see, was a miracle to us. But at that time, we could not see the reasons why. We were too focused on our pains that we failed to see how beautiful it was to share in the sufferings of others. 

More and more challenges came after his birth. The birth was just a rehearsal, actually. The pains of raising a special child in a judgmental world was much more difficult to bear. Questioning eyes, whispering neighbors, strangers’ stares are all silent battles I had to endure as a mother.

So I asked myself, what do I become after all these? What will these experiences make out of me? If I stopped, if I surrendered, what would happen to my son? No one would love him first except us. No one would accept him first except us. 

It will start with us. 

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So I picked myself up, studied, learned from mothers who also had special children, and mended my broken heart one day at a time. 

Before I knew it, JJ grew up to be a loving boy, a joy to many and an inspiration to those who continue to fight for acceptance and inclusion.

My fears turned into fortitude. My cries became courage. My lost self was found. 

There are still so many stories I have to tell. And I promised myself that I would live this life sharing them over and over again.

JJ’s birth is living proof that miracles are indeed true, but that they do not happen like magic. Miracles rest in the goodness of people. They are found in strangers who become our angels, and most importantly, they are in the strength within us.

We create our own miracles.

Yes, we are more capable than we could imagine. We are destined to conquer every difficult situation. And after every storm and after every pain, we will never be the same again. –

Candice Grace Cabras Maque is a public school teacher from Talisay City, Cebu. A mother of three and advocate for children with special needs, she is a member of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines Cebu Chapter.

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