At 23 years old, I was the mother of five beautiful babies; being a child bride at 18, starting a family happened rather quickly. At 20 years old, I gave birth to my first baby girl; my very own doll baby. Eight months later, I found myself pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl. Being a twin myself, it was an amazing experience to have a set of my own. I was such a proud momma and enjoyed taking care of my babies.
It turns out that my family wasn’t quite complete. By the time my first set of twins were two, another set of twins entered our family; a second boy/girl set. This took our rapidly growing family to five children under the age of five.
During the time I was carrying my second set of twins, there were several women in the church who were pregnant, and I remember saying to myself, ‘What if someone has a baby born with something wrong?” To this day, I can’t explain where that thought came from, but I believe it was God’s way of preparing me for my special blessing.
When I delivered my second set of twins, I knew immediately that something was different about my baby boy, Ryan. When I questioned the doctors and nurses, they assured me that he was fine. I had two babies at home and could tell my baby boy was different.
It wasn’t long after I got home from the hospital that our pediatrician finally admitted he thought my son had Down Syndrome and wanted him tested. Ryan’s health issues pointed toward a Down Syndrome diagnosis, even before the test results confirmed his condition. How was it possible that I could have a baby with Downs? I was so young. I remember taking Ryan into his nursery and rocking him, allowing the tears to fall — a release of my own pain — and promising my son that I would protect him forever.
I remember my mother telling me that God only gives babies like Ryan to special people because He knows they can handle it. Why did God think I could handle having a son with special needs? I had five babies that needed me so my plate was pretty full.
My son’s health issues rapidly became the focal point and his special needs were secondary. Ryan had to have heart surgery at four months old and then again at six months old. My son having Downs no longer concerned me. I just wanted my baby boy to make it. I was so torn between being home with four babies that needed me and knew I was their Mom and wanting to be at the hospital with my son who wasn’t aware of my presence.
Happily, after Ryan’s second heart surgery, he began to thrive and smile and steal the hearts of everyone. He was a very special little boy and added so much happiness to our lives. Whenever we went somewhere as a family, Ryan was the first one everyone wanted to see. He had a smile that would brighten any bad day and he loved everybody.
During those years, there were times that I struggled with Ryan’s disability and wanted to protect him from the world that could be so cruel at times. The acceptance that Ryan wouldn’t go to school with his siblings and needed to be in special classes broke my heart because I only saw my son as normal. These separations were constant reminders that others saw him differently. I tried mainstreaming Ryan into regular classes but then realized how unfair I was being to him. Mainstreaming him was for my benefit of placing him in the so-called “normal” world, but as he struggled, I knew I had to do what was best for him. Ryan went on through all his years of school full of life and enjoying his world, a world that I am so honored to be a part of.
Ryan now lives in a group home with other men with similar needs and he is relishing his ‘somewhat’ independent life.
Ryan’s favorite question to me as a little boy was, “Mom, you happy?” To which I would always answer yes, and then he’d say, “Why you happy?” To this day, at age 31, every time I talk to Ryan he still ask me that very same question to which I reply, “Yes, Ryan, I’m very happy that God trusted me enough to give you to me, an awesome gift that few people ever get the privilege to experience.”
Having a child with special needs is a challenge. It’s a test of your faith, but it’s also the most rewarding opportunity a parent can have because when you see the world through their eyes, the things that bring them joy, it totally changes your perspective on life.
My name is Patrice Lee, and I get so passionate when it comes to putting pen to paper; writing is an avenue that allows me to freely express myself. Losing yourself in the midst of storytelling allows an indescribable escape.
As a woman, living her second act, I am learning everyday how to navigate this amazing journey we call life. I am a 55 year old woman who also happens to be mom to five amazing grown children. I had five children in three years — I cheated — two sets of twins plus one. I have a son, Ryan, who was born with Down Syndrome. It’s pretty special going from raising five children to having five best friends.
I am the proudest Nanni in the world to six beautiful grandbabies: four granddaughters and two grandsons. The aging process has caught me a little off guard, but I’m so thankful for this journey. Having grandchildren has been the most incredible experience there is.
As I write about the aging progression, which has turned into a major therapeutic mechanism, I find myself in the middle of putting together a beautiful poems book reflecting the many seasons of life.
I am originally from New Jersey and now enjoy enthusiastically living in the South.
Follow me on this journey on Instagram @FabulouslyFreeat55; or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org