When Andrea Holmes was pregnant with her son, Gavin, she never could have guessed how challenging—and yet amazing—her life could be with a child who has special needs. During her pregnancy, tests showed there was a 1 in 20 chance that Gavin would have Down Syndrome, but she didn’t want to consider the possibility.
“I really fought off the diagnosis, and even after he was born I was sure he was perfect,” remembers Andrea. “They took him for some routine tests, and it was hours before they brought him back to me. When the pediatrician walked in holding Gavin, I knew what she was going to say.”
Seeking—and Giving Support
When they left the hospital, Andrea was naturally overwhelmed with the idea of being a new mom—especially a mom of a special needs child. She immediately sought out every resource she could find—including Facebook groups and participating in the local Buddy Walk, an event established by the National Down Syndrome Society, when Gavin was just two-and-a-half weeks old!
“The first few friends I made on Facebook have become my very best friends through this journey. Because their children are a little older, they could answer so many questions, point me to available resources, and give me an outlet to discuss my fears and frustrations,” says Andrea. “And even if I just needed to cry, they would sit on the phone and listen and then tell me it’s going to be ok. It’s hard to describe the value of those relationships.”
In just two months after Gavin was born, the Chattanooga Down Syndrome Society made Andrea their president, and she served on the board for five years. “I loved the work I was doing on every level, but just recently it was time for me to step down. Gavin was transitioning to elementary school, and I needed to be there,” says Andrea. “One day I’d like to serve on the National Down Syndrome Congress board, but my focus right now is on Gavin succeeding in school.”
Speaking Out to Help Others
Each year Andrea attends the National Down Syndrome Congress to learn from experts and other parents and to promote the interests of people with Down Syndrome and their families through advocacy, public awareness, and information. Last summer, she spoke at the conference about raising an only child with special needs. This can be particularly challenging because there’s not a sibling to help show the way—simple things like eating, talking, walking, and learning to play without modeling other’s behaviors can sometimes be more difficult.
Andrea’s talk quickly turned into a roundtable discussion where they covered what parents might expect at different ages and answered questions from several first-time moms who were anxious to hear about how Andrea helped Gavin overcome these challenges.
“I really learned as much from Gavin’s therapists regarding play and behavior modeling as he did. When there’s no one for him to mimic, it’s hard. And if it’s your only child who has these challenges you don’t know what is and what isn’t normal. I wanted to pass this information on to other parents facing the same situation,” says Andrea. “One thing that helps is that I’m not comparing him to my other typically-developing children. I’m not judging him by what he can’t do, and because of that I feel I’m a better advocate for Gavin.”
Balancing It All
Through it all, Andrea is thankful for the people in her life who’ve been there during difficult times. Andrea’s husband Shaun has been passionate about promoting acceptance of Gavin’s condition, found helpful tools to support his development, and reminded her to stay positive. Her managers at CHI Memorial helped establish a work schedule that ensures Gavin’s needs are met and she can attend his therapy appointments. And Andrea’s mom cares for Gavin every weekend while she works.
“So many people have helped us and loved on Gavin, but my mom has been there every step of the way. We couldn’t have made it this far without her unconditional love and support,” says Andrea. “Parenting isn’t exactly like I expected it to be—this is not the life you plan for your child. But I’ve been given a great responsibility to protect and nurture him no matter what. Gavin is amazing in every single way, and I’m going to make his life the best it can be.”