Amelia Sachiko came into our lives different from her brothers. She was my first caesarean birth, and while I would normally request to walk to my birthing room, with Sachiko I welcomed the wheelchair as I prayed to calm my anxious heart and trembling legs. Perhaps subconsciously I knew this was going to be a special child, even at birth.
My husband Chips and I run a swim school. Two weeks before giving birth we had met with a developmental doctor, a family friend, to ask for advice as we had encountered more students with special needs at our school. With safety always our utmost concern, we wanted to know how best to address their needs. It was a sign. Two weeks later, on our 7th wedding anniversary, Sachiko came along with an extra chromosome.
It was a shock, to say the least, and most trying as we waited for confirmation from her blood test (the unknown always is), but somehow I knew even at first sight, as a mama always does, there was something different.
It was hard and scary because we had no idea we were going to have a child with Down Syndrome. We cried a lot in the beginning, and the tears came from a place of fear of the unknown. We didn’t know what Down Syndrome meant, or what the implications were. We were caught off-guard, but we also knew in hindsight that God had been preparing us for this journey.
Five years later, here we are. There are so many miracles to share surrounding Sachiko’s birth – she is God’s perfect gift to us. We are blessed.
She is a bundle of joy and mischief rolled into one. She has been the collective household therapy during the time of Covid-19, bringing so much healing just by her presence. She gives her affection so freely, innocently, and lovingly. When we walk around the village, Sachiko always says “Hi!” with a wave and a beaming smile to the guards, or to anyone she passes by. Such a simple gesture brings so much joy. We all love to swim with Sachiko because she is a fish just like her mama. She can be in the water for hours!
As a family, we are immensely close. We are blessed with three wildly affectionate and athletic kids. Noah is 10, Elijah is 8 and Sachiko is 4. The boys are passionate about soccer, while Sachiko loves the water. We all still sleep together in one room, and that should tell you a lot! At home, I’m the ‘bad cop’ or disciplinarian, while Chips is the ‘big kid’ who plays soccer with the boys, does Zumba, and sings princess songs with Sachiko.
We told the boys about Sachiko’s condition as soon as they were able to comprehend. They know she has Down Syndrome, but they don’t think anything of it. She’s just their sister. They help out with little things like occasionally reminding Sachiko not to stick her tongue out.
They are typical boys and play rough with each other. They don’t treat Sachiko any differently. In fact, she is totally able to hold her own, and sometimes we find Elijah crying because she had bitten him or pounced on him. The boys are her best friends and therapy. She sees them climb the bunk bed and just follows right behind. They are really good brothers to her, though I think in the end, she may be the ‘boss’!
We are fortunate that so far, we have not encountered any uncomfortable situations when taking Sachiko out or introducing her to other families and children.
People sometimes ask what challenges I face raising Sachiko, and my answer is it’s not that scary. In fact, she brings so much joy, love and healing. Do not underestimate her capabilities. I don’t know what the future has in store for her, but I am determined to expose her to the same opportunities as her brothers are. Raising each child is an adventure, typical or atypical. You mustn’t compare, and you will appreciate every milestone that much more.
Ever since Sachiko came into our lives I knew Chips and I would eventually be doing something for children with special needs. When I accepted the position of Board Chair with Special Olympics in the Philippines recently, it just felt right. As a former competitive swimmer and Olympian, sports has impacted my life tremendously. It opened doors and has led me to my current role as a television host and leader in a sports organization. It was a merging of two worlds close to my heart.
I want to see more athletes with intellectual disabilities pursuing their dreams in sports and beyond, alongside their typical friends. I want to see teams, schools, organizations and companies welcoming all abilities, suspending whatever preconceived notions they might have, to treat others the way they would want to be treated.
My message to the parents of children with disabilities is to share the beauty of our children with others. Don’t hide them. Don’t be ashamed of them. Show that with a little help and effort our children can do wonders, and contribute to the good of all mankind. I heard recently, that children with intellectual disabilities are not an obligation, but an inspiration for all. How true.