In a society that often responds in horror to the words, “Down syndrome”, it’s very refreshing to hear stories of families who embrace their children and see past their extra chromosome.
In July 2013, Carissa and her husband Chris were thrilled to find find out they were expecting a second addition to their family. They did what most couples do when they find out their having a baby; they attended all their doctor’s appointments and Carissa exercised and ate healthy foods. Her pregnancy was totally normal and they were told their baby was healthy.
On Carissa’s blog she shares in more detail about her pregnancy. She writes, “I felt great through this pregnancy. I loved being active with running (until 5 months), swimming laps, and walking. At 20 weeks we got to see our little blessing and were told he is very healthy, has a healthy heart, blood flow, measuring good, and that it was a boy!! At about 32 weeks I was measuring smaller and only had gained about 20 some pounds. My doctor ordered an ultrasound to check that he was doing good and again he got an 8/8 on the ultrasound. At 39 weeks he was again measuring about 37 weeks and I was told that I would probably just have a smaller baby. Honestly, I never thought of anything because I felt that if there was something, it would have shown up on the 4 ultrasounds I had with the heart, lungs, etc and nothing came up.”
However, after their son was born via emergency cesarean section, a nurse practitioner came and asked if they ever heard of Trisomy 21. She said, “Were you aware he [their son] could have Down syndrome? We believe he might have Trisomy 21 because of some of the characteristics he is showing. But we aren’t sure until we take some tests. Low muscle tone, smaller weight, his swollen eyes, ears. As she left,[she said] “Well, just enjoy your baby.”
Although Carissa says she loves the hospital where she gave birth, their experience showed them that many medical professionals are unable to help families through the raw emotions that arise when a baby is born with a fetal abnormality. This is what inspired Carissa to find a way to comfort other moms who are in her same shoes.
Now, Carissa makes baby baskets filled with encouraging gift for parents of infants with Down syndrome.
Carissa Carroll, a mother of two from Shoreview, Minnesota, came up with the idea as a way to help other parents come to terms with the often intimidating idea of bringing up a child with the disorder.
Mrs Carroll named the packages ‘Jack’s Baskets’ as she thought of the idea around the time of her son’s first birthday. Each one comes with a selection of presents for the baby, as well as a welcome letter that congratulates the new parents and gives them practical information on the condition.
Mrs Carroll’s baby baskets are intended to bring joy and relief to families at a moment in their lives where they may be experiencing anxiety over the prospect of raising a child with Down’s syndrome.
Although each basket costs the Carroll family $60 to make, they have proved so popular that donations have started pouring in. So far there is enough money in the pot to make a further 130 baskets to bring comfort and happiness to families across America.
The letter Mrs Carroll writes to new families reads: ‘Hello, my name is Carissa and I would love to be one of the first people to congratulate you on your newest addition to your family. Congratulations! I also want you to know I have also experienced receiving unexpected news.
‘My husband and I welcomed our son, Jack, and were told at birth that he was born with an extra chromosome and has Down syndrome. There were moments of confusion, grief of what we thought our lives would be like, and fear. Please know that you are not alone in your feelings,’ she adds.
The letter – a version of which appears on Mrs Caroll’s blog – Strength for the Climb – goes on to describe the ways in which her son has brought joy into the lives of his family members.
Carissa told ABC News more about Jack’s Baskets. She said, “One of the things that helped me so much in those early days were the words of encouragement from parents of kids with Down syndrome that are thriving and wouldn’t change their children for the world. I’ve not met a family that has not been positively affected by their loved one with Down syndrome. But nine out of 10 people have a terrible experience in the hospital’ We need to bridge the gap between medical professionals and families.”
Earlier this week, Heather Ellis received one of Jack’s Baskets for her newborn son Dylan and said: “It was such a nice surprise to be given this wonderful gift from a family who is raising a son with Down syndrome and could share their story with us.
She concluded, “With not having any close friends or family members that have kids with Down syndrome, we didn’t know what to expect or who we could talk to.”