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Life with Trisomy 21: Catalena’s Story

By Priscilla, Cat’s Mom

When people tell you that you don’t know love until you’re a parent, it’s true. When Catalena first looked up at me with her little baby eyes, it was like time stopped. The world was still. I knew she was going to make my life better, more interesting, and full of love and happiness.

Don’t get me wrong – being Cat’s mom also came with an overwhelming need and desire to figure out how to make the world safe for her. You see, Cat was born with Down syndrome (or Trisomy 21). The diagnosis came with challenges, and being a single mom made things even more difficult. But Cat is a strong, determined little girl. She is fierce. Together, we can make it through anything.

I’ll never forget the negativity that we faced from some of Cat’s doctors, other medical professionals, and strangers. They are misguided and hold on to a stigma about people with this condition. They don’t take the time to see the positivity and light that individuals with Trisomy 21 bring. I try to enlighten them whenever I have the chance. But if I can’t, I don’t worry. I know someday my daughter will blow them all away with her abilities.

While we have encountered some negative people, the individuals who have impacted our lives the most are those who love and lift us up. Cat connected me to a whole new community of people who helped me understand that while we may feel alone sometimes as parents, we aren’t. With the help of friends, family, and strangers who quickly became family, I’ve found the support I needed to support my daughter.

Our children feed us love and strength with a magnitude I can never quite put into words. Cat is my world, my light, my inspiration, my teacher, my baby. She makes me a better person and a better mother every day.

Many people questioned the kind of life Cat could lead when she was born with Trisomy 21. They made assumptions about her abilities and limitations. But Cat and I don’t let those people get us down. We are proving them wrong every single day. 

I found Cat’s tickle spot when she was a baby. Hearing her giggle was the happiest, most addictive feeling for me. Eventually, I saw her laughter bring that same feeling to others. I have even seen her laugh bring grown adults to tears.

Cat loves music. She always has. She dances to a different beat, that’s for sure, but it’s hers. As she grows up, Cat is challenging her boundaries. She is discovering her interests, from cheerleading to horseback riding to swimming to creating art. She tests her limits all the time.

We have had difficult days, illnesses, and long hospital stays. But through it all my daughter makes friends, social butterfly that she is. Cat has frustrations and behaviors that need redirection. But we don’t let things slide just because we have a hard time. Cat knows her manners, says please and thank you, and helps with chores. She loves to be helpful – and I’m going to keep enjoying that until she becomes a teenager!

Seriously, Cat makes me appreciate life with all of its ups and downs. The ups and downs are different for everyone – we all have a unique journey in this life. It’s what we do with those ups and downs, how we mold them, that matters. For those who questioned Cat’s quality of life, let me tell you – there is no doubt about how happy, truly, purely happy, she is with all that life offers.

My hope and wish for other people who are nervous or curious about Down syndrome is that they talk to us. Introduce yourself to me or Cat. Ask us questions.

I love when people see us and wish us well or bless me. That is incredibly sweet. But more than that, I want to have Cat connect with everyone in the world and feel included as the unique, wonderful individual that she is.

I want others to feel the joy that Cat brings. I want them to understand that I am already blessed far beyond what they can imagine.