Just His Sister
By, Torri Attebury
Mia was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome via amniocentesis. Besides possible medical complications, my biggest concern was her older brother, Nathan.
Nathan was 3 ½ and had just started preschool. We had told him he was going have a little sister a few weeks prior to Mia’s diagnosis. His biggest worry about being a big brother at that time – “where was she was going to sleep?” After her diagnosis, though, my biggest worry was if Nathan would know she was different. Would he even like her? What would their sibling relationship look like? Would he be able and willing to take care of her when we were gone? Would he defend her from others? How would we tell Nathan his baby sister would be different than his friends’ baby siblings?
As part of the preparation for Mia’s birth, I reached out to the Down Syndrome Association for Families (DSAF). I was placed in contact with a DSAF First Call mom who had a prenatal diagnosis with her second child as well. I met with her while I was still pregnant and after Mia was born. She supported me and gave me advice on how to prepare our family for life with Down syndrome. She suggested the book, “We’ll Paint the Octopus Red,” by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, as a way to tell Nathan about his sister’s diagnosis.
We read, “We’ll Paint the Octopus Red,” to Nathan. He didn’t understand what Down syndrome meant. He understood he was going to have a baby sister, though, and that Grandma was going to come stay with him while we were at the hospital. When asked for his opinion on what to name his sister, he said, “Devious Diesel.” Diesel is the name of one of the characters in the “Thomas the Tank Engine” stories who sometimes tricks Thomas. Thomas and his friends include Diesel even though he is a diesel and they are steam engines.
Mia was born on a Friday, she was cleared by the NICU team within 10 minutes of birth, and we left the hospital with Mia on Sunday. Nathan was most upset he didn’t get to spend more time alone with Grandma.
From the moment we brought Mia home, her Nathan has been there for her. First, trying to figure out how to play with her. He built train tracks around her and would wait for “Hurricane Mia” to destroy them. Now, it’s how to keep her out of his room.
As a mom, I have loved watching their relationship grow. When Mia was about 8 months old, I was wrapping Christmas presents. Nathan was diligently writing name tags. Mia wanted his attention. She rolled over and grabbed a wrapping paper tube and hit him with it. He yelled “Mia, stop!” She laughed. Then he smiled and laughed! In this one moment, my fears of their relationship disappeared. She was going to stand up to him, annoy him, play with him, and love him. He would do the same in return.
Now, Mia is a preschooler and has proven to be a strong, outgoing, and opinionated little girl. She tries to sneak into Nathan’s room to play with his toys when he is not looking. She will convince him to dress up as a fairy ninja. She will persuade him to do what she wants with a smile and a giggle. Her favorite part of the day is picking Nathan up from school. She waits until she sees him come out the door and then runs up and hugs him. She high fives his friends and teacher. He then takes her by the hand and walks with her back to the car. She has her devious moments with him, but mostly they love each other. To Nathan, she isn’t a sister with Down syndrome, she is just his sister. #JustASister
Step up for a great cause and support siblings just like Nathan and Mia by participating in the 2019 Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk on October 5. Your generosity will help change lives.