If you've been reading my blog for a while you've probably read my "Guilt" post - on how I felt right after Kayla was born and realized she had Down syndrome.
It was her eyes. As soon as I looked at her face I couldn't help but zero in on her eyes. It was because of her eyes that I knew in my heart she had Down syndrome. I couldn't focus on anything else, I couldn't even be elated that I just gave birth to my first child and she was in my arms, fresh from my womb.
I asked the midwife, "She does have Down syndrome, doesn't she?" But she wouldn't specifically answer. She did a brief look at the palm of one of Kayla's hands and shook her head. She drew an imaginary line from her eyes to her ears and said they weren't low set. All I kept saying was, "But her eyes. What about her eyes? Doesn't she look like she has Down syndrome because of her eyes?"
In that moment those eyes spoke volumes to me. Things I didn't want to hear. I was now the mother of a child with Down syndrome. My daughter had Down syndrome and this was my reality now. This was our life. This wasn't the life I imagined. This wasn't the birth I imagined. This wasn't the daughter I imagined... and it was all because of her eyes.
It was almost 2 weeks before we got the blood test results back confirming what I already knew. During that time I found myself staring at her eyes. I wondered if other people could tell just by looking at her. Sometimes I would look at her a certain way, or she would look a certain way and I would think, "hmm...maybe she doesn't have Down syndrome after all." But no, it was just a little false hope and wishful thinking. Most of the time I would look at her eyes and all I saw was "Down syndrome" like a neon light flashing off and on. It was as if her eyes were saying, "Yes I have Down syndrome, now LOOK at ME."
Of course I had no idea what was in store with those eyes.
I had no idea that yes, her eyes would become the focal point of her features. I had no idea people would comment on her eyes when they would meet Kayla. And they did, and still do. I started hearing, over and over, from strangers how beautiful her eyes are.
At first I was skeptical, thinking people were just saying that to be nice and kind ... as a consolation to the fact that they knew she had Down syndrome.
But then I finally got past the point where I didn't look at her face - at her eyes - and see the neon flashing "Down syndrome" sign anymore. I saw her eyes for what they were ... simply eyes. Eyes with a beautiful slight almond-shape tilt to them. Eyes with a pretty shade of blue. Eyes with Brushfield spots that sparkle.
So when I found out about the Most Beautiful Eyes contest, I wanted to enter Kayla's picture. It was a legitimate contest with independent judges. And of course the incentive of winning a college scholarship was one of the main reasons.
After Kayla was the state winner for SC (thanks to online voting from family and friends sharing the link) she was then selected as one of the 5 winners who were sent to the judges. Up until that point I'm not sure if anyone knew she had Down syndrome or not. Not that it mattered, that had nothing to do with the contest. When I look at the picture I submitted I don't think it's really obvious, but then again, I don't 'see' it in her all the time now either.
When we had our first newspaper interview I debated whether to mention that fact or not. In the end I decided to mention it because even though the fact that she has Down syndrome had nothing to do with the contest it is the fact that she has Down syndrome that her eyes have the beauty they have. It's because she has Down syndrome that she has the almond-shape and the Brushfield spots. I couldn't leave out that fact. I wanted people to know, yes this kid is a finalist (and as you all know - the ultimate winner!) in a most beautiful eyes contest, and guess what? She just happens to have Down syndrome.
Yet 8.5 yrs ago in the delivery room I didn't see the beauty my daughter already had in her. I never imagined that one day those eyes ... those eyes that I felt such grief over ... would sparkle and shine. I didn't know those eyes would come to speak volumes to me again; joy, wonder, amazement, innocence, curiosity, defiance, strong-willed, joy, happy, love. I had know idea those beautiful eyes would one day win her a college scholarship.
There is beauty in Down syndrome. Truly there is. Not just superficial beauty such as Kayla's beautiful eyes (although I have seen a great many children with Down syndrome who have those same beautiful eyes!) but beauty in her spirit as well. Beauty in the joy she finds with the little things, beauty in her curious nature and innocent ways.
And I think it is about time that society starts to see the beauty in Down syndrome, too ... because it is there.