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How one little boy redefined a couple's idea on parenting and life
Story by Dena Roché
Photo curtesy of the Abbott family
Nicole Abbott, a certified public accountant, and Aaron, a high school teacher, held all the dreams any expectant parents have.
For Aaron, it was giving their two-year-old son Lincoln a sibling to play with. For Nicole it was imagining what university their unborn child would go to.
But a few days after giving birth to Jude on May 7, 2016, those dreams came crashing down. The doctors told Nicole there was a 30 to 40 percent chance Jude had Mosaic Down syndrome, despite the fact that prenatal tests showed no sign indicating Down syndrome.
“I remember being so pissed,” said Nicole. “Why would [the doctor] say all those crazy things when he obviously was just a few weeks early?”
But those crazy things turned out to be reality.
“I still feel an overwhelming amount of guilt regarding my feelings when we found out about Jude’s diagnosis,” said Aaron. “We had just had another child, had given Lincoln a sibling. I should have been overjoyed. Instead, it was one of the darkest moments of my life.”
As any parent of a child with special needs knows, those feelings are normal.
“I wish we could say we handled it well, but we didn’t,” said Nicole. “We both walked out [to] the hospital hall, and when we were finally alone, we held each other and sobbed. We just felt so blindsided and so lost.”
Nicole struggled for a month before her doctor prescribed Zoloft to help her.
With the support of family, friends and their neighbors in Coronado who rallied around them, Nicole and Aaron adjusted to their new reality.
They found parenting groups and Gigi’s Playhouse, a national organization that connects families whose children have Down syndrome.
“We also lucked out because the same week that Jude was born, local author, Amy Silverman, published, ‘My Heart Can’t Even Believe It’, a memoir about her daughter Sophie who has Down syndrome. We instantly connected and since then she’s been our ‘person’ that we always turn to,” Nicole said.
The couple slowly learned to adjust to their new reality, partly drawing on Aaron’s background working with individuals living with developmental disorders back in 2000.
“It’s amazing how life sometimes prepares you for new realities,” he said.
Since Jude came into their lives, the Abbotts’ perceptions about parenting have shifted in many expected and unexpected ways.
“One of the most difficult things for me is to not compare Jude’s development to where Lincoln was at his age,” said Aaron. “My focus as a parent has been transformed to promote kindness and acceptance of differences and diversity above all else.”
Being a parent of any child is hard due to the uncertainty and challenges. Having Jude has also caused the Abbotts to turn to each other more than ever.
“When you have a two-year-old who can’t walk, talk, and likes to hit his head into the ground when he can’t communicate, it’s a challenge,” said Nicole. “We’ve learned how to support and balance out the other parent if one of us is melting down. While we love getting away on dates, we also both take individual nights off, so Aaron can hike, and I can go sit at our local neighborhood bar with a book and a beer.”
While parenting can be difficult, both Jude and the family are thriving.
“Jude loves to play with his brother Lincoln, and absolutely thrives in his daycare that has him among his peers. We are so lucky to have found such a good community for him,” said Nicole.
For other couples that become parents of a child with special needs, Nicole offers this advice: “Find your tribe. Some people find large support groups. For us, it has been a few other Down parents that we feel connected to, and friends who aren’t in our situation who can support us when we need it.”
Dena Roché is a professional lifestyle journalist whose work appears in magazines like American Way, United Hemispheres, Modern Luxury, Luxury and more. In her free time you can find her at the gym, on the trail or in a sushi bar enjoying a glass of wine with friends.
Read more by Dena Roché.