Eliana Tardío is the amazing mami of two very special children, Emir, 7 and Ayelén, 4. Both children were diagnosed with Down syndrome* at birth. Eliana, however, has managed to turn what could seem like a devastating circumstance into an opportunity to find her life purpose, helping raise awareness for Down syndrome. Her website, which features videos chronicling the lives of her two children, has had more than half a million visitors.
Through her own social network, she brings together families of children with special needs from all over the world. She is also the author of two books about each of her children. Born in Bolivia, Eliana came to the United States seven years ago, pregnant with her first child. She now lives in Naples, Florida.
A professional PR expert, she is Family Resource Specialist for the early intervention program Early Steps, and Education Liaison for the Healthy Start Program of Southwest Florida, which educates expectant mothers and the community to ensure healthy pregnancies.
“Having two children with Down syndrome has enabled me to combine motherhood and my professional goals,” says Eliana. “I want to help provide the best education for every child, regardless of any handicaps.”
THE BEGINNING OF HER JOURNEY
What is now a source of joy for her was first received with tears and the question, “Why me?” She has since changed that attitude to one of empowerment and joy.
“Thanks to my job that enables me to hold newborns with Down syndrome, I feel spiritually healed,” she confesses. “For a long time I felt very guilty for having cried so much when my children were born, when it should have been a joyful moment.”
IT WILL BE OKAY
Today, Eliana says she is happy to be able to transmit a message of hope and joy to new parents.
“I tell them it will all be okay. There is nothing to fear, but there is a lot to learn.”
When out and about, Eliana is frequently asked whether her children are twins, followed by whether they’re adopted, since their complexion contrasts with hers.
“I find that funny. Also, the way people look at my children and ask about them has taught me to be proud of them and proud of who I am,” she explains. “They’ve made me stronger and taught me that any circumstance, no matter how unusual, is an opportunity to educate and change the outlook somebody has about something.”
MEASURING REWARDS OF BEING A MOM
Her greatest reward is to see how her children achieve milestones that others reach at an earlier age.
“My son knows the PIN number of my debit card and pays at the supermarket checkout. My daughter, Ayelén, says she’s a princess. Emir is now learning how to read. The first time I listened to him read a book he brought from school, I felt a knot in my throat and my heart swelled. A million memories flashed before me, of so many moments spent together learning about life, reaching goals, and laughing together.”
JUMPING OVER ROADBLOCKS
There have also been difficult times, but Eliana takes them as a natural part of motherhood.
“Since I don’t have children without special needs, I wouldn’t know whether raising children with Down syndrome is harder or not. We all have to face certain challenges in life, which help us grow as human beings. I’m lucky that my children are healthy, active and very determined.”
She admits to not having the luxury of a lot of time for herself, but she doesn’t seem to mind too much.
“I’m so happy with everything my kids and I have achieved together, that it’s hard for me to see things as hardships or problems. It’s up to us to turn a challenge into an opportunity for growth and for learning.”
HOW TO REACT TO CHILDREN WITH DOWN SYNDROME
“I prefer them to ask questions, because that way I can explain things they may not understand. Often, people don’t ask, out of fear of being rude, and they act with indifference. But that doesn’t help to create an inclusive world where we can accept and learn from one another.”
ADVOCATE FOR YOUR KIDS
“Mamis of children with Down syndrome need to understand that we don’t know it all from the get-go. As our kids grow we acquire the strength and knowledge to be their advocates. We create awareness simply by sharing our stories. If you don’t enjoy being in the spotlight or handing out brochures, just have faith in your child and include him in everything you would do with any other child. Use social networks and friends and family to share your experiences.”
HOW WE CAN ALL HELP
“Those who are not parents of children with special needs become allies to our cause simply by educating themselves, sharing an article about Down syndrome, educating their own children about Down syndrome, being empathic, open minded, and open hearted to be able to see the person beyond the syndrome.”
IF YOUR BABY IS DIAGNOSED WITH DOWN SYNDROME
“You may be thinking that what’s happened to you is the worst thing a mami can go through. It’s normal to feel afraid, depressed, anguished and even have feelings of rejection towards your baby. But soon you will see that having a child with Down syndrome is not something terrible. It’s a journey filled with hope, triumphs, joy, struggles, and also satisfactions that will bring out the best in you. It will make you the best mami of the perfect child for you.”
* You may see it spelled Down’s Syndrome or Down´s syndrome. Today the most widely accepted spelling is Down syndrome.