Hello! I’m Martha. I’m a wife, mama, and occupational therapist. I live in the beautiful mountains of Idaho with my husband, Alex, and our children. We have two boys, Michael and Matthew, and welcomed our daughter Anne, in January. Anne was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome (I knew the moment I saw her beautiful face). My introduction to Down syndrome began long before Anne’s birth. When I was in high school, I worked with three beautiful young girls providing respite and community services to them and their families. I also spent my study halls volunteering in my high school’s special education classroom, spending precious hours working on art projects, meaningful interactions with the students, and getting out for walks on the trail near our school. These students and children were a big part in my decision to become an occupational therapist. I attended Creighton University, and earned my Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences and Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. As I look back, there were so many things preparing me to take on the role of parenting my sweet Annie girl. From the hours spent helping children learn, to being connected with therapists who now help me treat my own child, to knowing how to advocate for them; it all has added up.
I’m learning every day, though, to give myself grace as a mother, to meet my child where she is and not where I want her to be, and to find balance and joy in the often stressful chaos that is life. I’m struggling to turn off my “therapist brain” and just be her mom. I’m learning to advocate for my family and what we need, listening to my gut instincts, and discerning the things that are most important to us and our family values. Our days and time together are precious, and we strive to fill them with meaning and joy. We are finding what works for us, and allows us to spend our time working on quality over quantity. I am learning that the textbook recommendations and best practices don’t always fit into the realities of our family life (which is a hard one as I have purchased 6 textbooks related to Down syndrome since Annie’s birth), and that’s okay. Our children and families are beautifully unique, and our approaches to their care should reflect their individual needs.
I have worked hard to take a deep breath when I get a question or comment about my Annie’s appearance. This has been one of my hardest experiences as a mother, and if I’m honest it’s one that I tend to worry about in anticipation. I am realizing that the overwhelming majority of interactions with people come from a place of genuine observation. I have gotten some inappropriate comments, but I try to be as kind in my response as possible. If it’s a day that I’m struggling, I might just respond with “she’s the sweetest, we love her so much!” If I have the emotional capacity at that moment, I try to educate and inform in a simple way. I take a minute to factually share about her diagnosis of Down syndrome and our little girl’s value in our family. I like to think of these interactions as an opportunity to plant a seed with people we meet so they can come to know and understand the worth of all people, especially those with differing abilities and appearances.
Dealing with the isolation that has occurred as a result of Covid-19 has added an extra challenge for our family, as it likely has for many of you reading this. I really struggled those first few weeks after Annie’s birth being separated from our loved ones. I had a strong longing to see our friends and family hold our girl, to see that she is surrounded by a community that will carry us on the hard days and celebrate the joyous achievements together. On the other hand, the relationships that I have made with other families through online communities or through mutual friends have brought an immense comfort to me as a mother. I have connected with mothers who have walked this journey for many years and have wise words of comfort and reassurance. We have had an outpouring of shared stories that give us hope for the ways in which our own daughter will touch those who are lucky enough to know her.
For many of us, the future holds many uncertainties and unknowns for our children and families. One of the most profound statements I have heard from another mother has helped ground me when my worries become too great. “Everyone runs their own race.” Wherever you are, in your own race, I hope that you don’t get so caught up in trying to win the race that you lose sight of the beauty along the way.
-Martha Farnsworth, OTD, OTR/L