February is Down Syndrome Consciousness Month. I have never personally known any one with Down Syndrome but the past year, I became more aware of Down Syndrome as I came to know moms whose babies and kids have been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. As a way of celebrating and raising awareness among us, I would like to share the stories of these moms and their special children.
Today, my guest writer is Ms. MALU TIONGSON-ORTIZ. Malu is married to Atty. Claro B. Ortiz and have three children, Carlo Miguel (32), Claro Paulo (28), and Clarissa Lorraine (26), born with Down syndrome. She also have two grandchildren, Lucas and Adriana.
In her early years she ran a furniture showroom and was a set designer for Martin and Pops and Tell the People in channel 7. After, she had stores selling Ralph Lauren items (Chapsville, Shoppesville), and designed and created bead jewelry (Clarisse Beads, Theater Mall). When she discovered that her daughter with Down syndrome was hearing impaired, she took a leap of faith and gave up her work to be a hands-on-Mom and began to homeschool her. It is when she discovered that Clarissa is an artist. Clarissa makes modern portraits and abstract paintings. Malu enhances and cleans her artworks.
She also counsels and leads women, teach Bible and give talks on parenting children with special needs, roles of a wife, Inner Beauty, and financial stewardship. She also teaches Bible study in a birthing clinic in a squatters area in Antipolo. It is a ministry run by American Missionaries (New Faith Family Ministry). She has been speaking nationwide and was even invited to speak in L.A. Ca. USA in 2011 where she also exhibited Clarissa’s artworks.
In 2009, her book, “Embracing God’s Purpose for My Special Child” was launched at the Manila International Book Fair.
Currently, she is the vice president of the Downs Syndrome Association of the Philippines.
How do parents feel when they are told that their child has some kind of “defect”? When God assigns us the special task of parenting a child with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy or ADHD, our natural reaction is to feel disappointment, distress, and sadness. There is worry, anxiety, and apprehension about the future, anticipating the need for special care, and much unconditional love, patience and perseverance.
I was at the Christmas Party of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines last Sunday, December 9, 2012, at the San Lorenzo Village Park, and met a new mother of a child with Down syndrome. Bella (not her real name) gave birth to her son two months ago and I had the privilege then of visiting her at Cardinal Hospital. When I was informed about her child, I had sensed a burden for her, that I should see her, to comfort her and help her understand that God has a special purpose for her child’s life. But no matter how I tried to encourage her, sadness and fear were written all over her face.
The Bible tells us that God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin pledged to be married to Joseph. Mary was young, and poor, and seemed unlikely to be chosen by God to carry out an important task. A young woman was to bear the Messiah who was to come and save us from our sins. Through the Holy Spirit, Mary would be pregnant and would likely face shame and even threats of danger. Mary courageously accepted the task in spite of the great risks, and answered, “May it be to me as you have said,” Luke 1:38.
Re-reading the story of the birth of Jesus Christ and meditating on these verses in Luke’s Gospel made me ponder on these questions, “Did I willingly accept this special task that God was entrusting to me when He gave me a child with Down syndrome? Did I instantly obey Him — or did I “make tampo” (hold a grudge) with God? Am I ashamed of my child’s condition?” Like Mary, some of us as parents are also asked by God to raise children with special needs born for a specific purpose. Obviously, our special needs children were not created to save us from our sins; nevertheless, God gives these children to us to accomplish His purposes. He gives them as instruments to shape and mold our lives. Through them we learn to seek God and pray to Him. We become better people, and are given the opportunity to glorify God through our lives and the lives of our children with special needs.
My daughter Clarissa, born with Down syndrome, hearing- and speech-impaired, physically handicapped and bipolar, is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. Through her I am drawn closer to God and through her I learned to surrender all my fears to Him. God works through my daughter to strengthen my faith and mold my character, teaching me to rely on Him on a daily basis. Clarissa is not an accident. God chose Mary to be the mother of the Messiah who would save the world, and this same God chose me to be the mother of a child who has a special purpose in our lives.
Clarissa has also been God’s instrument to comfort me most especially on important occasions such as Christmas. Being separated from my husband for six years has truly been difficult, spending Christmas Eve’s alone in my room crying to God, asking Him to keep me company. It is during these moments that I would experience God’s presence in a more intimate way. On Christmas day, I look forward to seeing my children and grandchildren who come over to celebrate with me. While my two older sons, Carlo Miguel and Claro Paulo are now both parents, I still have Clarissa to take care of for the rest of her life. Clarissa is practically all I have left. She is my best friend, my prayer partner, and we do a lot of activities together. It is not always easy to take care of her specially when she throws a tantrum. But God blesses me with a special kind of joy when I’m with her and that encourages me to keep going.
Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel is an inspiration for us as parents to trust God, for He knows that we are the best parents for our child with special needs. And if God were to turn back time and gave me a choice: would I be the parent of a special needs child or not, I would still choose my daughter Clarissa. This time I will tell the Lord, “May it be done to me as you have said.”