One afternoon, late summer 2011, I believe, I came home and received a phone call from the DSAGC. At this point, Wyatt's diagnosis was settling in and I had started to get fairly involved with the Ds Community in Cincinnati. The DSAGC contact said that there was a new Mom who was having some ups and downs with her new diagnosis, and they thought that I would be a good person for her to connect with. They gave me her number, and we eventually connected. We decided to meet at the Hyde Park Panera with our babies. I walked in and proceeded to meet Leesha and her gorgeous daughter Jaia. We ate and talked, and found lots of things in common, including our inner fears about our children's futures and many joys as well. We have since grown from that first meeting into having a deep and meaningful friendship. Leesha is beautifully honest, funny as heck and is incredibly smart (did I mention she has her Ph.D?). She dresses Princess Jaia in some killer duds, too.
I admire so many things about her, including her strength...and her spunk.
And Jaia is now Wyatt's fiance, until further notice at least ; )
First Name: Leesha
Jarren, age 12, basketball enthusiast and future entertainment lawyer or TV personality; Jaxson, age 5, video game expert, bundle of energy, future superhero; Jaia, age 20 months, princess who is adored by her brothers who serve as her loyal subjects, destroyer of jewelry, diva rockin’ the extra chromosome.
Do you work or volunteer? IF yes, what do you do (besides being a great Mom!)?
I am a professor in the Communication department at Cincinnati State College.
How many months/years have you been involved with the Eastside or Extraordinary Friends Mom’s group?
The groups that I am most involved with are the African American Family Network and the (Extra)Ordinary Friends Playgroup. I have been a part of the AAFN since Jaia was about 2 months old. We officially formed (Extra)Ordinary Friends in April 2012. [Leesha named this group, which was the inspiration for starting, and naming, my Blog!!] I stay involved with some of the other groups and with the DSAGC, though I would say that those two groups have been my lifelines through this process.
Why you like being a part of this group?
I love being a part of the (Extra)Ordinary Friends because we are all going through the same stages together. Our children will grow up together. I have no doubt that they will form lifelong friendships with each, and I know that I have formed lifelong friendships as well. The African American Family Network is so important to us because we share a cultural connection. Our families have children of varying ages so we have mentors that we can connect with for advice and to see what comes next with our children’s development. I am more politically passionate about the AAFN because of the stark racial disparity of life expectancy for African Americans as compared with Caucasians who have Down syndrome.
Best advice for new parents of a child with T21:
I will share the best advice that I received. “It’s always going to hurt, but it won’t always hurt this much”. Someone told me that when Jaia was very young, and I held onto those words for dear life! And I have found it to be true. Does it still hurt sometimes? Absolutely. Does it hurt as deeply as it did the first year? Absolutely not.
Greatest joy in having a child with T21:
Well of course I love the Ds community and the friends we’ve made. We have an instant family. One of my two joys has been watching how accepting my children are of differences. I always talked to them about being aware and being kind. But no amount of lectures can replace their experiences of having a sibling with T21 and interacting with people who have T21 or other special needs. My second greatest joy has been educating others, and educating myself.
What is one thing you’ve learned personally from your journey that you would like to share with other [EXTRA]ordinary Friends?
It’s okay to be sad. I think there’s a pressure from the Ds community, unintentional as it may be, that you have to be happy and joyful about Down syndrome to really love your child. You can love and adore your child and still wish they didn’t have Ds. There is no time frame to grieving. I wish we would allow each other the space and opportunity to be authentic about how we are feeling. I have found the acceptance to do that in the African American Family Network and the (Extra)Ordinary Friends group, and I am always grateful for that.
Favorite Therapy Trick/Tool:
When we were working on “tummy time” so Jaia could get upper body strength, I would spread the blanket across the pew at church and lay her on it. She kept trying to lift her head because she heard the music and the preaching. Instant therapy for 2 hours!
Random question: What did you do during your childhood summers that you loved the most?
Hmmmm….visit the ice cream truck? I worked at the Cincinnati Zoo in high school. It was definitely one of my favorite jobs ever.
If you feel like it’s not too personal, can you share your diagnosis story?
Let’s just say I didn’t know prenatally, and for me acceptance was a choice, not a foregone conclusion.
Thank you, Leesha for being an [EXTRA] ordinary inspiration, advocate, and friend!
|The beautiful Dr. Leesha!|
|Princess Jaia at her baptism|
|Leesha's supper handsome sons|
|Sweet kisses from Jaia!|