Mom of two finds the hidden joy of raising a child with special needs

By Natasha Sim | Parents Avenue’s Writer

Apple Ford had no clue that bringing a baby with Down Syndrome (DS) into the world would bring her and her family so much light and joy. In fact, she went against all sound medical advice to abort her pregnancy when doctors confirmed that the growing fetus in her womb had DS.

“My husband and I actually booked the appointment for the abortion. This was when we were about 20 weeks pregnant. But the night before, I could feel Emma kicking really hard. It was as if she was telling me not to do it,” Apple said.

That night Apple’s husband related to her some gruesome scenes he saw through watching abortion videos on YouTube. “Actually kan, my husband asked me again if I really wanted to abort. He said to me, ‘you know kah it’s very scary’,” she recalled. 

So, they cancelled the appointment. Eight months later, Apple gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom she says has taught her big life lessons that cannot be traded for anything else in the world.  

Parents Avenue got to sit down with Apple as she shared with us what it means to be raising a toddler with DS, and what it took for her to bring her special baby into the world. 

To abort or not to abort?

“I was scared when I found out that the baby I was carrying had DS,” Apple said. 

“When my first doctor told me that my fetus had abnormalities common in those with DS, he also said that it is something not to worry about because the fetus may outgrow those symptoms,” she said.

She took a full blood test to confirm her doctor’s suspicions. And because the first test wasn’t enough to confirm it, she took a second test at a different clinic to confirm the initial prognosis. 

All the doctors Apple met offered abortion as an option. And so the question of whether or not to abort her pregnancy became the biggest dilemma she had to face in her life. 

According to her, doctors had outlined all the health risks that a child with DS would face. Looking back, she wished that at least one doctor had given her something of a brighter outlook. 

Now two years after having Emma, Apple realises that it really is not as terrifying to raise a child with DS as compared to the bleak scenarios that many doctors told her about. 

The overwhelming sense of fear was only there because the situation was unknown.

Emma at 9-months-old after her first surgery for congenital heart defect
Blessed with a third chromosome

Individuals with DS carry an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21 in their genes.

“It was shocking because I wasn’t above 35 years old and there’s no family history of DS in my side and my husband’s side. But I did find out that every 1 in 1,200 women at the age of 25 is at risk of having a child with Down Syndrome. I was the lucky one.

“Emma is so loveable. If I had known that she’d have the most beautiful brown eyes and biggest smile, I wouldn’t even have thought about having an abortion,” Apple said. 

“She’s certainly different. I like to think of her as the one that ties the family together. And aside from family, everyone who’s ever taken care of her, including nannies, get immediately attached to her.”

According to Apple, Emma’s got a sweet and easygoing personality. “Unlike her older brother,” she said while jokingly comparing Emma and her older 4-year-old brother. 

“I’ve never had problems with her sleep and eating. And even now, she’s meeting all her developmental milestones. We would not have our family any other way,” she added. 

Rethinking the term ‘special needs’

In her experience, Apple believes that our culture usually isn’t as accepting of children born with special needs. “Sometimes families
mahu tapuk-tapuk their special kids.”

She recalled a conversation with an elderly uncle during one of Emma’s therapy visits to the hospital. “The uncle told me, people say ah children like [Emma] are usually very soi (unlucky). So I had to tell him, it’s not that way at all. If anything, children with DS bring a lot of fortune. I asked him to think about the gifts his family received with the birth of his grandchild with DS.”

“It really only takes a change in perspective to challenge stigma about Down Syndrome.” Or any other condition that makes an individual differently-abled. 

All the time, negative presumptions about having a child with DS are highlighted by doctors and close ones. But rarely do we speak about the strength of DS individuals who are able to live in spite of their special needs. 

“I never ever want to limit Emma. Actually I already plan to enrol Emma in gymnastics classes once she’s old enough. I believe she can do well in it because of her flexibility,” she said referring to Emma’s low muscle tone and hypermobile joints which are symptoms of having DS.

Apple says her hope for Emma is that she may be able to grow up independent and strong.

#Downrightperfect no matter what

Emma’s family believes that she is #Downrightperfect, no matter the number of hospital visits and ward admissions she needs to go through.

Apple gave birth to Emma naturally without labour complications. However, newborn Emma was required to stay at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for two weeks due to medical abnormalities common in DS. 

At 9 months of age, Emma had to undergo high-risk surgery because of a congenital heart defect that came with her birth. 

The entire ordeal was certainly stressful. Apple spent sleepless nights at the hospital caring for her newborn. 

While Emma’s six-hour operation went by without a hitch, it would not be the last of Emma’s time in hospitals. Just two months ago, she contracted pneumonia, which led to another admission at the ward. 

Going in and out of hospitals can certainly be taxing. Not to mention the long-term financial costs incurred because of it. 

But that’s just life with a special needs kid. Emma’s hospital visits are once a month. “It’s become our new normal. And really not a big deal,” Apple said. 

Like with any other child, we could either spend time focusing on the negatives and what our child can or cannot do. Or just simply accept our children as they are; and the situation as what it is. A shift in mindset can make all the difference.

“I didn’t know Emma could teach me more than I ever thought possible. I don’t know that she would fill my life with joy. And most of all, I didn’t know that Down Syndrome would be one of the biggest blessings and the most beautiful journey,” Apple said.

And the biggest lesson Emma has to teach Apple? “I’ve learnt to be more understanding, patient and to love loads and loads because that’s what Emma does—never to judge anyone no matter what their strengths and weaknesses.”

What children with special needs can teach all of us? Different is still beautiful. 

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