Do you see my amazing girl, not Down's?

Photo credit: Emer Gillepsie

Emer Gillepsie's story:

"I knew nothing about Down's syndrome until moments after the birth of my first child Laoisha.

I was a 21-year-old art student and had assumed my baby would be born healthy after a normal pregnancy. I was told I'd had just a one in 1,750 chance of having a child with Down's.

Tests hadn't picked up any abnormalities so the news came as a shock to myself and my now ex-partner. Laoisha had two holes in her heart and the future was uncertain.

But being so young, I took the news calmly and was so in love with my new baby I actually couldn't have cared less. In fact, I found myself comforting other people when I broke the news. Despite my optimism, I read everything I could about Down's syndrome to understand what we might face in the future.

Then I made another decision to live in the moment and not worry about the 'what ifs' health-wise. Luckily for us Laoisha's heart problems resolved themselves and I took each milestone one step at a time.

It turned out Laoisha learnt life skills like walking and toilet training later on, but I celebrated them all the same and didn't compare her to other kids. This was made easier as she was my first child too.

By the time Laoisha was six, she'd started taking a big interest in my work as a photographer.

I've encouraged this and we've taken part in big projects like 'Shifting Perspectives' where families with kids with Down's took pictures in their day-to-day lives. I set up my own project called Picture You, Picture me, and incredibly our photographs together went viral and were shown across the world.

As much as I was thrilled it raised awareness, I'm also aware that I want people to see Laoisha the girl, not Laoisha as the girl who has Down's syndrome.

I think the fascination of people with Down's syndrome stems from people viewing the condition as something like a novelty, as often people say: 'Ah aren't they innocent or loving or kind people' and while that is all true, anyone with Down's is also an individual.

Laoisha is 14 now and goes to a mainstream school. She can go to the shops, make her own lunch and loves cooking and clothes.

In the future I hope she can live independently, perhaps even studying catering or beauty at college.

When I fell pregnant with my second child, who is now nine months old, I told doctors I wasn't interested in being tested for the condition because I genuinely didn't mind if I had another Down's child.

While nobody would wish for a disabled child, Down's syndrome is not as terrible as some imagine and Laoisha leads a very fulfilling life.

She recently took part in a collaborative exhibition where her own photography was displayed and she talked about her work on video.

My daughter might have Down's but she has so much to give the world. It's definitely not the terrible diagnosis some people might think it is."

To find out more about Emer's photography
visit her website .


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