I am so inspired by women who have faced many challenges in their time and still find the power and strength within them to conquer each day.

I sat down to interview Jess Fruend today. An inspiring, strong, dedicated and determined mother of 3 beautiful kids. Jess is married to Nathan, works 3 days a week and is studying to be a nurse.

Jess’ story inspires me. From afar, I have witnessed her courage, determination and grit when she has been thrown challenges which most of us could never possibly understand. To wake up every day, work for her family and now study to be a nurse to help even more people, I am just in awe. Not everyone would have been able to handle the challenges Jess has faced and from one mum to another, I am so proud of you Jess. You are strong, you are powerful and you are brilliant.

This is the story of Jess, her husband Nathan and their 3 kids. One of whom, just happened to be born with Down syndrome.

Jess and Nathan fell in love at quite a young age. They bought their first home at the age of 21 and soon after followed the birth of their first child, Jayden. Jess’ pregnancy with Jayden was not all smooth sailing; Jess was in hospital on forced bed rest from 33 weeks and induced at 36 weeks due to suffering from pre-eclampsia.

After the wonderful yet wild start to motherhood, Jess and Nathan decided it was time to add to their family and fell pregnant with their second child a few years later. On the 21/5/2013 they welcomed their little girl to the world. Besides a pretty crappy labour, Jess and Nathan were besotted with the newest addition to their family. Jess and Nathan’s families came in to visit them in hospital, all instantly falling in love with baby Amelia.

What was to come in the next few days though, was going to change their lives forever. A paediatrician came in to look over their girl and returned with some concerns. The paediatrician had picked up on poor muscle tone, under developed ears, a single palm crease, not feeding well and distinctive almond shaped eyes. Jess and Nathan had no idea.

After further tests, it was confirmed that their little girl was born with Down syndrome. “But we had the test?” were the first words that Jess could say as she was told of the diagnosis. How could this be? This is not the baby Jess had been growing and preparing for the last 9 months? How was this missed? How will they do this? Is she going to be okay? These were just some of the things popping into Jess’ head as she tried to comprehend what they had just been told.

Not only were Jess and Nathan in shock, they were confused and scared. Jess likes to put it as “I was grieving for the baby I thought I was going to have”.

Although they had undertaken the 12-week scan, they missed the blood test and were told by the obstetrician that if there were any markers from the scan, they could always do bloods and further investigations afterwards. They were given the all clear from the scan and never thought about it again. After Amelia was born, it was found that the scan did have information noting that the nuchal fold was high and encouraged further investigation. Jess believes fate may have been in play here. Although Jess was pretty pissed off about this oversight at the tiime, on reflection, they are so glad that they weren’t to know and be put in a position to make a hard and probably very uneducated decision. Their amazing girl is a blessing. Jess is so grateful.

I cannot imagine the fears that that Jess and Nathan had to face when Millie was born. From hearing of her diagnosis and the uncertainty about how their future with their baby would look like, to then hearing that their beautiful girl also had some very serious heart problems.

At 6 weeks of age, Amelia started going into heart failure and at 10 weeks, she had life saving heart surgery which significantly helped their baby begin to strive.

I find it so inspirational, that throughout all of the stress and worry and attending appointment after appointment, Jess and Nathan, together with their boy Jayden and the support and guidance of their families, were able to adjust. They re-centred together, they united to learn side by side – and man, have they learnt these last 6 years!

When Millie was 9 months old, Jess received the unexpected news that she was pregnant again. This time, with a little boy. Spencer was born into a family with a big sister who developmentally, was very close to him. For Jess and Nathan, it was somewhat like having twins. Sometimes Spencer would meet his milestones before Millie, which hurt Jess’ heart a little, but she knows that her girl will get to them, just in her own time. Amelia runs off no time frames or clocks, she does things when she is ready and it is a wonderful thing to watch.

This year, Amelia and Spencer started primary school together, in a mainstream school with an aide for Amelia. This was a huge worry for Jess when Millie was born. What school would she go to? What education will she be able to achieve? But so far, Miss Amelia is kicking goals, with her brother’s watchful eyes very close by.

Jess and Nathan and their family learn together every day. Not just about Amelia and Down syndrome, but how to navigate their way through all the hurdles they face in normal everyday life as a family of 5. They face these hurdles together. They grow together. They love together.

Jess credits Nathan for being her rock and their son Jayden for being the most thoughtful and kind brother to Amelia. Jess is thankful that Amelia has started school alongside Spencer so that he is able to communicate to them what they have been doing at school, as this is something Amelia is not doing just yet.

I asked Jess “how do you think you were able to get through?’ and Jess believes that talking about it openly and honestly has always been a huge part of her journey. Jess is also so grateful for her village. Both of their families have gone above and beyond with their support from day one; without their village, she is unsure how they would have been able to get through some of the really hard times. Jess also credits the amazing support she received from her paediatrician- the way in which she was able to help guide Jess through Amelia’s diagnosis and there after in a personal and supportive manner has made a huge difference in the way Jess has been able to manage. This kind of bedside manner that showed invaluable support, was one of the driving forces behind Jess’ ambition to be a nurse. She too believes she can be that helpful influence for someone in their time of need. I believe too that Jess will be the best at this role.

Thank you so much for sharing a snippet of your journey with us Jess. I am so happy to be able to share your story and illustrate how everyone’s journey through motherhood is so different. I know you will inspire other mum’s who need it and I know that as a community, it is mum’s just like you who will continue to educate us, inspire us and help us grow. Together, we are stronger. xx