words by Melody Forsyth
As I sat on the shuttle bus in Zion National Park in April 2015, I thought to myself, “I better soak up all this beautiful red rock and scenery, because I will probably never be able to enjoy this again.” That’s how I felt. I thought we wouldn’t have fun as a family again.
A few weeks prior to this, I received a phone call giving me the results of my prenatal testing. I had to ask the doctor to repeat what he said because I was in disbelief. He said that my test came back positive for Trisomy 21. “What’s that?" I asked.
“It’s Down syndrome”, he said.
My heart sank. As a nurse, I understood what this meant. I understood the potential for medical complications. I understood this meant having a child with a disability. I started sobbing. Why was this happening to me? How on earth could I take care of a child with medical problems when I could barely take care of the three children I already had? I work full-time nights, I’m tired all the time and I don’t have the strength. I cried. I ugly cried. I screamed. My children came up to see what was wrong, and I told them to leave me alone. I honestly felt that my life was over.
When I told my husband, we cried together. We honestly had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know anyone raising a child with Down syndrome. We knew having a child with special needs would bring changes to our family. However, we thought that it meant that we would be stuck at home all the time. We assumed that her medical needs would prevent us from being adventurous. We thought that our lives would revolve around our child’s disability. We really thought that this was what life had in store for us.
So, we had the grand notion of a last adventure together! We thought we would take the kids and visit Zion National Park and other areas in southern Utah and go have some fun before our daughter Ruby was born. We wanted to give the kids one last vacation. At least, that’s what we thought at the time. At the hotel one morning, we were at breakfast when I saw a family with a child in a wheelchair. They were planning to have a fun day in the national park just like us. As I watched them, I realized that if they were out having fun in the park and enjoying the outdoors while having a child with a disability, we could too. It was all about our mindset and determination.
After experiencing Zion National Park and having fun on many hikes with my children, I was determined to continue the adventure. We made a goal to visit all the national parks with all our children, including our daughter Ruby, who was born a few months later with Down syndrome. When Ruby was 9 months old, we took her to Yellowstone National Park. I put her in the cheapest hiking backpack I could find, threw her on my back and had the most amazing feeling come over me. I was hooked.
Our beginning goal was simple. We wanted to visit all the national parks in Utah. We hoped to do a few hikes or maybe visit a viewpoint. We didn’t have any big expectations. However, with each new national park, I realized that Ruby developed more strength and skills. She wasn’t afraid to push her own boundaries. She just went for everything. Once she learned to walk, we couldn’t stop her. We thought, “why not trying something other than hiking?” Let’s see how she does.
So we would try a new outdoor activity, and she would love it. We would travel longer distances, and she would be fine in the car and cope well with the travel. I learned that her disability wasn’t limiting her, we were.
We were letting her diagnosis limit what we tried to do. We have since changed our mindset. Now, we just want to get out and try it all. Why not try rappelling? Why not try skiing? We are trying all the things I thought we could never do as a family because I thought we couldn’t, not because she wasn’t capable.
Ruby taught me that we could try. Her diagnosis doesn’t define her, and it doesn’t have to define what we do as a family. Here are four ways Ruby has taught us to appreciate the outdoors.
We hope we can encourage more families, especially those with special needs children, to get outdoors. If I hadn’t seen that family with a child in a wheelchair, I don’t know if we would be where we are today. Sharing our beautiful children in the outdoors will give other parents and families encouragement to do the same.
To learn more about Melody and her quest to experience the outdoors, visit her IG profile @downwithadventure.