Eliana is the mom of two children both with Down syndrome. She is a public relations professional, a family resource specialist, a published author as well as a well known international bilingual blogger. Writing in English and Spanish to raise awareness about Down syndrome and acting as an advocate on behalf of parents raising children with special needs.
From not wanting to accept her reality, Eliana talks about how raising two kids with Down syndrome opened her eyes to whole new world and pursue her dream.
Meet Eliana Tardio.
Antonia: If we go back 9 years ago, you moved to the United States from Latin America. What made you take this decision?
Eliana: My story started from the moment the doctor first told me there was a high probability that my child would be born with Down syndrome. I was 5 months pregnant. No one is ever prepared for news like that. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me and was convinced it was a mistake. That’s actually how I handled the news for a couple of months. So, at 8 months in my pregnancy, I woke up one day and thought, “maybe it is true, maybe this child will be born with Down syndrome.”
I had been trying to hide my feelings. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to accept my reality.
At that point, my mother in law, who was already an American citizen, had come to Bolivia to visit. When I told her the news, she said, “You should come with us. If your child is fine, you can always come back to Bolivia. If he’s born with Down syndrome, it will be great opportunity for him to have services, education and a future.” At that time, Bolivia didn’t have any of those things for children with Down syndrome. So, I agreed to go.
Antonia: You spoke about having your first child Emir, your son. You were faced with both the anxiety of becoming a parent and dealing with the news that he would be born with Down syndrome. Can you talk about how you felt when he was born and how you acknowledged your feeling and your fear?
Eliana: Yeah, when he was born, I’m not going to lie, it was a surprise a shock. I mean, this was my child, the child I had been expecting but at the same time, he didn’t look like the child I was dreaming of. It’s hard for me to say this but, I think every parent goes through this situation. It was really hard because he was very weak when he was born and had to stay in the hospital. As you said, it was not only difficult having my first child; it was also being in a different country, around a new language. At that time, when I came to Naples, Florida, there weren’t that many people who spoke Spanish. So, for me there were so many challenges at the same time because I was driving with this child in a new country, going to Miami once a week for him to receive his treatments and speaking a different language.
It was a lot but, since the day he was born when he first looked at me, he gave me all the strength I needed to keep going for him.
Antonia: Absolutely! Two years later, you gave birth to your 2nd child. This time, your beautiful daughter, Ayelene. Again, you were given the news that she as well would be born with Down syndrome. How did you feel this time?
Eliana: This time, it was a little different because I knew how important a child really is. Before having a child, you hear your friends talking about their children. Sometimes, you feel like these people get crazy when they have kids because all their priorities change and they don’t have time to be your friends anymore. When I had a child, I felt like it was the most amazing experience in the world. Now, I understood all my friends.
We had planned to have a 2nd child. I remember telling my ex-husband; Emir needs a brother or a sister who can take care of him. He has this disability, he’s going to grow, and he needs a sibling. He agreed and we started trying for our 2nd child. That same day, I prayed and said, “God, send him the perfect brother or sister, actually I said sister. I want a daughter, I want her to look like me (I don’t know why I asked for that).I want her to be perfect for him and perfect for us. I remember when I said those words, I was about ready to say, please don’t send her with Down syndrome. Then, I said,
If you want to send her with Down syndrome and that’s your will, that’s fine! I just want the perfect child for him and for my family.
So, I didn’t know that she would be born with Down syndrome. I didn’t want to do the test. I didn’t want to know anything. I remember when I was ready to give birth, the nurse asked me, “what’s going to happen if the baby is born with Down syndrome, what should I do?” I thought, “WOW, I really didn’t think about it.” I knew there was a probability, but it was never on my mind till she asked me. I told her, “Tell my congratulations!”
When she was born, I looked at her and said, “She has Down Syndrome.” I took her hand and looked at her finger. It was exactly the same finger my son had. So, I looked at her finger and thought, “OMG, I cannot believe she also has Down syndrome. The nurse looked at me and said, “Congratulations, honey! She has Down syndrome, but you’re going to be fine.”
Antonia: That’s beautiful! Eliana you’re so proud of your children’s accomplishments. You share them constantly on your blog with everyone in hopes of motivating and inspiring parents to help them understand that living with disabilities is just as having different abilities. If you can talk a little bit about that.
Eliana: What I have learned from my kids and am so grateful for, is that they have opened my eyes to a different world . Something I always tell new families and parents in this situation is, now you are scared. You are disappointed and don’t know where to go or what to do. But, there is a point in life where we end up feeling that we don’t know where we would go and what we would be without them. Every day is like learning something new from them. Sometimes they have to try doing things a thousand times that other kids can do the first time.
They are determined and have the motivation in their heart which is amazing because they keep trying.
They don’t give up and they feel so happy when finally they get it done. It’s so rewarding for them and for anyone who is around them because people can feel they are a part of their achievements. That’s how I feel. It is something that I have taken in my own life. Before they came along, I was the type of person who would get impatient or disappointed. Always complaining about the stuff that doesn’t really matter in life. Now, I’m so grateful about the small things that they show me every day. I am very proud of them and when I look at them I think,
You came to me because I’m supposed to be teaching you something but, you are the ones who are teaching me every day.
Antonia: I remember reading an article you wrote about a fine line between stimulating a child with special needs and over parenting. I thought this doesn’t only happen with parents of children with special needs. Can you talk about the difference between stimulating a child and over parenting?
Eliana: Stimulation is a natural part of life when you are a parent and not only for kids with special needs. As a parent, every second, you are stimulating your child. You have to be realistic about the impact that every second has on the life of your children. It’s a stimulation to talk to your children, smile at them, and your reaction when they misbehave. Your expectations of that child are also a stimulation because you are creating that child. He eats from you. He eats your feelings. He’s a part of you.
The problem is when it becomes over parenting. We get obsessed with the things that we consider are most important for the child and we start planning his life. So, we work so hard for the child to be and do the thing we feel he needs to do in order to be happy that we forget about the child and forget about the individual. This happens a lot with parents of children with special needs. They go to thousands of therapists in hopes of fixing the child. The child is not broken. The child is perfect the way he is. The most important thing to do is really to discover our child and try to empower his own ability. Celebrate what that child is because that child is so different from you and it will take time to develop.
We need to take it one day at a time and celebrate the life of our child.
Antonia: Eliana, we spoke about all your accomplishments. When you first arrived in the United States, you had a few odd jobs. You were a waitress, a maid and you even sold donuts for a while. Your dream was to be a writer. This didn’t happen overnight for you. As a mom with 2 children with special needs, how did you manage to do all this while raising those 2 kids?
Eliana: When we find what we really what to do and enjoy who we are, there’s so much we can do at the same time and do them right.
Sometimes people look at my life on the outside. They see the success and think, “wow, look what she is doing, look what she’s got.” But, there’s a lot of work involved. From the beginning when I came here, I had a clear idea in my mind that I was going to do what I had to do to survive, to grow and pursue my dream. When I was a waitress, I was already planning what my next article would be. When I was selling donuts, I was planning that within 5 years I would be giving a public speech and be touching the lives of many others. It’s important to have something clear in your mind and eventually you are going to get there. You must take every step.
Every single step is important because every step has an impact on you and in the things you can do for others.
I always tell these people, “I was in your position 9 years ago. I couldn’t speak or write in English, I didn’t have any of the things I have today. It didn’t happen in 2 days. It took me a long time.” Working at it days and nights. Sometimes I spend sleepless nights but, the next day I was happy and full energy because I was looking at the positive side and thinking, “I’m doing it. This is going to be great for me because I’m going where I want to be.” In the end, I guess we never really get there because we keep going. That’s what keeps us motivated and celebrating life every day.
Antonia: Actually, I find that in doing so, you’re setting an example for your children.
The most important thing is to know what you want and where you are going because when you have that clear in your mind, things will happen the way you want them to happen.
So, I have always been very clear about my priorities. There have been things that I did not do because I will not put my kids in 2nd place for my personal dreams. But, there’s always a way that works for us and I’m always open to those ways. I’m very clear about doing what I want to do but, my kids need to be involved. I have been offered great positions doing marketing or PR that I declined because in those cases I would be getting far away from my priority which is to keep doing awareness for my kids and kids like them and their families. This is the thing that really keeps me going and motivated.
Antonia: You mentioned your ex-husband. You’re divorced now and a single mom. Was it difficult for you to accept that the marriage wasn’t working out?
Eliana: There was a point in my life where I totally depended on my ex-husband. He’s a good father for the kids but, our relationship wasn’t working anymore. I was scared to start by myself because I didn’t know how to do simple or basic stuff by myself. I was used having someone full time to help me with kids. Someone to take care of the kids when I wanted to take a nap. On the other hand, I knew that I needed to be happy.
For me, being happy means doing the things that I am meant to be and do.
Pursuing my dreams is very important. Everyone gets married with the feeling that they are going to be married forever. When it doesn’t happen, you have to take it easy, keep going and try to do your best.
Antonia: Many of us, including myself, tend to victimize ourselves when faced with unexpected life events. It’s clear that life has given you a few of these life situations. From all your experience, what you say to people that could help them to step outside of that victim mindset and move towards growing from them?
Eliana: When I was 15 years old, my mom passed away with cancer. That was a time when I really felt a victim of my situation. I was the poor person whose mom passed away. When my kids were born with Down syndrome, it was different. I was thinking, “I am the only one who can make a difference. I am the only one who can be the mother of these kids. I have to do all that I have to and find a reason for this.”
As we always do, we ask, “Why me?” I think the real question is, “Why not me?”
If I’m someone who is part of this world, I can do something from this.
Helping others is always a motivation. Sharing your words and your story is always motivational to others. Being a blogger has been the most amazing thing in my life. Sometimes you write something and thousands of people read your article. You get an email from a family telling you, “After reading your words, now I feel that there’s hope and look at life in a different way.” I received emails from parents telling me that there child will be born with Down syndrome and want to abort. I reply to them, “these are my kids, these is what they do, this is how I feel.” When I get a reply from them telling me, “I decided to keep my baby. This is my baby,” it’s like saving a life. Sometimes, you feel like you are giving a lot, but actually you are getting so much more from giving your words and your voice.
Antonia: That’s amazing Eliana! One final question before I let you go. What would you say at this stage in your life is the most important thing in your life?
Eliana: The most important things are my kids, my small family. It’s to come home every day and see them smiling. To look at them and see that they are proud of who they are. It’s the magic of creating the world that they deserve and being a part of it is amazing.
Antonia: Eliana, you are a very special and warm person. You speak so much from the heart, all heart. That’s what got me to approach you. In your words, we can feel everything you share with the world is all about the other person and you are making such a huge difference in people’s lives. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your story.
How has overcoming a difficult period in your life helped you turn your feelings of desperation into courage. Remember that your story and sharing your words can make a difference in all our lives.
Watch the interview with Eliana Tardio on YouTube.
All pictures by Eliana Tardio