Michelle Aventajado on Her Gifts of Motherhood



Gelli’s arrival gave me more than the gift of her extra chromosome

WORDS Michelle Aventajado
PHOTOS Yukie Sarto of Studio 100
HAIR & MAKEUP Mervie Araneta of Maquillage Professionnel

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Michelle is the Country Director of an NGO that aims to help kids with special needs

EVERY YEAR, as Mother’s Day approaches, I take in the opportunities that my own motherhood has afforded me. In the first few years of my new motherhood, almost 20 years ago, I relished in the extra attention that my new husband doted on me.

Even while I was pregnant with our first child, I felt the blessings that God bestowed on us because my very first miracle grew without worry, kicked like the soccer player I dreamed of raising, and arrived just before our first anniversary as if to remind us both that the gift of life was beyond any other gift we could buy for one another. 

As Nino and I birthed each child, as we were given each new blessing, I also realized—because hindsight is 20/20—that I grew and expanded with each labor and delivery.

The birth of our fourth child changed me the most. I have written and spoken in many ways about how her arrival gave me more than the gift of her extra chromosome. 

Her diagnosis of Down Syndrome at birth cracked me and my heart wide open. 

“I have often said that my children are my greatest teachers. Of the four children He has given me, the smallest is often the mightiest and provides the most insight for everyone in the family.”

When I was told, “she had markers for Down Syndrome,” there was a deluge of emotions that followed—fear is inescapable. Fear of the unknown, fear of being alone in the situation, fear that society or even family, wouldn’t accept my child. Fear of somehow feeling like a failure, fear of breaking a child who would need so much more from me than our three other children.

I have often said that my children are my greatest teachers. Of the four children He has given me, the smallest is often the mightiest and provides the most insight for everyone in the family. She has always been this way. She packs a punch. She leads the pack. She commands your attention when she enters the room. She knows her will and will exert it. 

I wonder if she knows just how much courage her birth bestowed upon me. I wonder if she knows the strength and power she commands at her fingertips. The very thought of her happiness threatened can send me into a tizzy of momma bear protective behaviors. I often contemplate if she will ever come to realize just how much better of a person I am, simply because she chose me as her momma. Perhaps one day.

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Cooking is one of the favorite bonding activities of the mother-daughter duo

For this piece, I thought I would share 3 more things that being Gelli’s momma taught me:

GELLI HAS TAUGHT ME TO LOOK BEYOND THE LABEL

I will not let anyone box Gelli in because of her extra chromosome—she won’t allow it either! Looking beyond the label of her diagnosis means that I see each of God’s children as He sees them: with beauty, with wonder, with the gifts that He has given them. 

GELLI’S BIRTH REINFORCED MY UNDERSTANDING THAT EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS

When you are actively trying to change the world, you know what an arduous task this is; especially when you are fighting a culture that does not value differences and exceptionalities. Foundations like The Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, Autism Society, Project Inclusion, and Best Buddies, all work to break the stigma surrounding special needs. We aim to create awareness that each person should be counted. When we create awareness, we foster acceptance. And we know that inclusion can only come after acceptance. 

GELLI’S PHILOSOPHY IN LIFE IS TO LIVE IN THE MOMENT

We live in a day and age where our entire lives are on social media. This is wonderful because we can seek encouragement, information, and find parents whom we can identify with so we don’t feel alone. But that all has to be balanced with the time we spend offline. The time we spend in “real life.”

Gelli demands my time. She needs my attention. She reminds me what is important and forces me to face what’s in front of me. Gelli doesn’t know anything else but the here and the now.

And that’s probably the most beautiful thing of all. Because when I am completely present, I can count my blessings; I remember to give thanks to God for all the different facets of my motherhood and all the different children that Gelli brought into my life because she chose me.