She Gives Me Courage by Ellen Stumbo

As soon as we walked into the dental office I knew we would be in for quite the experience. My youngest daughter -who has Down syndrome – also has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). While there are many kids that struggle at the dentist, take a kid with SPD and you take “difficult” to a new level.

She had two cavities. We also recognized getting those cavities taken care of at the dentist’s office wasn’t going to happen. The solution? Dental work under general anesthesia at the hospital.

Think about that for a minute, a surgical protocol just to get teeth cleaned, X-rays redone, and her cavities fixed.

The morning of the appointment, the anesthesiologist came to talk to us about procedure. We discussed the sedative they give so that kids get drowsy and don’t remember. I brought up the fact that at the Children’s hospital they wouldn’t give that to her, because kids with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, and it can compromise their airway. He said he wasn’t concerned about it, I asked how many kids with Down syndrome they see on a regular basis. I also asked him what steps he would take if her airway did indeed collapse, and I asked about her neck positioning.

I’ve come a long way. When my daughter was first born, I was bullied by a nurse. She’d given me false information, she treated me like I knew nothing about Down syndrome or my daughter. That experience changed me. The nice pastor’s wife was going to raise her voice once in a while. Just don’t mess with my kids. So I learned to come in with research to back up everything I brought up, and soon I was educating the nurse, and teaching her a thing or two about Down syndrome.

And here I was, six years later, asking questions about my child’s safety and emotional well being. The anesthesiologist looked at me like I had two heads, but he answered my questions, and I felt comfortable with a decision we reached together.

And that is when I realized that my daughter has changed me. She’s turned me into this woman that has courage she never knew was there. Willing to stand up to medical professionals, and hold her ground. And maybe that is who we become as mothers, we become courageous, because we realized that we have to stand up for someone else, and we lay down our lives for them.

Ellen Stumbo Head ShotEllen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor. Visit her at

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