In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we’re featuring two amazing moms who were brought together by the diagnosis and forged a bond that grows stronger every day. I’ve always loved the quote, “Friends are the family you choose for yourself.” Angela O’Brien and Paige Strawn are the personification of this and I’m excited to share their story on Beyond The Waiting Room.
Back in 2004, Angela and Paige were merely acquaintances. Angela’s daughter, Casey, born with Down syndrome almost two years before was the same age as Paige’s son, Turner and the families occasionally saw each other at the neighborhood pool. Paige, the extrovert of the duo made the first move.
“I’d always see Angela and think ‘Oh, she’s such a beautiful lady.’ And I was always drawn to Casey. So, I go up to talk to them and we wound up hitting it off. It’s so funny. Casey would take the snacks out of my bag and eat them. I just fell in love with her. I’d ask Angela if she wanted to come to play group, but Casey always had therapy appointments on those days.”
The next two years were uneventful and the families saw each other in passing. Then in July 2006, Angela received a call from a mutual friend.
“She called me and said, ‘Hey, Paige just had her baby and she has Down syndrome.’ So, I called Paige. She didn’t really know anybody with Down syndrome at the time, so I was just kind of the person to ask questions and give advice.”
Paige had the same idea.
“As soon as I discovered Shelby had Down syndrome, instantly Angela and Casey popped into my head. We were in the NICU for almost two weeks and I remember the first message I had when I came home. My dad told me, ‘Angela O ’Brien wants you to call her.’ She’d already called to check up on us and that was the beginning of our friendship. But it’s evolved over the years into something much deeper. She’s my best friend and I just adore her. She’s my lifeline on this journey.”
Angela’s daughter was three, so she was able to impart her knowledge and experience to Paige as she grappled with the struggles of a newborn with Down syndrome and a heart defect.
“Angela gave me hope that we were going to be happy, that we were going to have a normal life. She calmed my fears but was always there to listen to ‘I’m scared of this.’ or ‘How do I handle that?’ She was my guiding light who was farther down the road than I was.”
As the friendship between Angela and Paige grew, their relationship was mirrored by their daughters. Shelby is outgoing like Paige while Angela’s daughter, Casey is more introverted.
“My daughter Shelby adores Casey. It’s interesting because our girls have very different personalities. Shelby is the life of the party and super social. Casey’s funny and a little more reserved and sometimes she has to say, ‘Okay, no more hugging, Shelby.’ But they’re fun and really have a good time together. They look forward to spending time together at camp and when we go visit. They have a really sweet friendship.”
Over the last thirteen years, the two families have grown closer. Paige and Angela’s husbands started hanging out together and their other children hit it off, too. In 2010, Paige and her family moved away but she and Angela refused to let the distance change the dynamic of their friendship.
“We still talk almost every day and our families travel together. We go see them, they come see us. And last Christmas, the 10 of us spent 10 days in Hawaii. With two little girls with Down syndrome and four boys, you could see us coming from a mile away. We had an absolute blast!”
As Shelby and Casey get older and more independent, their futures are at the forefront of Paige and Angela’s minds. Although their personalities are different, their hopes for their daughters are perfectly aligned.
“I want Casey to find something that fulfills her, makes her feel that she’s contributing and being a productive participant in her community. I’d love for her to have the opportunity to do a college program for people with disabilities where she gets to go away and experience college life. I want her to have her own life and a job or activity that she really likes and enjoys, friends and a social life and all those other things we hope for our other kids.”
“Our dreams for Shelby are that we want her to be independent and to be a taxpayer. We want her to contribute to society, to have a well-rounded social life and to be happy. She thrives in a social setting, so we’d like her to find a preparatory program where the kids go and live there for a couple of years to prepare them for college.”
Angela and Paige’s friendship began during difficult times, but has since blossomed into a relationship based on love, support and sisterhood.
Check out Angela’s blog www.ukulelemom.com to read about all the shenanigans the O’Briens and Strawns got into on their Hawaii vacation!
Written by: Tamara Devers