By REBECCA SPARROW
Almost 9 years ago, Mandy Grabovac and her husband Ante were overjoyed to find out that they were having triplets.
As if that wasn’t enough of a shock – one of the triplets turned out to have Down Syndrome.
And from there, their world turned upside down.
Take a look at their video with Richard Wilkins from the Today Show:
And read through our Q&A with Ante below:
1. You and your wife Mandy fell pregnant after several years of trying and you found out you were having triplets! That must have been the first shock you had to get over, I imagine?
Absolutely, I recall going to the first ultrasound and going back to work shocked. I remember sitting at my desk just freaking out. At the first scan one of the triplets had a weak heart beat so the obstetrician said come back next week and the third one won’t be there, it will naturally pass. Sure enough a week later it was there with the heart pounding as strong as the others. We had friends who had twins but we never knew anyone with triplets or more.
2.How far along in the pregnancy did you and your wife Mandy discover that one of the triplets had Down Syndrome?
We didn’t know that Adam had Down Syndrome until he was born. I remember holding him and thinking this child has Down Syndrome but as we had a team of doctors and nurses in the delivery ward I thought surely they would have said something. This was at 9.30am. As Mandy had a cesarean and was in a daze, she wasn’t able to come back down to see the children until later that night. I didn’t want to alarm her and so I didn’t mention it to her but in the afternoon I asked a nurse does this child need some testing she said look at him he is beautiful, I said I know he is but I still thought they weren’t telling me the whole story. Then when Mandy came down Adam was the only one we could hold as all three were in the special care unit and in a humidicrib but he was the one needing the least assistance to breathe. When Mandy held him she said this child has Down Syndrome and that is what confirmed it for me and we called the doctors over. It was a difficult night with many things going through our heads.
3. So there you are first-time parents, you’re trying to get your head around the fact you’re having triplets and now you’re also coming to terms with the fact that one of them will have a disability. How did you feel when it was confirmed?
The confirmation was a harsh reality. The doctor explained that first night that Adam had Down Syndrome traits but it couldn’t be confirmed without a blood test. So we agreed to the blood test but we knew the answer already. The next evening the pediatric cardiologist confirmed that Adam had a hole in the heart as one in two children with Down Syndrome are born with the condition. He will need to have a heart operation. So there we were in the hospital we just had triplets, one with Down Syndrome. I remember texting everyone on the day they were born to tell them the great news and then the next day asking them not to visit the hospital as we have some concerns. There were a lot of tears in those first 24 hours.
4. Can you tell us what those first few weeks and months were like with Adam?
The first few months were ridiculously hectic. The children stayed in hospital for the first month. When we came home, we had my mother and my mother in law alternating nights to sleep over to help. I remember coming home from work and going straight to bed at 6.30 in preparation for the every four hour feeding times. We had to keep them on a strict regime of sleeping and feeding at the same time so that we could also get some rest. Adam was no different to the other two, Adam rarely cried and was very settled and happy. He grew this funny mohawk which was extremely cute. Adam was absolutely gorgeous. We all adored him from the beginning. We were thinking more about the heart surgery which he was due to have at 4 months of age. There was a lot of questioning of why us, why not someone else? After his surgery he was stronger than ever and his personality began to shine.
5. Today the boys are eight! What’s Adam’s relationship like with his brothers? How different is he to his brothers?
The boys have a great relationship. They take care of each other all the time. Adam has a great sense of humour and gives most people his own unique nicknames. He loves his sport especially soccer. His reading and writing is impressing not only ourselves but his teachers and many who have met Adam. Most people cannot believe his ability to recall things and lyrics to songs that he loves to sing. He is a treasured member of our family and we couldn’t imagine life without him. We have never treated Adam any differently to Liam and Oliver.
6. What has been the hardest thing to deal with in terms of Adam’s disability?
The hardest thing was probably our own initial prejudices thinking negatively towards Down Syndrome due to our lack of knowledge and contact with people with Down Syndrome. The worry that went with his heart surgery at four months and then stomach surgery at 15 months was also difficult. It was chaotic just having all three kids at once, the first two years were very difficult just in a busyness sense. My mum who had a strong connection with Adam, unexpectedly passed away when the children were 17 months. It was just a really difficult time all around. Then in 2008 my father who the children adored was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within three months of diagnosis. We have been through a lot as a family since the boys were born. We have been fortunate to have great support from Mandy’s parents, her brother’s family and our friends. Regarding Adam, after the initial heartache, we felt in the beginning we have never looked back. We have been fortunate to meet some wonderful families who have children with Down Syndrome. It has been a very positive experience for us and a great education for Liam and Oliver as well. Because he understands things well, there has been the odd occasion over the past two years he has mentioned why do I have Down Syndrome, I want to be like my brothers which is a difficult thing to respond to.
7. What are some of the unexpected joys of having Adam in your life?
Everyday he waits for me to come home and is excited, pure joy, it is great to come home to that. He has stories to tell about his day at school and questions to ask me about my day. He loves conversation. He is very articulate and humorous. He is great company and get him started on his favorite topics and he will rattle off stories and make up his own twists. He is very easy going and lovable. We traveled to the USA and Europe last year to meet our extended families in Croatia and they too were amazed by Adam who knows many Croatian words, songs and prayers.
8. Somewhere today another set of parents are hearing that their baby has Down Syndrome. What advice would you give them? What do you want them to know?
There is quite a famous story called Welcome To Holland. It is very true. Sometimes you do not end in the place you are expecting to go. But once you are there instead of looking at the negatives of not being where you want to be, you need to find the beauty of your new destination. Down Syndrome has been a blessing in disguise for our family. Its hard to explain but many people who have been touched by Adam see him as a child that they are amazed by due to his his zest for life and knowledge.
9. What would you like people to know about Adam?
Adam does have Down Syndrome and it is a part of him and it always will be. But we no longer see the Down Syndrome we just see Adam for who he is. Adam goes to a wonderful mainstream public school. He loves Sydney FC, playing for the Sutherland Titans, dancing, performing, singing, playing on his IPad, watching TV, playing Wii, doing his homework, reading, playing with his brothers, cousins, grandparents, uncle and friends, he argues with his brothers, he makes up with his brothers, he gets invited to birthday parties by his classmates, he loves life and touches the hearts of everyone that gets to know him. We are proud to have him as our son.