We are so excited and honored to share with you the incredible story of Heather Avis‘s motherhood and career journey. You might be familiar with her book The Lucky Few, or her Instagram account @macymakesmyday, or you may have even heard Heather speak at an event. As the mother of three adopted children, two with Down syndrome, Heather is both an amazing mom and an advocate for adoption and children with Down syndrome. In her own words, she travels from city to city to “shout the worth of her children”. Her message, centered on faith and trusting God’s plan in the unknown, is powerful and uplifting. We know you will feel encouraged by her words of wisdom in today’s post!

You are mother to three adopted children, two with Down syndrome, and you have become an advocate for both adoption and for children with Down syndrome. In your book The Lucky Few you talk about your journey with parenthood — from infertility, to adoption, to adopting children with Down syndrome. Tell us about your initial decision to adopt a child with Down syndrome and how your motherhood journey today differs from what you had originally envisioned.

H.A.: Well, the full answer to this question is the length of a book! But to sum it all up, the first time we adopted a child with Down syndrome was because God kinda chucked us towards her! We had no intention of having a child (or now, children) with Down syndrome. Almost everything our eldest daughter was on paper we had said ‘no’ to on our initial paperwork with our adoption agency. Once we learned about her we knew we didn’t want to say ‘yes’ but we also knew we couldn’t’ say ‘no’. For me, this looked like taking one step at a time and each step lead me closer to her. And thank God it did! She was my scariest and my best ‘yes’.

My original vision for my motherhood was easy, normal and nice. I thought I’d pop out a few kids who looked like me and we’d go along our merry way. When I found out I would not be able to have kids naturally I was crushed. Beyond crushed. Today, however, I look at my family and I cannot be more thankful for my infertility. Motherhood is anything but easy, normal and nice. For me, I’ve had to replace those concepts with worthy, bravery and messy. My kids have open my eyes to a world I had been missing out on for all those years. To be their mother and shout their worth and try to get the rest of the world to see them as worthy is the gift of my motherhood.

How has being a mom to children with Down syndrome impacted your life, both in terms of your outlook and your day to day as a working mom?

H.A.: It has changed my life completely. I believe if I was missing out on Down syndrome I would be missing out on the fullness humanity has to offer. Having a front row seat to the worth and beauty my children with Down syndrome possess has taught me how to look for the worth and beauty in all people, how to notice people I had failed to notice before.
This understanding has shaped my whole career. I literally get to shout the worth of my kids for my job. As far as the day to day of being a working mom, I looks a lot like the other working moms out there. We make oatmeal in the mornings, throw a load of laundry in the wash then sit behind a computer or  hop on a plane to go share the worth of my children with anyone who will listen.

Your middle child Truly is a healthy, “typical” child, and you have said that she is actually the most difficult child from a parenting perspective. How is parenting a “typical” child different from a child with Down syndrome?

H.A.: For anyone who has more than one child then you know what it is like to have to learn to parent all over again and how one child is just a little more work. I don’t know how much Down syndrome plays a role.

I do know people assume my children with Down syndrome are more difficult because they have Down syndrome. And yes, they both went through open heart surgery and have hours of extra therapies/tutoring a week. We are always working harder to help them fit into the world, and all of these things can be more difficult. But I never have to worry about losing their hearts. It is their nature to be forgiving and grace filled and uninhibited in our relationship.

Truly on the other-hand, even as a seven-year-old, challenges our relationship. This is not because she does not have Down syndrome but because it is her personality to be challenging and all consuming. The thing with Truly is she possess all the quality you see in powerful world changers, but she’s seven, so Lord have mercy!

What is the most challenging part about being a mom to children with Down syndrome? And the most rewarding?

H.A.: The most challenging is definitely having to send them into a world which fails to see their worth. The most rewarding is watching them hit milestones or succeed at a task they have been working so hard on. Everything takes a little extra effort and a little extra time and when whatever it is they are working on is accomplished, it means a little extra celebration. It’s magical!

You have said that society creates a significant challenge for children with Down syndrome. What major changes would you like to see and how can we help make that change?

H.A.: I need society to see my kids a worthy, just as they are. When we start to see anyone with a different ability as worthy then we start to make space for them in the spaces we find ourselves. Tangibly, I would like to see schools and churches and extracurricular activities create space for my kids with Down syndrome to be fully included with everyone else, not put in a separate “special” space. This starts with a relationship with a person who has Down syndrome or another different ability. Be intentional in building relationships with this community and then the changes needed will begin to take place.

Tell us how we can get involved and support your cause?  

H.A.: Unfortunately there is no easy answer here. Donating to organizations who support families with Down syndrome, like Club 21 in Pasadena, California, is a great start. But really, more than money and more than awareness we need relationships and full inclusion. We need people who do not have a loved one with Down syndrome to help us build bridges between the spaces where people with Down syndrome are and the spaces where they are not. This might mean talking to the administrators at your child’s school letting them know you want your child who is in a typical classroom to learn alongside kids with different abilities and then reaching out to your local Down syndrome group to see how you can work together. Same goes for your churches and dance classes and girl scout troops and places of work. Asking yourselves and the people in power, how to make the space work for people with Down syndrome and then make it work.  

What is your daily routine like raising three children who all have different personalities and needs? Any tips for other moms on how to establish a routine that is efficient and caters to all of your childs’ needs as well as your own?

H.A.: Oh gosh. Raising three kids is no joke! I have to be honest and say I am not the kind of person who is good at establishing routines and then sticking with them. Our kids have charts to help them with morning and bedtime routines and that’s the extent of my established routine. Everything else kinda just happens. I mean, there is routine in the flow of our days with school and dance and tutoring and therapies and music lessons. Somehow, between my husband, our babysitter and myself, we manage to get all three children on-time to the places they need to be.

Meeting each of their needs as well as my own requires unending amounts of grace between us all. What we lack in efficiency we make up for in love.

What advice do you have for other women struggling with infertility and looking into adoption?

H.A.: First I say how sorry I am. I do not wish infertility on anyone. Then I would say, most likely your desire to be a mom is stronger than your desire to actually carry a child. You can become a mom through adoption. Once that baby is in your arms it will not matter that he/she does not have your eyes or your husband’s nose, what will matter is he/she is yours and you are a mom. There is another side to the darkness of infertility, and you will get there.  

What advice do you have for an expecting parent who learns they are carrying a child with Down syndrome?

H.A.: The first thing I would say is congratulations! Then I would tell those parents to be gentle with themselves, to not feel bad about the bad feelings they may have. And to trust that one day, hopefully sooner than later, they will see that a Down syndrome diagnosis is a gift and they will be so happy to be among the lucky few who receive it. And to just enjoy that little baby. A baby with Down syndrome is just a baby!

You are launching a podcast called “The Lucky Few”. Tell us about what we can expect to hear and where we can tune in!

H.A.: The purpose of the podcast is to shift the Down syndrome narrative, to shout the worth of people with Down syndrome and to show the world just how lucky we are to have kids with Down syndrome. I have two co-hosts and the three of us have a blast together. We talk about our experiences having kids with Down syndrome, current news in the Down syndrome world and we have all kinds of amazing guests on the show talking about siblings, adoption, advocacy, the intersectionality of ability and race and so much more. I love this podcast!

As an author, motivational speaker, and stay at home mom to three children, how do you keep work and personal separate and also find any time for yourself?

H.A.: Keeping work and personal separate feels like an impossible task only because my work is my family. But I am learning my family is not my work. I don’t have an office space and I set pretty much all my schedule and timelines, and my job can literally be done every second of everyday. So it has required me to create boundaries. I do my very best to be off my phone and computer once my kids are home from school. And whenever I leave the kids for travel I take the next day off and just hang out with the family. It can be messy and I am still learning. I’ll take any advice you may have to offer!

I’m terrible at taking time for myself. Terrible. But the thing that gives me the most life and fills up my cup is spending time with my dearest friends, feet under the table, a glass of wine, some good conversation. I make this happen at least a few times a month, but not often enough.

Your career began as a Special Education Teacher and now you are a motivational speaker and author with a large following on Instagram. How did you decide to become a spokesperson for adoption and Down syndrome, and what steps did you take to launch your book / speaker series / Instagram?

H.A.: The decision to be a spokesperson for adoption and Down syndrome was easy because it just means I get to share how awesome my kids are with anyone who will listen. And I really am the worst example of how to got to this place because I had no plan. So far everything has been thrown my way. I did not plan on writing a book or being a speaker or having a hit Instagram account, it all fell in my lap. I did make the choice to step into those places and now that I am here, to do them them well.

Your faith in God’s plan has been a huge part of your message and personal journey. What advice do you have for those whose life might be taking a turn they did not expect?

H.A.: In my journey I have learned there is so much beauty to be found in unexpected places. It sounds simple, but God knows best. God loves us so much and has the best plan for us and it is often found in those unexpected places. My advice would be to let go of your plans and hold tight to God’s love and God’s plan.

I think often times when people are faced with something that is different or new to them, they don’t know what to say or do in the situation.  

Can you give moms of ‘typical’ children advise on what you wish your friends would have said or done to support you and your children? Or maybe someone who knew exactly what you needed and how that support helped you in hard times or times of transition?

H.A.: During my infertility people gave me all kinds of advice, but the most helpful words anyone said were, “I’m so sorry!” with a big hug. Sometimes when situations are especially difficult the last thing we want is advice or words of encouragement; sometimes we just need to feel sad, and that’s okay.

 When it comes to my kids with Down syndrome, I wish parents of typical kids would teach their kids to celebrate difference and expose their kids to all kinds of different people. Last week Macy asked a boy her age his name. He grimaced and stepped back from her, panicked. He looked at his friends and mom, and said, “I don’t know what she is saying.” It broke my heart. I think it’s great for our kids to excel in academics or sports, or music, or art, but if they do not know how to interact with someone who is different then we are missing the mark and failing them, quite frankly. I also want parents to remember and to tell their kids it is okay to feel uncomfortable but never okay to be unkind. We’re all uncomfortable with what we are unfamiliar with, making it all the more important to make the unfamiliar, familiar. We have also had encounters with kids who are uncomfortable when approached by Macy, and the parents come up and say to their kids, “Let’s ask her, her name.” And if they don’t understand what she says they smile kindly, ask her to repeat herself and sometimes come talk to me. I cannot tell you how much it blesses my heart, and makes Macy’s day, when a new friend initiates their interactions. Finally, it is safe to assume, no matter who you encounter, they want to be treated kindly and seen as worthy.

We are so excited about the Podcast!  Any other upcoming projects or news you can share with us?

H.A.: I’m so excited about the podcast too! We’ve got some things in the works for this year. The most exciting news is my husband is coming on full-time with The Lucky Few! Other projects include: a second book, releasing some apparel; creating spaces for women to gather, share a meal and share their stories; and so much more.

Be sure to follow Heather and her sweet family on Instagram and tune into The Lucky Few podcast!

We are so grateful to Heather for sharing her incredible journey and wisdom with us here at HOUSE of HARPER!

For more from our Mom Crush series see here.