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Her baby has trisomy 18. She reminds us to enjoy every moment of parenthood.

She was told her newborn could die within days. That baby just enjoyed her first birthday.

Imagine that you're a woman who finds out during a routine doctor's appointment that your unborn baby could die within days of her birth.

That's what happened to this mom.

Motherhood isn't easy for Heather Peterson. All photos are from the Peterson family and used with permission.


In case you missed it, we recently covered the story of Nathan and Heather Peterson. Their daughter Olivia was born with trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome. 

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Babies with this condition usually experience numerous medical difficulties, including problems with their vital organs. Sadly, only about 10% survive to witness their first birthdays.

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Olivia is one of the babies who beat the odds. She celebrated her first year of life on Jan. 7, 2016.

Big smiles for Heather, Nathan, and baby Olivia.

Previously we told the story from Nathan's perspective, but what was it like for the mom who went through it all? 

Heather went to her 20-week sonogram appointment and the doctor became quiet while reviewing the results. That's when she knew something was wrong.

The doctor confirmed her fears. Trisomy 18 was the diagnosis for her unborn daughter.

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After giving the news to Heather, the doctor and nurse waited for a response. With tears streaming down her face, Heather responded by saying, "We're going to be OK."

In spite of the darkness surrounding the news, Heather was able to see the light.

"I remember explaining this to the nurse and doctor, and they were amazed by my strength in light of everything," Heather told Upworthy. "But I sensed that a bigger thing was happening."

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A few days after the diagnosis, she felt it was an opportunity to use her experience to help others in a similar situation. That in itself gave her a sense of purpose even though the days, weeks, and months to follow were extremely difficult. 

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"I felt radiant and a friend remarked that I was glowing," Heather said. "Of course I broke down in despair many times as I thought about the road ahead of me."

Even though Olivia has celebrated her first birthday, Heather's still taking things day by day.

Olivia's first birthday cake, made with love by proud mom Heather.

Remember, approximately 9 out of every 10 babies diagnosed with trisomy 18 won't live to celebrate their first birthdays. This was a huge milestone for the Peterson family, but Heather experienced mixed emotions.

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First she described Olivia's actual birthday, and it was awesome.

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"It was peaceful and everything came together perfectly," Heather said. "I didn't worry about whether everything was going to get done, or worry about Olivia's future. I just thoroughly enjoyed the day."

Olivia's first birthday was wonderful for everyone involved.

But after the celebration was over, the intense fear began to sink in. 

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Heather feared Olivia would be unable to transition from nursing to drinking from a cup. She feared Olivia's birthday could signify the beginning of the end of her life. She feared the gut-wrenching moment when she has to say goodbye to her baby girl.

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That's when she took a deep breath and focused on the things she can control — namely, giving Olivia all of mommy's heart right now.

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"I wasted weeks worrying about the future instead of enjoying the present with my daughter," Heather said. "My job is to love Olivia while she's here." 

And now she has something to say to other moms who may be going through the same thing.

It goes without saying that raising a baby with trisomy 18 can be extremely difficult. Heather has lived it and offers her thoughts to mothers who are experiencing it. 

The days and nights are often exhausting for Heather.

"I grieve for you, mama. I know this road, and it is so painful and beautiful. Enjoy life now, in this moment, in the tiny things around you. Learn how to ask for help and draw closer to the community of friends and family around you. It can be difficult to lean on them, but you will see how much they love you when you allow them to ease your pain."

And for the moms in relationships, she reminds them that they have the green light to be as "much of a mess as possible" and their spouses do as well. The key is to not take anything personally and know that as long as both parties communicate and stay close to each other, it will make things easier. 

You know those milestones that many parents take for granted? The Peterson family reminds us all to enjoy every single one of them.

As parents, we love the milestones our babies experience. It could be when they giggled for the first time or when they learned how to drink from a sippy cup. We may have snapped a photo or rolled some video, but afterward, it was on to the next thing without giving it much thought.

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It's different for the Peterson family. They didn't know if they would ever witness Olivia laughing or drinking from a sippy cup on her own.

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But they did.

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Olivia even laughed out loud for the first time a few weeks ago. See for yourself. 

Throughout the otherworldly tantrums our kids throw in public places and the negotiations we facilitate to get them to eat just one bite of broccoli, we should be reminded to love every moment of the chaos. 

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Heather knows this. And she embraces it all. 

Nobody knows for sure if Olivia will be here to celebrate her second birthday, but the Peterson's music group Hello Industry says it best in their song titled, "The Innocent Will Die." 

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"Anything is possible."

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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